March 2022 Update: Artist Identities Data Program

What is the Artist Identities Data Program?

The Artist Identities Data Program (AIDP) at SFMOMA is a collaboration among staff in our Curatorial and Collections departments to steward information about artists whose artworks SFMOMA has acquired for our art collection or shown in our exhibitions. The AIDP began in November 2020 as the Artist Identity Project, a special project to advance management of artist demographic data in our internal collections database (often referred to as the collections management system). In early 2022, this special project was renamed and became an ongoing program that signals our efforts to broaden the scope of identity data related to living artists, the ongoing nature of and our commitment to stewarding artist identity data, as well as to make sure that our work occurs in conversation with identity data efforts happening in other SFMOMA departments and in other museums, libraries, and archives.

The formation of the AIDP is just one way in which we, SFMOMA staff, can hold ourselves accountable to our publicly shared DEI goal of expanding the art we collect and exhibit to be inclusive of artists with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences. We use facets of artist identity data as a measure of our progress in meeting this commitment. The AIDP’s purpose is centered on the sensitive, responsible, and ethical management and use of artist identity data in ways that further SFMOMA’s mission. In 2021, we developed processes for seeking, researching, and recording identity data that is self-reported by artists, as well as data that we research when an artist is deceased. Artists are the ideal sources of information about how their identities can or may be represented and receiving self-reported data directly from artists is our intent when working with contemporary artists.

Through the development of an Artist Questionnaire, living artists are now able to self-report both aggregate, demographic data as well as narrative, qualitative information about their identity. Artists are able to provide as much information as they wish, while also choosing to opt out completely or to let us know if they do not wish a connection to be made between their work and their personal identity. In addition to helping us track our progress, the information we receive from artists will then provide SFMOMA with an invaluable knowledge set that informs how we represent artists and their work in our gallery texts, publications, programs, and any other public-facing content. When SFMOMA acquires or displays a work by an artist who is no longer living, we use appropriate, published primary and secondary sources to research and document select demographic identity data related to the deceased artist. By limiting our research to only certified, published data, we acknowledge that personal identity is ever evolving, and that the accuracy of our data will only be a reflection of how close our resources are to the main source, the artist.

Several art museums in the United States are similarly engaged in artist identities projects: examples include the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. We believe our work at SFMOMA will best advance if done in partnership or in community with other museums, so we are in regular conversation with external colleagues about working collectively in this area.

What have we accomplished?

SFMOMA’s annual dashboard is an example of how the museum makes judicious use of the artist identity data stewarded by the AIDP team. The annual dashboard reports on aggregated, anonymized demographic data — such as race, ethnicity, and gender — related to artists whose works the museum acquired or exhibited in the previous fiscal year. This past year the AIDP team focused on actions that helped us provide aggregated, anonymized data for inclusion in the fiscal year 2021 dashboard, as well as actions that give us a basic foundation for stewarding identity data upon which we can act and evolve.

Between November 2020 and March 2022, the Artist Identities Data Program team focused on these actions:

  • developing and applying a framework for seeking, storing, and managing artist identity data
  • working with our collections management system vendor to build out the system to receive and document identity data
  • adopting identity-related terminology used across SFMOMA to represent identities of artists, staff, donors, trustees, and visitors
  • writing, testing, and administering a questionnaire designed for artists whose works SFMOMA has acquired and/or exhibited
  • managing self-reported data received from artists and researched data for deceased artists
  • contributing aggregated, anonymized data to the museum’s fiscal year 2021 dashboard

What’s next?

In 2022 we will set in motion a data governance plan which includes an annual review of our data collection, documentation practices, and the terminology we use, including updates to terminology or responses provided by artists. We are committed to using the best contemporary practices to govern data in our internal records, including managing and documenting changes that are made over time to terminology, descriptions, and sources of identity data. Our stewardship of artist identity data relies on ongoing collaboration in reviewing and evolving our framework which places sensitive, responsible, and ethical management and use of artist identity data at the center of the AIDP purpose.

If you have questions or comments about our Artist Identities Data Program, we would love to hear from you via artistdata@sfmoma.org.

Artist Identities Data Program team:

América Castillo – Project Manager, Curatorial Division
Billy Blender- Curatorial Intern (summer 2021)
Cecilia Platz – Visual Resources Associate
Daryl McCurdy – Curatorial Assistant II, Architecture + Design
David Senior – Head of Library & Archives
Ella Milliken Detro – Library & Archives Collections Coordinator
Ian Gill – Collections Information Systems Specialist
Layna White – Director of Collections
Marla Misunas – Collections Information Manager
Meg Ocampo – Archivist/Records Manager
Rebecca Weisberg – Digital Asset Manager