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NEH awards grant to Carnegie Museum of Art for digital provenance project
Building Exterior, Carnegie Museum of Art; Photo: Tom Little, 2013.

PITTSBURGH, PA.- Carnegie Museum of Art announces the award of a $350,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to fund the second phase of its innovative project, Art Tracks: Standardizing Digital Provenance Documentation for Cultural Objects.

This major award will help to fund the development of software that structures provenance records in keeping with recognized museum standards, enabling collecting institutions to use and share provenance data. Not only will this sharing aid new scholarship, it allows institutions to present the history of a work of art within the context of other objects and entire collections.

Provenance, or the history of ownership, custody, and movement of art, has always been critical for understanding the events, people, and locations that are significant to the history of an object. In the last 20 years, global concern about preservation and heritage have stimulated increased interest in research on provenance, but the information has been difficult to standardize and use. The use of a digital standard allows these stories to be told across collections, through an open, digital exchange of collection data among museums, libraries, and other institutions. Further, this grant enables development of experimental prototypes for sharing this data with the museums’ many publics.

CMOA has conducted extensive, groundbreaking work establishing and sharing tools that allow computers to read and standardize the existing text of provenance narratives, as well as create data sets from existing text. Phase Two of Art Tracks will take the CMOA Provenance Standard and software prototypes and expand them to address the needs of collecting institutions.

Lynn Zelevansky, The Henry J. Heinz II Director at CMOA said, “We are delighted to receive this generous support from the NEH. It is confirmation that CMOA is expanding the boundaries in developing digital tools that will benefit cultural organizations around the world.”

In partnership with The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, supported by the Smithsonian Provenance Research Initiative, and the Yale Center for British Art, CMOA’s Art Tracks team will focus on further refinement of the provenance standard to meet the requirements of a range of collecting institutions. Through the use of Linked Open Data and a widespread adoption of a single standard, provenance information may be viewed across institutions and collections, telling a more complete history of art. This will allow museums to ask more nuanced questions about where artworks have been over the course of their lifetimes.

“NEH provides support for projects across America that preserve our heritage, promote scholarly discoveries, and make the best of America’s humanities ideas available to all Americans,” said NEH Chairman William D. Adams. “We are proud to announce this latest group of grantees who, through their projects and research, will bring valuable lessons of history and culture to Americans.”

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