The Metropolitan Museum of Art Goes Open Access With 375,000 Images

The museum partners with Creative Commons, Pinterest, and others.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Courtesy of Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Courtesy of Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images.

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is making all public domain works in its collection available online for both scholarly and commercial purposes, it announced today. The new Open Access policy also introduces partnerships between the museum and Creative Commons, Wikimedia, Artstor, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), Art Resource, and Pinterest.

“Our comprehensive and diverse museum collection spans 5,000 years of world culture,” said Met director Thomas P. Campbell in a statement. “Our core mission is to be open and accessible for all who wish to study and enjoy the works of art in our care. Increasing access to the museum’s collection and scholarship serves the interests and needs of our 21st-century audiences by offering new resources for creativity, knowledge, and ideas.”

At a press conference announcing the news, the Met’s Loic Tallon praised the quality of the high-resolution, 4,000-pixel-wide photos now available for 200,000 works in the museum collection, which allow viewers to zoom in and “really see the beauty of the images.” Tallon was promoted last month to the Met’s chief digital officer after filling the role in an interim capacity since June, when Sree Sreenivasan left amid financial troubles at the institution.

All public domain objects owned by the museum are now held under a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) designation.

Louis Comfort Tiffany, Tiffany Studios, <em>Hibiscus and Parrots</em> (circa 1910–20). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Louis Comfort Tiffany, Tiffany Studios, Hibiscus and Parrots (circa 1910–20). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“This is a huge deal,” said Creative Commons CEO Ryan Merkley, calling the decision to make the collection available “a remarkable act of leadership” that will hopefully influence additional institutions to follow suit. Other museums that have their collections available online in a similar capacity include the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York; Copenhagen’s National Gallery of Denmark Statens Museum for Kunst; and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

What makes the Met’s announcement unique is its partnerships, which are designed to disseminate the artworks in the collection to the widest possible audience and will extend the museum’s reach beyond the constraints of its physical footprint. Rather than having to come directly to the museum’s website, art lovers will now be able to find items from the Met collection at sites they already frequent, such as Wikimedia Commons and Pinterest.

Emanuel Leutze, <em>Washington Crossing the Delaware</em> (1851). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons.

Emanuel Leutze, Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons.

The announcement represents a step forward for an institution that has had struggles recently, from a tepidly received inaugural exhibition at its Met Breuer outpost and much-criticized logo redesign, to staff layoffs and a seven year delay for planned renovation of its Modern and contemporary wing—although it did sort out that hot dog situation.

The initial roll-out features a total of 375,000 images of the 200,000 works. Roughly 1 million public domain works of prints, engravings, posters, post cards, and other ephemera have yet to be digitized by the institution.


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