April 11-14, 2007
San Francisco, California

Dallas Museum of Art Presents The Arts Network

Homer Gutierrez and Jessica Heimberg, Dallas Museum of Art, USA


As part of our ongoing mission to collect, present, and interpret works of art to our community, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) has developed an integrated business and infrastructure model that is both sustainable and expandable to address content creation, content storage, and content presentation. We think the DMA is quite innovative, if not unique among museums, in adopting an organizational strategy that takes a matrix based, holistic approach to digital asset management.

Our concept – The Arts Network, a television-style network system – provides both a program development process and a robust, extensible program delivery system. The network is comprised of four distinct channels. These channels were created using the results of a study of Museum visitors, which grouped users according to their experience at the museum and their participation in museum programming, a concept we refer to as “Levels of Engagement with Art” (LOEAsm).

We believe that such a system will support an ongoing engagement with all our current constituents and help grow our audience for years to come. The Arts Network has the potential to bring the DMA’s expansive and increasingly important collection of works of art to the larger audience it deserves - and to do so with scholarly integrity and sophisticated technology.

This presentation will show the approach taken to make the transition from “siloed”, disparate databases to a decentralized, standards-based, media-rich content management system that will grow along with the Museum’s needs. Some of the items covered include enterprise architecture planning, metadata standards, and cost analysis. We also discuss impact to culture, business - both internal and external - and changes in methodology and governance, followed by an overview of achievements and lessons learned.

Keywords: Dallas Museum of Art, case study, content management, CMS


The Dallas Museum of Art is an emerging national museum that serves primarily North Texas; a nine-county urban area with a total population of approximately 7.2 million people. The region has averaged more than 150,000 new residents per year for the past four years, and 100,000 new residents per year for the last seven years. The median age for the region is 30.5 years, with more than 50 percent of the population between the ages of 20 and 54. The population is expected to grow by 11.8 percent by 2008. The Dallas Museum of Art has a membership base of 18,000+ and served an estimated 556,000 visitors in fiscal year 2005 and 475,600 in 2006. A key consideration in developing any content management system is the scale of the solution and the flexibility of the institution’s organizational structure.

The DMA places at the center of its work the educational mission of the Museum: connecting the broadest possible audience with great works of art in ways that are enriching, personalized, enjoyable, and educational. Over the past five years, the Museum has broadened and deepened its commitment to educating adults and children, both in the Museum and on-line. As a result, the DMA currently has more programming than most other regional museums in the US. The Internet has transformed the landscape of communication, affecting the way we learn. As technologies advance, user expectations change. Mirroring the experience of businesses and educational institutions, cultural institutions too are in a race to keep up with constituent expectations of easy access to offerings and resources.

The program development process begins with a central repository Content Management System (CMS) that is accessible by all staff members. All digital content converted, collected, created, acquired, recorded, and developed is entered by contributors into the CMS where it is cataloged and indexed using a mix of local notes and industry-standard metadata, primarily Dublin-Core and Categories for the Description of Works of Art (CDWA). CMS gives staff and program creators access to a searchable resource containing documents, images, video, movies, transcripts, and other relevant digital assets needed for program development.

The program delivery system is an in-house and Web-based network enabling DMA visitors, both at the Museum and on-line, to access programs and information, formatted to fit their particular interests, through four Arts Network channels. From a Webcast of an Arts & Letters Live program to the background on a specific painting, from downloading a personalized tour to the e-notification of the start time of a lecture, all that a visitor, potential visitor, or distance learner would like to know, can be conveniently accessed. All information collected in the CMS can be channeled through the DMA’s Web site, wireless devices in the galleries, cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), iPods and other emerging technologies.

IT technical guidelines assist in ensuring consistency and interoperability among the software applications, components, and services that comprise the CMS infrastructure. These technical guidelines focus on providing a secure platform that ensures common infrastructure services for next-generation systems and applications within the CMS architecture. The DMA has adopted a modified version of Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) as the standard application development environment for our infrastructure framework. J2EE uses a multi-tiered distributed application model in which application logic is divided into components according to function. We will adhere to basic three-layer target architecture: presentation, application, and data.

From Initial Investment To The The Arts Network

Robust Content Management System As Core

In 2003, the Museum’s Information Technology (IT) department was faced with an overtaxed e-mail system, concerns about increasingly large image files and storage space, and complaints regarding lost or duplicated documents. We were also struggling to support increasing requests for Web site updates and additions with one Webmaster and an outdated editing process. The combination of our new focus on expanded on-line learning, along with mounting internal document management problems, highlighted the need for a comprehensive approach to creating, storing and sharing documents and images.

With the support of the Museum’s senior management, IT staff began a process of researching CMS software, and developed core requirements for a system that would satisfy the Museum’s immediate and anticipated needs (see figure 1). Only after this initial research did we contract an independent consulting company to evaluate CMS software in detail. They helped us refine our requirements set, provided industry insight and documented the outcome.

Fig 1: DMA CMS High-level Requirements

Fig 1: DMA CMS High-level Requirements

Our objective was to acquire or build a system that was easy to support, easy to use, and incorporated tools our users were already familiar with. We also needed a foundation for an intranet - a gateway to sharing information, applications, and improving internal communication. These requirements led us to a system that is relatively open-source, loaded with built-in Web services, ‘component’ based, and proficient in document management. A small IT staff could support this type of system, and build-out would require minimal staff and outsourcing.

At the core of the system is a searchable repository for content. Plug-and-play components then offer document versioning, workflow, Digital Asset Management (DAMS), Media Asset Management (DAMS-V), and decentralized Web site contribution with multi-site management capabilities. For customization and interoperability with other applications, we have built-in services, APIs and scripting (see figure 2).

Fig 2: DMA CMS Software Structure

Fig 2: DMA CMS Software Structure

We purchased our CMS software in 2003, and following installation, key staff members from each department received training to use the system for internal document management and Web site contribution. In 2005 we added DAMS, and in 2006 we added DAMS-V (see figure 3). It is important to note that the initial implementation of this system, through evaluation, purchase and installation, was accomplished within the constraints of the museums' operating budget and did not require supplementary, non-recurring sources of funding.

Fig 3: DMA Content Management — Phase 2

Fig 3: DMA Content Management — Phase 2

Research Shapes Program Development Model

LOEAsm Research

At the same time IT was building the CMS, the Museum was in the midst of evaluating a creative new theory that addressed how we might better understand our audience. In 2002, the Museum introduced an audience framework known as Levels of Engagement with Art, or LOEAsm, a concept that offered valuable insight into how the Museum’s visitors might be categorized. The DMA originally identified three distinct Levels of Engagement with Art: Aware, Curious, and Committed, based on visitors’ prior knowledge of art, art consumer behavior, and participation in art experiences. The DMA conceived of LOEAsm in an effort to address the need for an overarching institutional strategy for strengthening staff collaborations for programming, marketing, and exhibition development that would, in turn, promote innovative program design and increase visitors.

The DMA then worked with consultant Randi Korn and Associates to evaluate our audience and to refine interpretive materials. From 2003-2004, RK&A and the DMA collaboratively designed a questionnaire to more deeply explore the relationship between the DMA’s visitors and the LOEAsm framework. The study’s results validated the Museum’s initial supposition: that a personal connection to art, rather than the traditional demographic benchmark of age, race, gender, and socioeconomic background, is the best indicator of visitor participation. The study identified four audience clusters within the three levels, based on visitors’ preferences for types of interpretation and programming, comfort level with looking at and talking about art, and enthusiasm and passion for art (Korn, Pitman & Davitt, 2003-2005). The four visitor clusters - Tentative Observers, Curious Participants, Discerning Independents, and Committed Enthusiasts - exist within the three Levels of Engagement, with two clusters - Discerning Independents and Committed Enthusiasts — residing in the Commitment Level (see figure 4).

Fig 4: Level of Engagement with Art

Fig 4: Level of Engagement with Art

The information in this study, while complex, is remarkably concrete and specific, and staff members continue to use it to design gallery programs. One of the challenges the DMA and other art museums face is to be sensitive to visitors’ distinctions. Each visitor has the ability to create his or her own unique experience, influenced by individual works of art, what the museum offers, the visitor’s personality traits, passion toward an individual work of art, intellectual curiosity, and art background. When all these variables merge, the possibilities are endless and extraordinarily rich.

Researched and tested over five years with over 1,100 surveys, the LOEAsm concept fundamentally changed the Museum’s organizational culture, the presentation of its resources, and the relationship between the Museum and the surrounding communities of the Dallas area.

The Arts Network – A New Model For A New Day

The Arts Network is an integral part of the over-arching institutional strategy to strengthen staff collaboration and connect the broadest public segment with great works of art in diverse ways. It addresses the need not only for an institutional program development methodology, but also for a complementary delivery system to support and sustain it. As such, The Arts Network is both a program development model and a program delivery system. The program development model incorporates LOEAsm research and provides Museum staff with a process for taking new ideas from concept to completion. The program delivery system is an in-house and Web-based network enabling DMA visitors - internal (at the Museum) and external (worldwide), regardless of end-user device - to access information they need to enjoy the extensive and varied resources of the Museum.

The Arts Network concept matured during a series of in-house, cross-departmental brainstorming sessions led by Scott Sayre and Kris Wetterlund of Sandbox Studios in 2005. Educators, technology experts, and workshop leaders contributed ideas to address the desire of our audience to use cell phones, iPods, video and other electronic means to plug into museum programs - both at the museum and on-line Through further exploration we found that program ideas we had organized into ‘channels’ mapped naturally into previously established LOEAsm clusters. We realized that much like a television network, what we were shaping was a plan for broadcasting our programs and offerings. For internal use only, we gave the channels easy to recognize television-style names (see figure 5).

Fig 5: The Arts Network Channels

Fig 5: The Arts Network Channels

Early in the process we determined that by taking advantage of standardized technical specifications for data design and software development we would have the capability to broadcast programming that could be accessed by any Web-capable device (see figure 6).

Fig 6: Development Process + Delivery System = Access

Fig 6: Development Process + Delivery System = Access

Merging these concepts created a matrix where content and use became integrated and dynamic, providing the potential for customized presentation tailored to the interests of an individual or identifiable group. With the addition of interactive features such as user communities and social tagging, we could create not simply a broadcast network, but an Arts Network that goes beyond one-way communication and empowers visitors to forge their own relationships with art.

Building Infrastructure For Now And The Future

Planning And Execution Timeline

The Arts Network depends on incremental investment (see figure 7) in the three areas of development identified in our technology roadmap (see figure 8):

Fig 5: The Arts Network Channels

Fig 7: DMA Arts Network Projected Incremental Operation Expenses

Infrastructure initiatives provide foundational changes and upgrades needed to support the technology expansion for The Arts Network. This includes data structure guidelines utilizing available standards, a Data Integration Project, and staff training on new technology.

Prerequisite initiatives include digitization of the collection, a metadata project and the creation of new content on the collections. Text-based documentation is necessary for the design and development of innovative, public-facing programming.

Audience experience initiatives will directly transform and enhance the resources into programs and products for the diverse users of the museum. This includes various educational pilot projects as well as a main Web site facelift.

Fig 5: The Arts Network Channels

Fig 8: DMA Arts Network Timeline (PDF)

Technology Approach

To maintain control over cost, support, and access, we chose to host our own solutions as opposed to opting for industry alternatives such as ASP or co-location arrangements. In addition, we have adopted the approach of primarily using standard software support agreements. In certain cases, enhanced or customized software support agreements are utilized. For The Arts Network we are using software out-of-the-box (see figures 9 and 10), and beginning with simple Web services, we are moving towards a light Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) that will allow us to re-use and eventually share functionalities.

Fig 9: DMA Content Management Portal Page

Fig 9: DMA Content Management Portal Page

Fig 10: DMA Content Management DAMS-V Video Storyboard

Fig 10: DMA Content Management DAMS-V Video Storyboard




Integration points (via API or middleware)

Development, build-out and support

DMA IT Staff

Impact On Institutional Culture And Governance

The Future

At this point, we have invested in a sophisticated system capable of content, digital asset, media asset, and multiple Web site management. We have also completed our preliminary metadata model (see figure 11) that provides appropriate tags for future archiving. These tags allow for easy search and retrieval, indications of public and private access, and the sharing of DMA material with other institutions via an XML gateway. Metadata tags will also help facilitate future development of Arts Network programs. Well-formed metadata is a key component in reducing program creation time and reducing program time to market (Allen, 2006).

				      11: DMA Metadata Standards Crosswalk for Digital Asset Management

Fig 11: DMA Metadata Standards Crosswalk for Digital Asset Management (PDF)

Currently we are working on a user-friendly interface that will provide streamlined access to digital archives, whether for internal staff or those accessing the museum remotely. We have also begun a Web site redesign to reflect our new interactive network. Looking forward, we project that by the first quarter of 2008 we will have full broadcast capability - allowing us, for example, to feed a real-time lecture to an Arts Network program that can be accessed by any number of end-user devices.

Lessons Learned

Launching any type of collaboration software like a Content Management System should be an inter-divisional effort and supported from the beginning by senior management. Success depends on a shared vision of this technology’s place in achieving institutional goals.

Technology is a means, not an end, and IT staff are hired to support the work of the museum’s education, curatorial, marketing and development staff. By understanding the needs of our museum’s experts we can build tools they can easily use. We utilized our staff’s existing research and audience designation criteria to help shape a CMS that will serve the Museum’s educational mission for years to come. Here are our tips.


By taking a comprehensive approach to content management we create a physical system that is easy to support, cost effective, extensible, and sustainable for years to come. At the same time we create a program development model that targets specific audiences, engages previously siloed internal business units, and frees our content experts from many of the old constraints of production time and resources so that they can focus on the quality of the program.


Allen, Jacqueline (2007). Metadata Standards Crosswalk for Digital Asset Management (Images). Dallas Museum of Art. Unpublished work product.

Korn, R., B. Pitman & G. Davitt (2003-2005). Understanding Visitors' Levels of Engagement with Art.An audience research project with an art museum, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX

Cite as:

Gutierrez, H. and J. Heimberg, Dallas Museum of Art Presents The ARts Network , in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2007: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 1, 2007 Consulted

Editorial Note