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Cornell's Johnson Museum launches $680,000 effort to put permanent collection on the World Wide Web

Almost the entire permanent collection -- more than 27,000 objects -- of Cornell's Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art will be made available for viewing on the World Wide Web over the next two years.

"By embracing this technology, we are able to construct a museum without walls, a museum that can be toured by anybody, anywhere in the world," said Franklin W. Robinson, the Richard J. Schwartz Director of the museum.

The task of digitizing the museum's entire collection for placement on the web is an extensive and expensive undertaking. Museum officials say the digitization project will cost nearly $700,000 in equipment purchases and added personnel. The museum has had to purchase new digital photography equipment and computer hardware and software, as well as hire five additional staff members.

Funding for the project has come from an anonymous donor and the Cornell Institute for Digital Collections (CIDC), of which the museum is a founding partner. "This project would not have been possible without the support from our anonymous donor and from CIDC," said Carol DeNatale, the museum's registrar and project co-director.

Although several national and international museums already have extended their gallery space to the web, it remains off-limits to many smaller museums and galleries because of the technology's prohibitive costs, DeNatale noted. "What also has helped greatly in bringing this project to fruition is the talent and knowledge already available on the Cornell campus. We are very fortunate to be at Cornell," she said.

The digitization project will enable visitors to the Johnson Museum's web site to see almost all of the museum's permanent collection. Some works, those for which the artists retain copyright, might not be available on the web. Currently most of the Johnson Museum's permanent collection resides in storage space out of public view. Only about 5 percent of the works in the permanent collection are on display at any given time.

Photographers will use direct digital capture technology to take full-color images at up to 6,000 by 8,400 pixels -- resolution high enough for reproduction in museum publications. These high-resolution images will be stored on compact disc to be available for use in publications and other formats. Lower resolution photographs will be integrated into the database and be displayed via the museum's web site.

Museum officials estimate that about 70 pieces will be scanned each day. "This number will decrease significantly when we began to digitize the three-dimensional objects in our collection," said DeNatale.

DeNatale said it may be several months before digitized works appear on the museum's web site, as officials await delivery of a new database to service the site. But the digitized reproductions will be available for viewing at kiosks soon to be installed in the museum lobby.

"These kiosks will serve as prototypes for our project," DeNatale said. "Visitors to the museum will be able to access images of our permanent collection as the images become available over the next two years."

The digitization of the Johnson Museum's permanent collection is the first such project being conducted under the auspices of the CIDC. This universitywide consortium will oversee similar digitization efforts of various other Cornell collections, including the slide libraries of the Department of Art History, the College of Architecture, Art and Planning and the Rare and Manuscript Collections at Kroch Library. Funding for the CIDC was provided by a Cornell alumnus, Arthur Penn '56.

"In return for the support for personnel that is being provided to us by the CIDC, the museum will make all of the digitization equipment available to CIDC after two years, so that it may continue its work of digitizing more of the university's various collections," DeNatale said.

The Johnson Museum, considered to be one of the most important university museums in the country, has especially strong holdings in Asian art, 19th and 20th century American art and the graphic arts.

"The ultimate goal of this project is to make our permanent collection more accessible and more available to the public," Robinson said. "While no amount of technology, of course, will ever substitute for seeing the original, our hope is that this project will excite those who would not normally visit a museum, and enrich the experience of everyone interested in art."

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