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Archives of American Art and Terra Foundation Announce Partnership for Increased Digital Access to the Archives’ Extensive Collection

October 18, 2016

The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art and the Chicago-based Terra Foundation for American Art announced a long-term partnership to support the digitization of the Archives’ collections.  The Terra Foundation has made a $4.5 million commitment to the Archives, $4 million of which is a challenge grant to be matched by the Smithsonian, to seed an endowment for ongoing digitization.  The remaining $500,000 provides operating support for the current digitization program.

The Archives of American Art holds nearly 6,000 collections of archival material on the artists, collectors, dealers, and scholars who have shaped the history of art in America.  Its oral history program, containing interviews with important artists ranging from Charles Burchfield to Kehinde Wiley, has preserved the voices and personal stories of nearly 2,300 art world luminaries since 1958.  Transcripts for many of these are available on the Archives’ website.

“With grants to the Smithsonian totaling nearly $15 million over the past 12 years, the Terra Foundation’s support has been enormously important to our work in American Art. The foundation’s work with us in the realm of digitization at the Archives goes far beyond a typical grantor–grantee relationship,” said David Skorton, Secretary of the Smithsonian. “Rather, the Terra Foundation’s visionary approach has enabled us to build an exemplary public–private partnership that has resulted in universal access to the Archives’ collections through a program admired worldwide. With this new award and the incentive that the challenge grant creates, we will be working together to achieve the most important objective: sustaining the Archives’ digitization program in perpetuity and adding to our understanding of American art.”

“The ongoing partnership between the Archives and the Terra Foundation provides scholars across the globe unparalleled access to one of the great repositories of original source documents related to American art,” explained Terra Foundation President & CEO Elizabeth Glassman. “Equally important, though, is that together we are cultivating a rich, meaningful, and sustained cross-cultural dialogue in the increasingly globalized field of art history, and diverse voices with exciting new perspectives are joining that conversation.”

Since the inception of its digitization program in 2004, with support from the Terra Foundation, the Archives has created more than 2 million digital images that together represent full online access to more than 160 of its most important collections, including the papers of art-world luminaries such as Milton Avery, Joseph Cornell, Lee Krasner, Horace Pippin, Jackson Pollock, and Grant Wood, among many others.  As the program has grown, visitation to the Archives’ ever-expanding collections has increased from about 2,000 users a year via its reading rooms and inter-library loan program for its microfilm to more than 500,000 users a year, with the vast majority visiting online.

“The stability that this new grant provides to seed a digitization endowment will enable us to participate robustly in groundbreaking initiatives like Linked Open Data and to contribute our data to developing digital art history projects,” said Kate Haw, Director of the Archives of American Art. “The Terra Foundation’s steadfast and enlightened support has allowed us to achieve a reach far beyond what we could have dreamed a decade ago and has contributed mightily to the appreciation of American art around the world.”

According to Terra Foundation Executive Vice President Amy Zinck, “This award, the single largest the foundation has ever granted, proactively addresses how information, particularly as it pertains to American art, is delivered, consumed, shared, and transformed in a digitally connected world. This project helps to situate the Archives at the leading edge of an evolving frontier.”

Archives of American Art

Founded in 1954, the Archives of American Art fosters advanced research through the accumulation and dissemination of primary sources, unequaled in historical depth and breadth, that document more than 200 years of the nation’s artists and art communities.  The Archives provides access to these materials through its exhibitions and publications, including the Archives of American Art Journal, the longest-running scholarly journal in the field of American art.  An international leader in the digitizing of archival collections, the Archives also makes more than two million digital images freely available online.  The oral history collection includes more than 2,200 audio interviews, the largest accumulation of in-depth, first-person accounts of the American art world.

Terra Foundation for American Art

Established in 1978, the Terra Foundation for American Art is dedicated to fostering the exploration, understanding, and enjoyment of the visual arts of the United States. With financial resources of more than $350 million, an exceptional collection of American art from the colonial period to 1945, and an expansive grant program, it is one of the leading foundations focused on American art, supporting exhibitions, academic programs, and research worldwide. Since 2005, the Terra Foundation has provided more than $70 million for approximately 700 exhibitions and education and scholarly programs in more than 30 countries, including Brazil, China, Israel, Russia, South Korea, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.