Collections Digitization

04 Mar 2021

One of the big curation stories of the past decade is the emerging field of collections digitization — the digital documentation, storage, interpretation and dissemination of public and private collections of art, manuscripts and objects. The techniques and protocols used to record the world’s cultural inheritance will shape its legacy in an unprecedented way — both for future generations and today’s scholars and art lovers. We speak to Emily Kate of Christie’s Education’s upcoming short course, Collections Digitization, about her ‘passion for this intersection of art and technology.’

A specialist whose experience spans both museums and the tech industry, Emily has designed the course to give students a practical and theoretical grounding in this relatively new and increasingly consequential discipline. After studying art history at Columbia and museum studies at Harvard, she worked on digital teams at the Smithsonian Institution and The Frick Collection before moving ‘from the tech side of the museum world to the museum side of the tech world’ at Google Arts & Culture. There she managed cultural digitization operations in North America. ‘I loved the scale, the scope of our audience,’ she said of a project involving hundreds of institutional partnerships, digital curation of educational exhibitions and collections management software.

Emily has since founded the Global Art Access Corporation, a nonprofit whose mission is to broaden the availability of art and history through digital means. As executive director, Emily oversees its campaign ‘to create both scholarly and public access to inaccessible works,’ with a particular focus on giving private collections access to the digitization treatment enjoyed by major institutions. ‘We can open up scholarly and public access to completely inaccessible masterpieces,’ she attests, and through her work has seen private collections join the digital archives of the Smithsonian, Harvard University’s Fine Arts Library and The Frick.

Reflecting on her knowledge of both sides of the digital divide — the vast analog resources of institutions and contemporary technological solutions — Emily is passionate about ‘the importance that digitization plays in the preservation, education, curation and organization of art.’ Developing these ideas, the course will cover key elements of collections digitization, including archival management, copyright, practical digitization techniques, metadata development, content management systems and public accessibility.

By combining theory with hands-on experience, students will work on digitizing 2D artwork, rendering 3D models, compiling metadata spreadsheets and use curatorial tools. ‘This will provide a safe space to experiment, ask questions,’ Emily confirms. ‘Having practical experience for each topic can help to solidify the theory we cover in the course.’

Emily thinks it’s an exciting time for this fascinating intersection between art and tech. ‘I know there is incredible potential within the digital sector and I’m eager to introduce more people to the tools making this a reality.’ Through the groundbreaking efforts made by Google Arts & Culture, Global Art Access Corporation and a growing number of institutions around the world, collections digitization is creating new opportunities for scholarship and appreciation — whether its from previously unseen private collections and museum archives, or the art and artifacts of historically underrepresented cultures.

 To view the course and find out more click Collections Digitization