May 6, 2007

Collection X is Online!

On April 25, 2007 the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto launched a new online initiative called Collection X ( This project, which has been in development for six years, represents a huge leap forward for the AGO not only because it makes works from the permanent collection available online but also because it makes it possible for the public to upload their own collections and to create exhibitions using the same application. As it has been conceived, Collection X is meant to function as an open-source museum that features public collections presented alongside collections created by the public.

Interestingly, when work first began on this project back in 2001 things like blogs, podcasts and wikis did not exist. The notion of "Web 2.0" was yet to emerge, however, the desire to integrate public collections with user-generated content had still been identified. In the intervening years the Internet has changed to such a degree that it is now possible to create an online application like Collection X that gives anyone with access to a computer the ability to upload images, video and audio as well as to create and publish exhibitions, and to connect with other users, all within a virtual environment.

What Collection X offers is a range of functionalities similar to websites like Flickr and YouTube but functionalities that encourage the emulation of practices specific to museums and galleries. As a first step visitors to Collection X are invited to search and browse artworks, artifacts, videos and audio clips that make up the collection and then to become registered users so that they can create, collect and curate content using a combination of our resources as well as their own. As part of this process users are also provided with the tools necessary to:
  • contribute their own content in the form of images, video and audio;
  • create exhibitions using content drawn from public collections as well as collections contributed by the public;
  • connect exhibitions together around common themes, issues or ideas to create connections;
  • use tags to describe themselves as well as all levels of content including collections, exhibitions and connections;
  • share thoughts and engage in dialogue through published comments and e-mail exchanges;
  • subscribe to RSS feeds and podcasts.

Similar to other Web 2.0 applications the success of Collection X is entirely dependent upon the interest and inclinations of its users as well as the kind of content they choose to create.

In order to generate interest and to model the kind of content that can be created using Collection X, the AGO is working with its project partners over the next two years to seed the collection and to create exhibitions and connections based on that seed content. To ensure that this work happens Collection X has evolved in tandem with another project initiated by the AGO, the ArtsAccess Project, an inter-regional outreach program designed to bring together artists, community members and cultural organizations through arts education. Together, ArtsAccess and Collection X are meant to encourage participation, foster creativity and build relationships through a combination of community-based and online experiences.

While the appeal of Collection X remains to be seen it already provides an interesting case study that highlights the many issues at play when a museum takes on a web-based project this complex. In recent months the AGO and its partners have had to grapple with issues almost too numerous to mention, including copyright, censorship, liability, accessibility, bilingualism, institutional buy-in and support, the challenges inherent in community-based partnerships and the constraints of government funding. These are all the things that have made this project both challenging and interesting at the same time and will likely continue to be debated within the context of "Museums Re-Mixed" at the AAM but also in the long term as Collection X finds its audience.

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