Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes: Behind the scenes at the ASU Art Museum

May 7, 2012 at 7:34 pm 1 comment

Below: Gordon Knox (Director, ASU Art Museum) looks on curiously as Julie Thies, left, performs one of her TMS training sessions. Heather Sealy Lineberry (Senior Curator and Associate Director) also attends. Photo by Stu Mitnik.

Transitions are happening everywhere, from the changing seasons (which in Phoenix we call “hot” and “really, really hot”), to the updated layout on Facebook that caused millions to panic. The Arizona State University Art Museum is no exception to these recent shifts.

The art museum has recently made a transition from an unwieldy Access Database to The Museum System (TMS), a super sleek and powerful database, software which also graces the collections of such prestigious institutions as the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg, and the Metropolitan in New York City. The Museum System combines user-friendly features with a multi-faceted, innovative approach to adding in-depth details to collections and records.  With TMS, the simplest aspects of an artwork are easily accessible, such as an artist’s birthplace or the year a piece was made, yet it also allows for users to find pieces using ambiguous terms, dates and locations, because of its extensive database.

Julie Thies, an independent consultant who has worked with TMS for 12 years, says, “If I didn’t have TMS, there are some questions I would have a hard time answering.” She recollects an instance in which a museum goer called about a piece he had seen several years prior: “With TMS, I didn’t have to hunt through tons of filing drawers to try to find the answer. And I don’t think the answer was anywhere in a drawer.”

Julie, who was the collections database manager at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky for 10 years and who got her start using TMS as an intern at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and the Sackler Gallery, both of which are part of the Smithsonian Institution, came to the ASU Art Museum in December as an independent consultant to assist with the launch of The Museum System.  Without Julie’s expertise, the switch to TMS would have seemed almost impossible, as she was a beacon of hope and calm when we were caught in the tumultuous and dark seas of database conversion.

The breadth and intensity of the switch to TMS is almost hard to describe, but mentioning the numbers — a migration of close to 14, 000 objects as well as 14, 000 object images — it’s a bit easier to understand the magnitude of such an undertaking. Regardless of the time, energy and potential loss of sanity, however, the database conversion is a welcome and much needed improvement to the museum collection, one that is incredibly valuable, time-saving, in-depth, and a rescuer of busy museum professionals.

Each user of The Museum System is bound to have a favorite feature that makes their life easier. For Julie Thies, the Wisest of All Who Use TMS, it’s the endless possibilities that rank number one for her. “You can track anything about an object, where it has been, where it is and where it is going. You can manage exhibitions, images and artist information. Over the years it is nice to watch the information grow and develop, and you can see a real history of an object within the institution.”

A conversion to a new database system not only eases the collection process but helps people to better understand a collection as a whole, in parts, or as singular objects. With this understanding, our museum then becomes a more accessible platform from which to be involved in a dialogue about art. And in the end, isn’t that what a collection should do?

- Aubree Jacobs, Assistant to the Registrar, True TMS believer.

Above, left to right, Gordon Knox, Heather Sealy Lineberry and ASU Art Museum Registrar Anne Sullivan take in a TMS training session. Photo by Stu Mitnik.

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SOFA So Good A Better Future: “Emerge” at the ASU Art Museum

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Sue Ellen Allen  |  May 7, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    I’m impressed! Thanks for sharing this look inside the life of the museum. It is wonderful to know there is such a powerful system and ASU has it. Congratulations.

    Reply

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