Arts and Culture Online for Education: The Getty's Digital Imaging Initiatives

While the Internet hascreated an explosion of cultural information online, there is much tobe done before it can serve as a powerful resource for K-12 educationin the arts and humanities. The Getty Information Institute( and the Getty Education Institute for theArts ( work with organizations aroundthe world to make information about the arts and culture availableonline for education. This article reports on Getty initiatives inthree key areas: getting high-quality information about the arts andculture into digital form; making these digitized materials easilyaccessible over networks; and helping educators to make effective useof online arts and cultural information.


Cultural institutions suchas museums, libraries and archives are often reluctant to make thesignificant investments necessary to digitize their resources. Themain cost is not technology, however, but the data needed to documenttheir collections. Where these data already exist on paper, they areoften inconsistent and irregular, making it complex to systematizethem and transfer them to computers. Where the data don't exist, itcan be extremely expensive to create them. Given the expense ofcreating high-quality text and image documentation, culturalinstitutions must protect their data investments by using widelyadopted standards for record structures and data values, both toensure that their data can serve multiple audiences and to ensure thelongevity of the data as technologies change.

The Getty InformationInstitute has published guidelines and provided tools to helpcultural institutions digitize their resources. Introduction toImaging ( provides benchmarkinformation on the essential aspects of any imaging initiative in thearts, such as image capture and compression technologies. Categoriesfor the Description of Works of Art ( Object ID ( standards for structuring the information used to identifycultural objects, allowing disparate databases to be brought togethermore effectively for searching.

The Getty's vocabularytools &emdash; Art & Architecture Thesaurus, Union List of ArtistNames and Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names &emdash;( rich sources of terminology used both to catalog culturalresources and to retrieve networked information. These vocabularieslink vernacular and commonly known English forms (e.g.,Firenze/Florence), connect historical terms to their contemporaryusage, and bridge popular and scholarly terms to provide differentaudiences with the terms they need to locate cultural materials. TheGetty is beginning to think about vocabularies that will specificallyfacilitate access to cultural resources by educationalaudiences.

Issues of intellectualproperty and the tradition of "fair use" of copyrighted works foreducational purposes represent major obstacles to putting culturalinformation online. Many museums are reluctant to distribute theirimages and information over networks for fear of inappropriate use,or the loss of revenue they might derive from their digitalresources. The Getty has helped address these concerns through itsMuseum Educational Site Licensing (MESL) initiative (,in which seven American universities partnered with seven museums andlibraries to explore licensing mechanisms that would enable the useof high-quality museum images and information over educationalnetworks. New initiatives in the museum community such as the ArtMuseum Image Consortium (AMICO) ( the Museum Digital Licensing Collective (MDLC) ( capitalizing on the MESL research to enhance educational accessto museum materials online.

Many smaller,community-based arts organizations lack the skills to establish a Webpresence. As part of its Los Angeles Culture Net community networkinginitiative (,the Getty has worked with local partners to produce a two-daytraining curriculum on how to create and maintain cultural Web sites.Called a "Web-raising," it's the digital equivalent of abarn-raising, bringing the community together to create a communityresource. Web-raisings provide crucial training that helps bridge thegap between large and small institutions and adds to the culturalresources available on the Internet.


Finding truly usefulmaterial on the Web is still incredibly difficult, in spite of theproliferation of search engines and Web indices like AltaVista andYahoo. The trend is toward "portals," Web sites that systematicallyidentify, index and aggregate links to information. As the Webexpands, portals are becoming more specialized in order to controlinformation in increasingly smaller domains. For example, FederalResources for Excellence in Education (FREE) ( to compile all the educational resources produced by federalagencies, while the Gateway to Educational Materials (GEM)( to provide "one-stop, any-stop access to high quality Internetlesson plans, curriculum units and other educationresources."

Portals offer only shallowaccess to resources, however, because they typically only index andlink the information on static, pre-formatted Web pages. This leavesunindexed &emdash; and inaccessible &emdash; the deeper informationstored in Web databases that use site-specific search engines linkedto a query screen by Common Gateway Interface (CGI) scripts. A portaltargeted toward the arts might link to the curriculum Web page of amuseum's education department, but not to the in-depth records forthe museum's collections in its Web-accessible database. This failsto serve the teacher looking for primary sources to incorporate intocurricula, or seeking to maximize the research potential of theInternet for his or her students.

The Getty InformationInstitute has taken an innovative approach to providing deep accessto cultural content on the Web. Using widely available hardware andsoftware tools, the Getty has created a search interface called"a.k.a." that points to targeted resources that fit any of threeprofiles. Structured databases and document files stored locally onGetty servers are processed into free-text data and indexed usingWAIS software. Web pages (both local and remote) are gathered andindexed using Harvest software. Remote HTTP-compliant databases arelinked to the search interface through custom scripts that allow aquery at the Getty interface to be appropriately parsed for eachtarget search engine.

Using uncontrolledkeywords, or terms from the Getty's structured vocabularies, thea.k.a. interface retrieves disparate data types &emdash; text, stilland moving images, Web pages &emdash; and integrates them into aunified display for browsing. This approach allows the aggregation ofdistributed cultural information into "virtual databases" forresearch and education. The a.k.a. interface was used to providesimultaneous access to the digital resources of 20 museums, librariesand community arts organizations participating in the Faces of LosAngeles consortium ( TheGetty and its partners created a virtual database with over 2 millionitems including object records, images, bibliographic data, articleindexes, Web pages and other media.

The Getty InformationInstitute is also experimenting with tools for image-based retrievalof cultural resources. The Getty's Art Media and Text Hub andRetrieval System (Arthur) ( the AMORE image system, developed by NEC USA, to index andsearch the images and text of nearly 600 selected Web sites organizedinto five databases. Images can be retrieved by image similarity, orby keywords in the Web pages. Although still experimental, Arthurdemonstrates the power of combining text and image query techniquesfor access to arts and cultural resources.


As educators increasinglyseek resources for curriculum development, classroom instruction andprofessional development on the Internet, they need help to makeeffective use of the materials they discover. The Getty EducationInstitute for the Arts has responded to this need by creating modelcurriculum materials and activities for K-12 classes based on onlinecultural resources, and fostering electronic communities of artseducators.

The Education Institutehas recently developed several innovative programs for its Web site,ArtsEdNet (,geared mainly toward K-12 teachers, with emphasis on upper elementaryand middle school grades. Looking at Art of Ancient Greece and Rome(,drawn from an exhibition of ancient art featured at the new J. PaulGetty Museum in 1998, uses the stories of mythological gods andgoddesses, as well as real people, to explore Greek and Romansculpture. Multiple images of each artwork, includingdifferent-sized, detailed and animated "rotating" views, provide waysto "see" these three-dimensional objects online. Exploring Artworldsof Los Angeles offers lesson plans, resources and professionaldevelopment opportunities, with art and culture as the underlyingthemes. Drawing from the resources of the Los Angeles Culture Net,this program is a model for exploring arts and cultures in anycommunity.

The Education Institutehas used advanced technology to create unique representations ofcultural knowledge online. The Forum of Trajan in Rome: A VirtualTour ( QuickTime video and VR combined with images of this ancientmonument as it appears today and of digital reconstructions based onthe best archaeological evidence. The aim is to encourageinquiry-based learning by providing a context for students andteachers to explore. An accompanying interdisciplinary art andhistory unit, Trajan's Rome: The Man, the City, the Empire,emphasizes primary sources such as artworks and texts, removing thedistance students feel from history and connecting them intimatelywith the past.

A prototype curriculumunit, Exploring Questions of Identity: The Battle of Little Big Horn( the educational use of the Getty's "virtual database"technology. A map of the Battle of Little Big Horn by the Lakotawarrior Kicking Bear serves as the vehicle to explore questions ofhistorical and contemporary identity. Discussion questions andactivities are linked to archival documents from the Southwest Museumand selected Web sites that place the Battle of Little Big Horn inhistorical context. Links to battle scenes in art, Lakota informationsites and the Faces of Los Angeles virtual database offer studentsthe opportunity for individual research.

The Getty makes extensiveuse of the Internet's interactive potential in order to create onlinecommunities for those interested in arts and humanities education.The Education Institute's ArtsEdNet Talk ( an online discussion group focused on discipline-based artseducation that takes place primarily over electronic mail. ArtsEdNetTalk features special topics, such as "Art and Ecology," with guestswho answer questions submitted to them by discussion participants.The Information Institute manages the Los Angeles Culture Net onlinediscussion list (,which also serves teachers interested in using networks to accesscultural material for curriculum development and classroominstruction.


While tremendous attentionis being paid to wiring the nation's schools, little attention hasbeen paid to the need for high quality information to populate theinfrastructure once it is in place, or to helping teachers makeeffective use of those resources. This is particularly true of thearts and culture. In response to these issues, the Getty helpscultural institutions acquire the knowledge and skills needed to makehigh-quality information available online. The Getty has also createdinnovative tools to make the vast range of cultural images and textseasily accessible through the World Wide Web. And the Getty hasestablished electronic communities of institutions and educators tofoster the effective use of cultural resources foreducation.


James M. Bower is Head ofInstitutional Relations for the Getty Information Institute. E-mail:[email protected]

Candy Borland is a Program Officer at the Getty Education Institutefor the Arts.
E-mail: [email protected]

Naree Wongse-Sanit is a Program Associate at the Getty EducationInstitute for the Arts. E-mail: [email protected]

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.