About three years ago, the Museum staff began identifying and digitizing photographs and other documents that record the history of the institution, which was founded in 1930. The project was planned and initiated through the efforts of Tara Sartorius in conjunction with our Collections Information Specialist, Sarah Puckitt, and the project is now managed by Sarah who continues to add data when her schedule permits. This “digital archive” is in its earliest stages, but already we can see the long-term value and usefulness of preserving our institutional memory in digital form.
Paper has always been a perilous material for storing information over time. All paper (the kind we write on, the kind we print copies on, and even photographic paper) is largely acidic; the non-acidic kind is now too expensive to be used for much other than making and preserving artwork. So when the process of scanning existing images and documents became more widely available and cost effective, the Museum started using computer hard drives to store our archival data. While it has its challenges, digital records are the future of archive management, and we are already somewhat ahead of the curve.
The 2014 year-long celebration of our 25th anniversary in the Blount Cultural Park provided significant impetus for our efforts to locate and scan images of the Museum during its first twenty-five years, when we were located in an old school building downtown. A desire to focus on the early art collection also prompted us to look at the roots of the institution in its early years and to revisit our now distant past. It was fascinating to find images of the previous Museum buildings and the programs that gave rise to the ones we offer now.
A tangible result of our efforts to digitize the institutional history in a well-organized database was the timeline of early Museum history titled Origins • A Timeline of the MMFA. Produced in conjunction with the Origins exhibition which was on view this past summer and online at the link above, the timeline encapsulates through photographs and brief text the development of the Museum and its collection on Lawrence Street.
Through our website, via email, and through social media, the Museum will increasingly use digital means to communicate with our audiences. By preserving a digital heritage of the MMFA, subsequent generations of Museum visitors will have the resources to explore our development as the primary visual arts institution in the River Region for the last eighty-four years.
Margaret Lynne Ausfeld
Curator of Art