A Museums for America grant from the federal government's Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has enabled SFMOMA to develop Explore Modern Art, the centerpiece of our redesigned website launched in November 2008. This online learning environment is an interactive space that integrates our multimedia interpretive programs, collections information, and calendar of public programs and events. It is designed to encourage greater engagement with modern and contemporary art and with SFMOMA.
SFMOMA's Interactive Educational Technologies (IET) team has invested more than a decade in developing interactive features on art displayed at SFMOMA. Altogether these features deliver engaging programming on 85 modern and contemporary artists, enabling visitors to learn about the contexts in which the artworks were created, see videos of the artists in their studios, hear first-person explanations of their creative processes, and view high-resolution digital images of the artworks. In Explore Modern Art this substantial repository of interactive digital features, podcasts, and video/audio interviews with artists has been reformatted into more easily accessible segments and merged with our searchable online database, Collections Access Online. Launched in 2004, this database continues to expand. It currently provides users with information (artist, title, nationality, date, medium) about more than 9,000 objects from the museum's collection of 27,000 artworks.
The enhanced collection records at the heart of the Explore Modern Art interface combine information about artists and their work with related multimedia features as well as a variety of interpretive texts, including 200 artists' biographies commissioned as part of the project. These materials are presented alongside timely information about museum programs and events that are directly related to the artist and/or artwork information being viewed. By uniting these many elements, Explore Modern Art provides our online audience with a greater sense of context for the art and artists in the museum's collection, with layered access to different levels of information aimed at users with varying interests and amounts of knowledge. In addition to providing a more complete view of the museum's collection and programs, Explore Modern Art offers a dynamic alternative to traditional search-based collection databases: the SFMOMA ArtScope. This new tool enables web visitors to browse thumbnail images of artworks in our collection and filter them by artist, date, medium, and keyword, and encourages independent exploration and discovery.
Explore Modern Art supports lifelong learning by significantly broadening public access to the museum's rich educational offerings. By contextualizing SFMOMA's collection and exhibitions, it encourages participation in our public programs. In a sense, the project aims to create the digital equivalent of a distinctly analog experience: sitting down in a library and casually browsing stacks of titles, familiar and unfamiliar, in a subject area of one's own choosing. Explore Modern Art goes a step beyond the library analogy, however, by offering a direct and intuitive path from on-screen content to a first-person experience of the artwork and related events at the museum. It also is sufficiently flexible and scalable to allow for an unfolding narrative over time, mirroring the constantly evolving nature of modern and contemporary art.