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New collaboration to manage UC’s art collection

Recent changes aim to bring more visibility, accessibility and use of this rich collection

The University of Cincinnati boasts a rich art collection most familiar to those who recognize its pieces distributed around campus in buildings and offices. A new management collaboration has the potential to bring heightened awareness and purpose to this treasure trove.

painting of ship building

Ship Building. Lie, Jonas, 1880-1940. created 1908. UC Art Collection

With more than 3,600 works, the UC Art Collection is international in scope, and includes paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, photographs, furniture, ceramics and decorative arts spanning five millennia, from ancient Greece to the present day.

Within this enormous range, works of art from the U.S. form one of the core areas in the collection. And, appropriately, the art of Cincinnati, especially that produced during the late-19th and early-20th centuries, is a particular strength with pieces from Elizabeth Nourse, Lewis Henry Meakin, Frank Harmon Myers, Herman Henry Wessel, Louis Charles Vogt and John Ellsworth Weis.

While many works of art contained in the UC Art Collection have resided at the institution since the early 20th century, the collection was not officially established until 1967 when it was determined that the centralization of curatorial and management activities would more effectively serve documentation, scholarship and preservation efforts. Recent changes to its management structure aim to bring even more visibility, accessibility and use to this valuable resource.

In early 2019, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost Kristi Nelson, herself a professor emeritus of art history, shared her desire to make UC’s Art Collection more open and available for teaching, learning and research. This led to the expansion of the UC Art Collection Executive Committee and a transfer of management oversight responsibilities from the Provost Office to the deans of the College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP) and of UC Libraries.

painting of Greek countryside

View from Delphi Greece. Langsam, Julia E, 1905-. created 1962. UC Art Collection

“Art is integral to learning. It serves as a platform for communication and influence and often functions as a vehicle for social change,” says Nelson. “By transitioning the management of the UC Art Collection to DAAP, coupled with the technical support of UC Libraries, the collection will become more visible and accessible for art enthusiasts and scholars allowing for sharing and learning on a global scale.”

With this new arrangement, the UC Art Collection is now managed by Aaron Cowan, director of DAAP Galleries & Museum Studies, in collaboration with the office of Planning, Design + Construction (PD+C). UC Libraries was charged with providing technology and systems support for the application to organize and discover items within the collection.

The transition of the management of the UC Art Collection to DAAP, coupled with the technology support of UC Libraries, will enable it to become a better utilized and vibrant piece of the UC community, as well as a more accessible resource for art enthusiasts and scholars worldwide.

contemporary painting with red and blue blocks

Construction-Steel. Crawford, Ralston, 1906-1978. created 1979. UC Art Collection

The management of the Art Collection coalesces with DAAP’s academic and societal mission in art exhibition and curatorship. The college currently oversees the exhibitions and operations of two on-campus galleries — the Reed Gallery in the DAAP building and the Meyers Gallery in the Steger Student Life Center — where works of art are made available for the enjoyment and education of the UC community and the broader public.

DAAP also offers undergraduate and graduate certificates in Museum Studies through its School of Art, which will be enhanced with student and research opportunities afforded by access to the Art Collection. The ability to interact with the works in the UC Art Collection, and to use the collection for students’ practical experience in collection management, will serve to make all of these programs into richer experiences.

“DAAP is honored to have been entrusted with the management of the UC Art Collection, and excited by the opportunity to enrich and deepen our engagement with the collection. Our college’s stewardship of this incredible resource, on behalf of the university, will enhance research, education and cultural appreciation for our institution and the community,” said Tim Jachna, dean of DAAP. “Increasing the accessibility and visibility of these artworks, maintaining best practices in the curation and care of these valuable assets and optimizing the collection’s use as a resource for teaching, learning and scholarship will be core to our mission in taking on this role.”

photograph of Cincinnati's Coney Island at night

Coney Island Mall, Cincinnati. Briol, Paul, 1889-1969. UC Art Collection

With UC Libraries vision to become the intellectual hub of the university, the new UC Art Collection management structure is in excellent alignment with UC Libraries broad collection stewardship and access integration missions.

UC Libraries was charged with technology support of the curation and discoverability of the Art Collection. A UC Art Collection Technology Task Force, chaired by May Chang, the Libraries chief technology officer, and comprised of Aaron Cowan; Elizabeth Meyer, head of the Robert A. Deshon and Karl J. Schlachter Library for Design, Architecture, Art and Planning; Glen Horton, UC Libraries head of application development; and Jim Campbell, UC Libraries network analyst, along with staff from PD+C, researched and evaluated art collection management systems that would meet teaching, research and administrative requirements.

This led the task force to choose Proficio Elements (Re:discovery Software), a web-based content management system that will allow for searching and discoverability of items within the collection. The group is now working on system implementation and data migration of images of items in the collection. The UC Art Collection will be available in Proficio Elements sometime later this fall. Future development will integrate the UC Art Collection with other UC Libraries systems, such as the Library Catalog.

“Working with our colleagues in DAAP to make the UC Art Collection more visible and accessible to not just the university’s community of students, faculty and staff, but to scholars, researchers and art enthusiasts worldwide, is another example of how UC Libraries achieves our mission to empower discovery, stimulate learning and inspire the creation of knowledge,” said Xuemao Wang, vice provost for digital scholarship and dean and university librarian. “Our technology and librarian expertise, coupled with our cross-campus collaborative nature, makes UC Libraries well suited for this role.”