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IU's campus art collection maintained through a state-of-the-art database, regular student inventories

May 4, 2016

Caring for the thousands of items in the campus art collection calls for tracking via a state-of-the-art database and regular inventories conducted with the help of IU graduate students.

amy patterson

Campus art collections manager Amy Patterson utilizes new software that enables IU to manage information for its system-wide art collection. | PHOTO BY ERIC RUDD, IU COMMUNICATIONS

Campus art collections manager Amy Patterson oversees the 12,000-item collection, which ranges from handcrafted native baskets donated through the estate of late IU professors Elinor and Vincent Ostrom to the furniture and dishes on display in Bryan House, the traditional home of IU’s president in the heart of campus.

Late last year, the university chose a new database to help track the collection: The Museum System, which is widely used by big-name museums across the country.

“I believe the Getty uses it, and places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Eiteljorg in Indianapolis,” Patterson said. “It’s an industry standard that’s very big with museums.”

The database system the university used previously was dated and not very user-friendly, she said. In addition, the IU Art Museum and campus art collections items were combined under the old system. Now, both collections are tracked via The Museum System but their data is separated, making searching more streamlined for both entities.

“Every piece in our collection is numbered, and that’s what the record is tied to,” Patterson said. “When I pull up a record, it has all the information I need about a particular item. If it’s a painting, for example, it would include the medium, dimensions, the location and so on. We track all art on all campuses, so it will also tell me if the piece is here on the Bloomington campus or located on the South Bend campus.”

The system is continually updated thanks to the work of Patterson and a small army of graduate students, many of whom are enrolled in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs’ Arts Administration program, who help Patterson conduct the rolling inventory needed to track the collection that’s spread out across the university’s myriad campuses.

Second-year SPEA student Shuzhen Ye said she came to after her undergraduate work in China piqued her interest in creative art development. The hands-on nature of Patterson’s practicum appealed to her, she said.

“I was interested in this practicum because it deals with the on-campus art works database, which is important for any organization dealing with works of art,” she said. “Through my work, I’ve learned a lot of new words in the art field and I’ve learned to distinguish the collection type of artworks. For example, drawings and paintings actually don’t have too much different in Chinese, but I can now tell the difference between drawings, paintings and watercolor.”

She said she also enjoys sketching the works she interacts with, another part of the inventory.

“To me, it’s like a chance to learn drawing skills from the artists themselves,” she said. “You can find fun compositions and amazing color combinations.

The inventories conducted by the students are important to help Patterson keep an eye on the vast collection.

“We want to be sure we document and care for our art properly, and conserve it if needed,” she said. “We want everyone to be able to appreciate our amazing collection, and for there to be art everywhere you look across your campus.”

Did you know?

There’s another unique feature of the campus art collection -- IU employees from all campuses can work with the university’s campus art curators to install pieces from the collection in their workspace. IU units need only invest the money needed to bring a specific piece or pieces up to display quality, which is typically a fraction of the total value of the piece.

Interested in art for your workspace? Contact curator of campus art Sherry Rouse at srouse@iu.edu or assistant curator of campus art Katie Chattin at kchattin@iu.edu.

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