Digital Chaos be DAM-ed

The Warhol’s new mobile app, Unboxed, gives visitors a new way to interact with the collection and take home both a digital and physical souvenir of their experience at the museum. While using the app, visitors can easily scroll through images that represent the works of art currently on display throughout the museum. Although the images may seem to magically appear on the screen, having a way to easily search and find the images in a large collection is not always so simple. As such, The Warhol is currently embarking on a project to implement a new Digital Asset Management System (DAMS for short) to store and organize digital files at The Warhol.

A grid of Warhol's Jackie portraits silkscreened in blue, yellow, and black, with a vitrine in front filled with Jackie memorabilia.

Jackie, installation, The Andy Warhol Museum

As an artist, Warhol was known for being a prolific creator of repetitious series of works. The need for a DAMS at The Warhol becomes clear when you realize that it has over 41 art and archival works in its collection titled Mao, 60 works titled Jackie, and over 85 works titled Flowers! Identifiers like title and accession numbers alone won’t allow you to easily differentiate between the images of each work.

Eleven Mao portraits in different colors hanging on a wall wallpapered with purple Mao portraits.

Mao, installation, The Andy Warhol Museum, photo by Abby Warhola

The DAMS helps us with this problem by allowing us to associate metadata with each image. Metadata is basically descriptive text about each digital file. It can answer questions like, Who made this? When was it created? What is in this picture? Who owns the copyright?

Searching a large collection of digital files without metadata is a lot like searching for your father’s 4th grade class picture in a box filled to the brim with your grandmother’s unorganized photographs. Over time, the names of the people in the photos, the places, and time periods in which they were taken are forgotten. If your grandmother organized the photos by date or event and wrote details of who was in the photo on the back (in a way, assigning metadata to each picture), you’ll have a much easier time finding what you are looking for.

Five Diamond Dust Shoe paintings, each in a different color, hanging on a white wall.

Diamond Dust Shoes, installation, The Andy Warhol Museum

Fortunately, our catalogers have already done a lot of hard work of finding information and describing each work in our collections database. As such, our plan is to have our collections database connect to our DAMS to associate cataloging data with our digital files. That way searches like “yellow flowers painting” will turn up more useful results in the DAMS.

The DAMS also manages more than just collections images and videos. Here at the museum, we have done a lot of work creating “born-digital” content. Whether it be lesson plans, text for a book, or gallery layouts, our staff is constantly creating files that have value and are important to keep for future reference and for our institutional archives.

This new digital infrastructure will also help us to ensure the long-term preservation of our digital assets. It gives us the ability to embed this metadata so it will never be separated from our digital files (like writing on the back of a photograph). If the files are ever removed from our collection, or brought into new systems, we will still know key information about each asset.

Finally, the DAMS will allow us to do more advanced digital engagement projects by acting as a master source of collections images and videos. It will help us navigate the challenges of intellectual property restrictions by flagging copyright status and potential personality rights issues and then limiting access to certain files when necessary. The system also has its own Application Programming Interface (API), which makes it easy for the DAMS to talk to other systems and deliver the content across multiple digital platforms in a way that is mindful of intellectual property restrictions.

This new system will provide the infrastructure that will make our digital collections more easily accessible and ensure their long-term preservation. We look forward to using this foundation to bring new and exciting digital experiences to visitors and Warhol fans alike!

The new Digital Asset Management System was made possible through the support of The Hillman Foundation and an anonymous donor as a part of the Unboxed project.

Kristin Britanik

Kristin is The Warhol's digital project manager.