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Object of the Week: Uncle Thomas

Despite becoming interested in art relatively late in life, Titus Kaphar quickly built an impressive career by blurring the line between art and activism. Through his use of paint, tar, sculpting, and a wide range of other techniques, Kaphar uses his work to recontextualize and reimagine the way we look at history. This includes literal instances of altering history by crumpling, shredding, and reforming well-known images.

With his 2008 painting Uncle Thomas, Kaphar uses his gift for portraiture to shift an age-old archetype. The term “Uncle Tom,” named after the lead character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, has long been used to promote a picture of blackness that centers on obedience and servitude. In this work from SAM’s collection, Kaphar takes inspiration from his real-life uncle Thomas to display his updated perception of the name. By placing his uncle—a well-respected, land-owning black man—at the center of Uncle Thomas, Kaphar exchanges an image of servitude and oppression for one of strength, dignity, and authority. During Black History Month especially, Kaphar’s art represents an important example of empowerment and support within one’s own community.

This work is less experimental than other pieces Kaphar has created in more recent years, but its bold confrontation of history is representative of the artist’s larger body of work. Kaphar’s willingness to challenge complicated historical narratives directly through images has driven him to work with Time magazine and receive several accolades, including a MacArthur Fellowship in 2018. Through his unique approach, Kaphar is altering the way many view our nation’s past while shining a light on the unheard voices and forgotten faces of history.

Michael Miller, SAM Communications Intern

Image: Uncle Thomas, 2008, Titus Kaphar, tar on paper, 48 x 36 in., Contemporary Art Support Fund, 2009.31 © Titus Kaphar

Lauren Farris: Emerging Arts Leader Intern Look at SAM

“Vulnerability” has been a bit of a buzz word ever since Brené Brown’s TED Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.” Having watched Brené’s TED Talk and read one of her books, I value vulnerability a lot, but being vulnerable myself can still feel fairly nerve-wracking. So when the other Emerging Arts Leader Intern and I were asked to lead a My Favorite Things Tour, little did I know that the next 10 weeks would also include a road trip down vulnerability lane. 

When I first heard about the tour, I thought this tour would remain in the realm of theoretical, academic concepts. To be fair, a large part of the process involved researching the history behind each piece, utilizing resources from SAM’s libraries (thanks, Traci, Jordyn, and Yueh-Lin!), and meeting with curators (thanks, Pam and Chiyo!). But along with the historical research, our mentors and colleagues, Rachel, Seohee, David, and Priya (thank you all!), encouraged us to delve vulnerably into our stories and weave them into each piece. 

Because of this, I began asking myself some questions about my story, including being mixed race. For a while, I’ve been nervous about my voice because being mixed race often feels like a grey area between two distinct points of view and voices in society. But as I worked on the tour, each of our mentors and countless people shared their time, insight, stories, and vulnerability to help me process, ask deeper questions, and craft the content of the tour. Without them, the tour and this blog post would look entirely different. 

Not to mention, I’ll always cherish the times the other Emerging Arts Leader Intern, Cat, and I practiced nearly 50 versions of our ever-evolving tour with each other. Because our tours delved into more personal topics, we became each other’s support and cheerleader through a lot of ups and a few downs. Together, we also arranged informational interviews with staff across many departments, assisted at events like SAM Remix, DragonFest, and Summer Institute for Educators, and attended department and equity team meetings. I learned so much from working with Cat (miss you!) and love the ways in which SAM values and integrates collaboration. 

Throughout this entire internship, I’ve learned so much about museums, equity work within museums, and about myself. The interdisciplinary focus provided the opportunity to learn about many of the departments that comprise SAM. All throughout and above the galleries, it’s inspiring to see how many dedicated individuals play a role – from fundraising to checking coats to communicating with the press to leading student tours—to make SAM the museum that it is. 

I also learned a lot about equity work in museums that I didn’t know before. I’ve realized that it’s not enough to know some terms or read some papers or books, but it takes the vulnerability to ask myself the same questions within these papers. And it takes the bravery to answer these questions honestly. 

SAM gave me a safe space to ask questions and come from a posture of growth and progression rather than perfection. More than ever, I’ve learned how crucial and empowering it is to connect with people who share both similar and different experiences. The ways that SAM strives for equity within education, programming, exhibitions, staff, and every part of SAM is inspiring. SAM is opening up dialogue, asking themselves, and others, critical questions, and aiming to lead and learn with each step towards furthering inclusivity and equity. SAM taught me that it takes vulnerability and guts to genuinely look at equity within ourselves in order to implement equity institutionally and beyond.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who made this internship so special. And guess what? I’m so grateful, honored, and thrilled to continue on with SAM’s amazing Development Team as a Campaign Assistant! See you around!

– Lauren Farris, SAM Campaign Assistant & 2019 Emerging Arts Leader Intern

Photos: Natali Wiseman.

Muse/News: Radical times, art world internships, and online wives

SAM News

The summer edition of the Stranger’s Art & Performance Quarterly is out! Recommended SAM shows in the visual arts listings include Hear & Now, 2018 Betty Bowen Award Winner: Natalie Ball, Victorian Radicals, Zanele Muholi, Material Differences: German Perspectives, You Are on Indigenous Land: Places/Displaces, and Claire Partington: Taking Tea. They also recommend upcoming events Summer at SAM and Remix.

Fine Art Connoisseur, 425 Magazine, and Seattle Gay Scene are also among those who look forward to getting radical with the Victorians when our major exhibition opens this Thursday night.  

Local News

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig looks—and looks again—at Cecilia Vicuña’s first major US solo exhibition, now on view at the Henry Art Gallery.

The Seattle Times’ Brendan Kiley reports on the formal launch of the Art Workers Union (AWU), formed by and for security guards at the Frye Art Museum.

Margo Vansynghel for Crosscut on the future home of an incredible archive of Black Panther newspapers; a satellite of Estelita’s Library, it will be the first “tiny cultural space” from the Office of Arts & Culture.

The newspaper collection, says Dixon, preserves “an important, critical part of American history. To see that [this] time existed and that it’s captured in the pages of these newspapers so that people can actually see and read what we said—not what someone else is interpreting from afar—but what we said, how we articulated revolution in this country, that’s the importance of them.”

Inter/National News

From the Los Angeles Times: The Natural History Museum of LA County announced a major rethink of the La Brea Tar Pits site; the Olympic Sculpture Park’s designer Weiss/Manfredi is one of three firms making proposals for the project.

Hyperallergic’s Kealey Boyd on Margaret Kilgallen’s first posthumous museum exhibition—now on view at the Aspen Art Museum—and the artist’s “unique mix of folk, feminism, and street art.”

Artsy’s Benjamin Sutton examines “how internships are changing the art world,” detailing various initiatives at the Getty Foundation, Souls Grown Deep, and Artpace.

“Museums desperately need talent in all sorts of positions—curators represent a fraction of the staff of museums,” Anderson said. “We’d be thrilled if an accountant emerges from [the Souls Grown Deep initiative] and finds their way into the museum profession, but they’re an accountant who has knowledge and experience in a particular cultural remit that otherwise they may not have.”

And Finally

Please, My Wife, She’s Very Online.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: The Long Engagement, ca. 1854–59, Arthur Hughes, British, 1832–1915, oil on canvas, 42 1/8 × 21 in., Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council, Presented by the executors of the late Dr. Edwin T. Griffiths, 1902P13, © Birmingham Museums Trust, Courtesy American Federation of Arts.

SAM Connects Culture to Emerging Arts Leaders

Read all about Trang Tran’s experience at SAM as our 2018 Emerging Arts Intern. The Emerging Arts Internship at SAM grew out of SAM’s equity goal and became a paid 10-week position at the museum designed to provide emerging arts leaders from diverse backgrounds with an in-depth understanding of SAM’s operations, programming and audiences. We’re searching for our next Emerging Arts Intern! Does this sound like you? Applications are due April 1!

When I was asked to write a wrap-up blog about my experiences as an Emerging Arts Leader intern at the Seattle Art Museum, I asked myself, “Jeez, where do I even begin?” There are so many experiences, memories, and relationships that I have built at this museum, a place I now consider a second home, that it’s hard to summarize my journey in a paragraph or two.

As I was walking toward the museum on my first day of the internship, the word “anxious” wouldn’t have entirely encapsulated my emotions. I was also thrilled, grateful, and honored to be working at one of the best art institutions on the West coast. My first week flew by as I met staff members who were inclusive, welcoming, supportive, and helpful as I tried to find my way around the maze of the administrative office. Over the next weeks, I began conducting informal interviews with staff members, working on projects with the curatorial, communication, and educational departments, and I ran around the museum trying to find meeting rooms but repeatedly ending up on the wrong floor (“M stands for Maloney”– David). I also toured the Olympic Sculpture Park (Thanks, Maggie!), made multiple trips to the galleries and library as I began research for my December My Favorite Things Tour, spiraled down the rabbit hole in art storage (Thanks, Carrie!), attempted to write a press release for an upcoming exhibition (Thanks, Rachel!), participated in many events hosted by the museum, and more!

One event I was especially honored to participate in was the Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodpur, India Community Opening Celebration. I had the opportunity to interact with the community by greeting them at the door and answering questions about the evening’s programs. Instead of running around the administrative office or staring at a computer screen, I was able to engage with the museum’s audience. It was amazing to witness the enthusiasm, anticipation, and joy radiating from everyone I met at the door. Even though I ended up losing my voice that night, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

I was also fortunate to spend the day with my little brother, Kevin, at the Diwali Family Festival. Diwali, or the “festival of lights,” is one of the most important celebrations in India where people celebrate the triumph of good over evil. The museum’s annual Diwali Family Festival included a vibrant fashion show, numerous art activities, dance performances, live music, and tours of the special exhibition, Peacock in the Desert, as well as tours of SAM’s permanent collections and installations. By attending this event, I hoped to show my brother that art is not just about color pigments on a white canvas on the wall or a sculpture encased in glass that you forget about as soon as you walk away. Art has the effect of bringing people together. People of different ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds come together to celebrate, learn about, and appreciate a culture. Art also has the power to encapsulate political struggles, social changes, cultural values, and art movements. These are the reasons why I love, and am passionate, about art. I hope that if I can help the youngest member of my family see how powerful art can be, maybe one day my parents, as well as the wider Asian-American community, will learn to accept and recognize the existence of the art world.

Throughout this 10-week interdisciplinary internship, I found myself learning about the numerous operations that keep the museum running on an everyday basis. Such operations range from researching artworks in the curatorial department to fundraising in the development department, from promotional strategies in the marketing department to writing press releases in the communication department, and from preserving artworks in the conservation department to engaging the public in the educational department. But if I were to selected one main lesson to take away after this internship, it would be that a museum is not just about the artworks in the gallery; it’s also about people coming together to successfully bring these artworks to the public. For an artwork to be displayed in the museum, for a sculpture to be standing in the gallery, or for an exhibition to be showcased for three months, it takes cooperation from every department in the museum. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone who has welcomed, accepted, supported, challenged, and encouraged me throughout this internship. Thank you for all the hard work that you are doing, not only for the world of art, but also for the public community.

– Trang Tran, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern 2018

Say Hi to SAM’s New Emerging Arts Leader: Trang Tran

SAM’s ongoing Emerging Arts Leader Internship continues this winter with Trang Tran, a senior at the University of Washington.

This paid internship is aimed at candidates who are underrepresented in the museum field. It’s an interdisciplinary internship that allows the intern to interact with diverse aspects of museum work and contribute their unique insights and perspectives. Members of SAM’s Equity Team, representing several departments at the museum, make up the hiring committee for this important internship that is just one way SAM is working to create points of entry into the museum field and work toward equity and inclusion within our own walls. Launched in 2016, the internship program now boasts seven graduates.

Trang started her internship in September and will be here through the end of 2018. Growing up, she was expected to pursue a STEM career and planned to study biology—until an introductory art history course changed the course of her life (art has a way of doing that). Graduating next June from UW, she’s now pursuing an art history degree—with a minor in microbiology! During her cross-disciplinary internship, she’ll explore all facets of the museum field and share her unique insights along the way. Says Trang, “I want to demonstrate to society—especially the Asian community—that every child deserves to have an equal opportunity to choose their career path. I want to become that change.”

Save the date for Thursday, December 6! Trang will lead a free My Favorite Things Tour in the galleries focusing on some of what she’s learned while contributing to SAM. You won’t want to miss it.

We asked Trang: What’s a work of art that challenged your perspective on life?

Trang: The Last Judgment by Michelangelo, which he painted on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City during the Renaissance era. The stylistic goals of the Renaissance era were rationality, balance, and unity. However, Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment was very dynamic, chaotic, and filled with ambiguity. Michelangelo challenged the norms of the Renaissance movement and as a result, he created one of the world’s greatest treasures. His refusal to conform to the norms of the current art movement encouraged me to pursue a career outside of the ones that children who grow up in Asian communities are generally expected to pursue. I want to demonstrate to society that I can become successful doing something I love instead of chasing a career that society labels as “successful.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Equity Team Outreach Taskforce Chair

Seohee Kim: Emerging Arts Leader Intern Look at SAM

During my first week as an Emerging Arts Leader Intern at Seattle Art Museum, I was told that by the last week of the internship this reflection post for the blog would be due. I remember thinking, “Oh, that sounds easy enough—just summarize what happened in a paragraph or two.” Clearly, I had no idea what was headed my way. The past week has been an endless cycle of drafting, writing, editing, only to draft again. (You know that feeling of when there’s so much you want to say, and say eloquently, that words and sentences are flying around your mind and you’re scrambling to make sense of them, but you actually just end up staring at the blinking text cursor for an hour? Yeah, that.)

When I reflect on the past 10 weeks of my internship, I imagine having one of those View-Masters (they’re still relevant, right?) and clicking through reels of moments at SAM. It starts with the welcoming faces of everyone I meet coming into view. Then, a whirlwind of back-to-back meetings; getting lost in the labyrinth of the administrative office; storage visits with Carrie (thank you, Carrie!); always pressing the wrong level in the elevator; researching objects; conducting informational interviews with staff; preparing for my My Favorite Things tour; taking part in Career Day, Seattle Art Fair, Summer at SAM, and Remix; and so much more. As if in slow motion, images of my last week include the nerve-wracking day of my tour and saying goodbye to everyone I had the privilege of working with.

I’m surprised how much I changed in this short time span. In the beginning, I thought I knew enough about diversity and equity work from courses at university and my past experiences that I was only focused on giving my perspectives rather than allowing myself to be vulnerable and molded by those far more experienced than I. Working closely with the equity team this past summer, I found myself constantly learning, practicing, and honing the use of an equity lens in my work. I experienced the behind-the-scenes of a museum and community working towards transparency and racial and social equity. I saw every meeting ask how to be inclusive, provide access, and advance equity. There was, and is, so much I don’t know, not only regarding the arts and museums, but also in becoming a better ally for community. Watching and working alongside these amazing and passionate individuals, I’ve come to reevaluate myself, my goals, and my passions on a weekly basis.

What resulted of this reevaluation was the “My Favorite Things” tour I had the privilege of leading (I still can’t believe I led a tour). To close off, I’d like to share a snippet from what I shared at the tour.

We tend to get easily distracted if an issue doesn’t directly affect us. From this internship and conducting research for this tour the past few weeks, I’ve realized again and again that privilege doesn’t always mean monetary wealth or status. It could be not having to worry about being seen as a threat walking in your own neighborhood late at night. It could be not feeling your heart pound every time you see words like ICE and DACA and UNDOCUMENTED in the headlines. It could be your close friends and family asking you if you’re doing alright and being able to genuinely answer that you’re well instead of brushing it off with an “I’m okay” when you really cried yourself to sleep at night because you’re supposed to have everything under control. Just because it doesn’t affect us directly, doesn’t mean it’s not there nor does it mean it’s less important. As a community, in order to work towards true equity, we have to embrace and endure all pains as if they are our own. We must face our worst selves and acknowledge our lacking. It’s going to be difficult; it will be uncomfortable…but I invite you to join me in this continuing journey of becoming more aware, becoming more responsible, and becoming more informed not only for ourselves but also for each other.”

To everyone I met and worked with this past summer, thank you so much for your continuous kindness, encouragement, and acceptance. I’ve never felt more welcome and cherished in a workplace setting than at SAM. And, thank you for all you do on a daily basis to work for and better our community.

–Seohee Kim, 2018 SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern

Dovey Martinez: Emerging Arts Leader Look at SAM

As I walked towards the Seattle Art Museum to begin my Emerging Arts Leader internship, I was excited. I knew I would be working with the education and curatorial departments, but had only the minutest idea of what the internship would entail. At the staff entrance, I saw the other Emerging Arts Leader Intern for the summer nervously sitting on the couch. As Seohee Kim and I began to get to know each other, it was apparent we had many similarities. We are both passionate about immigrant rights and we both originally intended to take a law career track but found ourselves working in the arts, despite the initial backlash from our parents. I didn’t know it then, but Seohee and I would become an inseparable and fierce duo.

Everyone we met was genuine, welcoming, caring, and passionate. I honestly could not believe my eyes, it seemed almost suspicious. The education department glows with kindness and a love for the Seattle Art Museum’s mission to connect art to life. I went to college in Connecticut, and although I was raised in Seattle, I didn’t have many friends or connections with the arts community. This quickly changed. I could share with you about how I gained professional experience using The Museum System to research and organize objects. I could tell you about the meetings I sat in on where my voice mattered and my opinions were valued. I could tell you how I learned about the behind-the-scenes work that most people don’t know about. I could tell you how this internship opened my eyes to a possible career path that I would’ve never known about prior to this summer: exhibition design. I could write about each of these topics, but I want to focus on the amazing events that allowed me to get involved with the Seattle community and touched my heart with the amount of support and healing that took place at these events.

Three events, in particular, had a strong impact on me; the [Black] Power Summit, the Creative Advantage, and Remix. The Power Summit was a health and wellness conference for Seattle’s Black community. The first panel was one on mental health and mindfulness. The panel spoke about generational trauma and the stigma behind mental illness within the Black community. I could relate to these trends within the Latinx community. Often times, our parents work so hard to provide for our families that they dwell in survival mode. When we are raised in households where mental illnesses are stigmatized, we feel as if we are a burden to our family if we bring up issues we may be facing. As we keep hiding, the marble-sized issue becomes a bowling ball. One panelist suggested that we sit with our discomfort and strip it of its power over us. The trauma may still be present in the form of memories or thoughts, but it will no longer have power over our ability to thrive.

If you’ve never been to Remix, just know you’re sleeping! Remix is a beautiful event in which many people come together to share the dance floor, art activities, tours, drinks, as well as their most fly outfits. I loved the art activities, but what really impacted me was the dancing. With performing artists such as the Purple Lemonade Collective, Bouton Volonté, and Randy Ford, the dance floor was throbbing with presence and beauty. When the dancers dipped, catwalked, and, yes, even twerked, a semi-circle formed around them of mainly white allies. Space was created for queer and trans people of color to exist, express their passion, make art, and share joy. As they created magic with their bodies, the viewers cheered and recorded, but mainly they yelled words of encouragement and awe. This wonderful space for marginalized groups to feel at ease within a large group of white folks didn’t feel uncomfortable or unwelcoming though. At that moment, race, gender, and sexuality were being praised and we were allowed to take up space with the knowledge that our allies are there to support us. If I wasn’t so busy sweating through my orange romper from all the dancing, I probably would have shed a tear of joy and love.

The Seattle Art Museum is a highly inclusive environment that truly values racial equity. The institution is not building inclusive spaces or challenging our thinking because it is the trendy thing to do. The Seattle Art museum genuinely values equity work, from the director of the museum to interns like me and Seohee, and in between. This experience was one of healing for me after graduating from an institution on the East Coast that lacked passion for equality and often protests had to occur to demand visibility for underrepresented groups. The Seattle Art Museum is taking a stand and a leadership role to highlight and welcome all identities. When the mission statement says that the Seattle Art Museum connects art to our lives, I understand that they connect art to our lives because they know that our lives matter and want to be a space for healing, learning, and unity.

– Dovey Martinez, SAM 2018 Emerging Arts Leader Intern

Photos: Natali Wiseman

 

Building a Digital Collection: The Photographs and Lists of William H. Lautz Antique Porcelains

Do you ever wonder how Seattle Art Museum acquired enough porcelain objects to fill an entire room? Through my Directed Fieldwork (DFW) at the University of Washington I decided to illuminate a piece of the provenance story behind some of SAM’s porcelain objects in the beloved Porcelain Room.

Not much is known about the New York dealer, William H. Lautz’s life outside of the porcelain world, however William Lautz was a key figure in the growth of eighteenth-century porcelain in the United States during the 1940s and 50s. I’ve created a digital collection of porcelain object photographs and associated descriptive lists from the New York dealer, William H. Lautz Antique Porcelains, from the physical collection held in SAM’s Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library.


As a dealer of European porcelain, Lautz helped form the Warda Stevens Stout Collection at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis1, the Martha and Henry Isaacson collection in Seattle, and the Blanche M. Harnan Ceramic Collection, also in Seattle; the latter two now located partially at the Seattle Art Museum.


Both Martha Isaacson and Blanche Harnan were founding members of the Seattle Ceramic Society, which stimulated the collection of European porcelain through study groups. Their stated goal was to collect European porcelain worthy of exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum. To that end, they connected with important dealers in the field.

In the mid-1950s, Lautz sent barrels of porcelain to the Seattle Ceramic Society, accompanied by photographs and descriptive lists of the pieces. In turn, the Ceramic Society members selected pieces and returned empty barrels to Lautz with checks for their purchases. This method became known as the “Seattle Scheme” and continued while the Seattle Ceramic Society members grew their individual collections.2

Over time, the Seattle Ceramic Society and its members held five exhibitions of their European porcelain collections at the Seattle Art Museum between 1949 and 1964. Many active members of the Ceramic Society donated pieces of their collection to the Seattle Art Museum, including the aforementioned Martha and Henry Isaacson and Blanche M. Harnan, along with Dorothy Condon Falknor, DeEtte McAuslan Stuart, and Kenneth and Priscilla Klepser.

To create this digital collection, I scanned all of Lautz’s photographs into JPEGs and all of his descriptive lists into PDFs. Using Adobe Acrobat’s OCR function, I made the lists keyword searchable. I then created a spreadsheet with the associated metadata for each file to improve online navigation and searching.

The collection was then uploaded to the Libraries’ Omeka site where I created an online exhibition by linking photos of the Lautz pieces that ended up at SAM with their descriptions. By providing online access to William H. Lautz Antique Porcelains photographs and descriptive lists I hope to encourage researchers and others to investigate the porcelain objects in SAM’s collection and to visit the Porcelain Room at SAM to see some of the objects in person.

Learn more about Lautz by visiting the William H. Lautz Antique Porcelains, the Seattle Ceramic Society, and the Seattle Art Museum exhibit at Omeka.net

–Nicole Sonett, Intern, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

Note: We want to thank Julie Emerson, the former Ruth J. Nutt Curator of Decorative Arts at the Seattle Art Museum, for her assistance in identifying porcelain objects from William H. Lautz Antique Porcelains that are now featured in SAM’s Porcelain Room.

1 Nelson, Christina H., and Letitia Roberts. A History of Eighteenth-Century German Porcelain: The Warda Stevens Stout Collection. Memphis: Dixon Gallery and Gardens; Easthampton, MA; New York: Hudson Hills Press, 2013.
2 Sebastian Kuhn in “Collecting Culture: The Taste for Eighteenth-Century German Porcelain,” in Cassidy-Geiger, Maureen et al. The Arnhold Collection of Meissen Porcelain, 1710-50. New York, NY: Frick Collection in association with D. Giles London, 2008.
Photos: Natali Wiseman.

Building a Digital Collection: Annual Reports at Seattle Art Museum

The following post is from two students who have been interning at SAM’s Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library while completing their Master of Library and Information Science degrees at the University of Washington’s Information School.

We are Michael Besozzi and Kate Hanske, and we have been working with Librarian Traci Timmons in the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library on an exciting digital initiative for the culminating work of our degree program. At the University of Washington’s iSchool, every student must complete a Capstone project, which should apply classroom theory to address a real-world information problem. For our Capstone work, we decided to tackle an information gap presented by access to SAM’s institutional annual reports.

Dating back to 1932, the reports include information about specific accessions, ongoing museum activities, exhibitions, and other special events in addition to the financial statements for the year. In a survey of nearly 900 American museums and cultural institutions, only 171 host their annual reports online. Out of those 171 institutions, many have unaccountable gaps between years of published reports. In the library, we saw an opportunity for SAM to create a unique digital collection and exhibition that includes every annual report in the museum’s history. We decided to aim for three outcomes for the digital collection: accessibility, transparency, and posterity.

The Bullitt Library is composed of “open” and “closed” stacks. The “open” stacks consist of shelves containing materials that any member of the public, from curators to visitors, can browse and handle without the assistance of a staff member. The “closed” stacks, located in a back room, contain a number of historical special collections materials. Due to the fragility of special collections materials, the closed stacks are only accessible by staff and designated volunteers. Located in those closed stacks are the Seattle Art Museum’s annual reports, dated from 1932 to the present.

SAM Libraries Annual Reports Archives

In order to access a report from a particular year, a visitor must have a staff member physically walk into the collection, pull out the box from the time range, and bring it to the patron, who must browse the materials in the box for the desired information. Requests for annual reports are common, ranging from staff members attempting to research financial records to visitors researching the history of the museum and the museum’s collections.

Annual Reports 1940s

Typically, a patron will perform a search that will require several boxes to be pulled at one time, which can also take up a lot of physical space in the small library. To add to the problem, the physical annual reports are not easily searchable: if a patron wants to locate a specific individual, exhibition, or piece from the collection, the user must usually go through multiple boxes (and other resources) in order to find what they need. This process can be time-consuming and frustrating! Further, the frequent physical handling of the documents, particularly the most aged and fragile, can cause irreversible damage over time.

Annual Reports 1950s & 1960s

Annual Reports 1970s

The completion of this digitization project empowers patrons to conduct research with the reports without being physically present in the library and without requiring the assistance of library staff and volunteers. The reports are more fully accessible to the public, which facilitates institutional transparency, and they are preserved digitally for posterity.

To create this collection, we scanned all 71 annual reports into the PDF file format and ran a program to make sure that the documents themselves are searchable. We then created a spreadsheet to store essential metadata (title, contributors, year, etc.) for the files to make the collection easy to navigate in an online environment. We uploaded these files and the associated metadata to the online repository and platform called Omeka.net

Annual Reports 1980s

Annual Reports 1990s

Once uploaded, we set about building and developing an online exhibition. With Omeka.net, we were able to customize the exhibition display, organizing the reports by decade, and share the narrative history of the museum as told through the reports themselves. This is the first online collection of its kind for SAM and we are incredibly excited to finally make it available!

—Kate Hanske and Michael Besozzi, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library Interns

You can explore the annual reports via the Omeka website here.

And watch a short video overview of the project here.

Photos: Natali Wiseman.