New Project puts Public Art all over the Web

Vol 2, Issue 2

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New Project puts Public Art all over the Web

by Jennifer Geigel Mikulay

Where do people turn when they want information? In our digital era, websites like Google, Yahoo, and Wikipedia are increasingly common search starting places. To leverage the power of sites like these, public art historians, advocates and preservationists should use popular websites to share the details of public art projects with their publics.

Why spend scarce resources on building a special website and then worry about how to drive traffic to it when you can easily share information in the online places everyone already uses?

Working from the premise that Wikipedia is an ideal and strategic venue for collecting and widely sharing information about public art, a year ago twenty museum studies students created new articles about forty outdoor sculptures on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI)). The students were participants in a Collections Care and Management course that I co-taught with Richard McCoy, a conservator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. As a result of the successful pilot with our students, we created a collective effort now known as Wikipedia Saves Public Art (WSPA) to enlist others in a campaign to make public art information more easily accessible. Our project aims to extend the work begun by the Smithsonian Institution and Heritage Preservation in the 1990s initiative Save Outdoor Sculpture! (SOS!). Read more about the project in The Chronicle of Higher Education here:

The sculptures our students documented in Wikipedia are typical of what is found on many college campuses: figurative bronzes, bright, shiny abstract sculptures and works both obscure and important by a mix of alumni, faculty, students, local artists and international talents. Students researched the origins of these works, their contemporary conditions and uses, their specific locations and their meanings within the larger field. The Wikipedia articles we created include GPS coordinates of each work, descriptive information, images, and references. When possible, our articles link to the Smithsonian Institution’s database of outdoor sculpture. However, unlike the Smithsonian Institution’s database, information in Wikipedia can be easily updated to reflect up-to-the-minute conditions with public art.

Information shared in Wikipedia is also easily spread to other sectors of the Web. For example, the GPS coordinates of sculptures become the basis for markers visible in Google maps. And, Wikipedia easily generates “fan pages” in Facebook, so that information shared via the encyclopedia becomes content available on other popular Web platforms. As one of the top ten most visited websites, the creative potential of Wikipedia and the information it contains is vast.

To facilitate interactivity among Wikipedians, IUPUI museum studies graduate student Lori Byrd Phillips has taken the lead in assembling resources on a series of “Wikiproject” pages within the online encyclopedia. These pages provide guidance for anyone interested in replicating and improving upon our efforts. Here, you will find article templates, tips on how to document and write about public art, advice on how to illustrate articles with images and news about how people are using the WSPA model. In addition to documenting the process used on the IUPUI campus, the Wikiproject pages link to comprehensive lists of public art works in Paris, London and Washington, DC, as well as Wikipedia articles about public art that have achieved “featured article” status.

As WSPA enters its second year, IUPUI museum studies students will again create new articles about local sculpture, this time focusing on the many important and historic artworks at the Indiana Statehouse’s grounds and interior. In addition, Milwaukee will begin adding articles about works in the municipal collection. If you’d like to learn about how to use Wikipedia to increase awareness of your local public art works, please visit the WSPA project page:

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