Tags for: Half a Decade of Open Access
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Half a Decade of Open Access

February 23, 2024
A screenshot of CMA's collection online showing open access images

Five years ago, in January 2019, the CMA launched its Open Access initiative, which makes available to the public high-resolution images of more than half the artworks in our collection, completely free to view, use, remix, merchandize, and more. Additionally, we made more than 36 fields of metadata available for each work in the collection—whether the work itself is in the public domain or is under copyright. These metadata fields include descriptive text, brief facts, catalogue raisonné, and provenance. This revolutionary step took the museum’s mission—“for the benefit of all the people forever”—into the twenty-first century. As the museum’s director William Griswold said at the launch: “Whenever, wherever, and however the public wishes to use, reuse, remix, or reinvent the objects that we hold, our collection is available—for we are but caretakers of these objects, which belong to the artistic legacy of humankind.” With this initiative, the CMA became a global leader of open access institutions. Our museum is free to the public to visit in person, and Open Access makes the collection free and accessible for the entire online world.

Where to find the Open Access Collection

In the past five years, the CMA’s Open Access images have spread to countless digital repositories, as well as to other sites, apps, and groups that want to use these masterworks. Recently, the CMA reached out to the groups that have partnered with Open Access and asked them what they’ve been doing with the images of our collection. Below are some of the places you can find our Open Access collection:

  • Wikipedia and other Wikimedia platforms. Our collection has been viewed millions of times on Wikipedia, and is featured on Wikidata’s Sum of all Paintings project, which aims to have an entry for “every notable painting.” The data from this project has in turn been used by other projects, such as Wikidata Skim, openArtBrowser, and iART, continuing to spread our collection across the internet. 
CMA's virtual dashboards
Wikipedia Open Access views from CMA's virtual dashboards in February 2024. 
  • Digital libraries and repositories. The Internet Archive hosts nearly 40,000 objects from our Open Access collection, which have been viewed more than three million times. 
Views of CMA objects on Internet Archive
Views of CMA artworks on Internet Archive. 

Our collection can also be found on Artstor, Artsy, and the Artsy iPhone app, and  Curationist as well as Google Arts & Culture.

CMA objects on google arts and culture
CMA artworks on Google Arts & Culture. 
  • Artle. This game, created by the National Gallery of Art, allows users to test their knowledge of famous art and artists. Every Thursday, the works for Artle come out of CMA’s own Open Access collection.
A screenshot of the Artle game
Artle uses CMA artworks every Thursday. 

Of course, you can always find the Open Access collection on the CMA’s own website, the newest version of which launched at the beginning of January 2024. The collection search allows users to easily identify which works are Open Access, and the high-resolution images of these works, alongside the robust metadata associated with them, can be downloaded quickly. For 3D Open Access objects, users can access the museum’s 3D models through the museum’s comprehensive photogrammetry on Sketchfab

A screenshot of CMA's collection online
CMA's collection online, which can be filtered by 'Open Access.'

Just as the Open Access collection grows every year, so, too, does the list of partners continue to expand. Different organizations have reached out to the museum, noting how eager they are to use the incredible data we’ve made public. 

In the future, keep an eye out for our collection:

The uses for the Open Access collection are limited only by imagination—we look forward to seeing what the public does with the images and information we have provided.

The Open Access Collection: A Tool for Change and Innovation

As the museum continues to experiment with new ways to bring the collection to the public, the Open Access collection—because of the freedom to use these images and the versatility of the API—can be used as a starting point to test ideas. The CMA was able to use the Open Access collection in a groundbreaking way in the special exhibition Revealing Krishna: Journey to Cambodia’s Sacred Mountain, on view from November 14, 2021, to January 30, 2022. The exhibition featured an immersive, mixed-reality HoloLens tour which culminated in a life-size holographic representation of the original cave temple on Phnom Da, where visitors are invited to walk around an artist’s re-creation of the sculpture as it might have stood. Creating a 3D model of the sculpture to modify its appearance was achievable because the 1,500-year-old, larger-than-life-size stone sculpture, Krishna Lifting Mount Govardhan, is an Open Access artwork. Additionally, the CMA was able to share versions of the 3D model with the public. 

Group of people standing around a hologram of a stone doorway
The CMA’s special exhibition Revealing Krishna: Journey to Cambodia’s Sacred Mountain, on view from November 14, 2021, to January 30, 2022
A screenshot of Krishna lifting mount Govardhan on CMA's collection online
You can see Krishna Lifting Mount Govardhan in 3D on CMA's collection online.  

Other institutions have been able to use of the Open Access collection for their own projects, such as “Interwoven: Global Connections to South Asian Textiles,” created in collaboration with Microsoft’s AI for Cultural Heritage program and the Museum of Art and Photography in Bengaluru, India. “Interwoven” uses AI and machine learning to connect textiles held in collections across the world to show the viewer the ways that art connects us all. The CMA was one of 16 other museums who contributed items in their collection; as Jane Alexander, chief digital information officer at the CMA, noted in an interview when the project was launched, “This is a wonderful implementation of our Open Access collection. . . . We recognize that people may never visit Cleveland to experience our collection in person, so this interactive tool allows visitors around the world to explore our remarkable collection in a way that offers deeper context and cultural insights, ultimately making art more relatable to them.” Microsoft was one of the CMA’s initial partners in the Open Access collection, and in the past five years these art world, academic, commercial, community, and technology partners have continued to help spread the CMA’s collection to increasingly large audiences.

a screenshot of the Interwoven project
See CMA objects as part of a larger network of South Asian textiles in the Interwoven project. 

The Open Access collection can be used in incredibly varied and creative ways by other institutions, corporations, and individual creators. Almog Mizrahi’s 3D video of knights in armor atop horses, based on the publicly available photogrammetry of the CMA’s work Armor for Man and Horse with Völs-Colonna Arms, demonstrates this potential. The full video, including images of Mizrahi’s process, can be seen here. The way this project uses and builds on the CMA’s photogrammetry demonstrates how the images of and data associated with Open Access works has unlimited value for creative projects.

A still from a video showing knights in armor riding horses
A still from Mizrahi's video. 
A screenshot showing the process of animating moving figures
Behind the scenes of how CMA's art was used to animate the video. 
CMA's Armor for Horse on Collection online
You can see Armor for Man and Horse with Vols-Colonna Arms in 3D with the CMA’s collection online

Engagement with Open Access

The Open Access collection is first and foremost intended to be used. To this end, the CMA created a well-documented, public API and a GitHub repository so that data scientists could incorporate the collection into their data-visualization and machine-learning projects.

As of February 2024, the CMA’s collection has reached millions of users. It has been viewed 6 million times on our Collection Online; the Open Access API has been downloaded 47 million times; and images of collection objects have been viewed over 300 million times on Wikimedia platforms. As these numbers grow, users can explore the data on the CMA’s Live Virtual Dashboards. 

A screenshot of CMA's virtual dashboards
One of the CMA’s virtual dashboards in February 2024

Some of the CMA’s most accessed works have millions of views in their own right. The myriad views and downloads of the Open Access high-resolution images of these works, along with all the metadata associated with them, demonstrate the value of these resources for scholarship and exploration. 

In the five years since the CMA’s Open Access project began, the need for free and accessible art has become even more relevant. Months after the project was launched, lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily closed museums across the world. During this time, the CMA was able to continue innovating. By leveraging resources like the Open Access API we created games like ArtLens for Slack and Share Your View: ArtLens AI, both of which allow users to engage with the CMA’s collection from their homes when connecting in person is not possible. For both projects, the Open Access collection was a critical resource. Our collection is an invaluable resource for those within this museum and those beyond it; we can't wait to see the way it will continue to inspire the public in the next five years.