Art + Data: Building the SFMOMA Collection API

Sarah Bailey Hogarty, New Museum, USA, Keir Winesmith, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, USA, Matthew Hrudka, SFMOMA, USA, Beth Schechter, Stamen Design, USA

Published paper: Art + Data: Building the SFMOMA Collection API

During its current closure, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) has the unique opportunity to engage in a prolonged period of self-examination and experimentation. In this sprit, SFMOMA is developing an API for its permanent collection. Before SFMOMA releases its Collection API to the public, the museum will be the primary user, with the intent to develop a deep understanding of the API’s possibilities and applications for both internal and public use. The questions we ask about the collection provide the guiding principles for development and design of the API.

In collaboration with Stamen Design, SFMOMA organized an Art + Data Day to bring together some of the Bay Area’s most innovative creative technologists to ask probing questions about the museum’s collection using the new API. By the end of the day, we hoped to produce some amazing outcomes, and we were open to what they might be—an application? A data visualization? A story? A roadmap to even more robust data for the API? Or perhaps designs for something grander. This event was structured as an un-hackathon, a format inspired by participatory design approaches to creatively develop technology and a rejection of high-pressure, end-product-focused hackathon practices that reward speedy coding over effective problem solving. Rather than racing to complete or compete, the un-hackathon was about collaboration, brainstorming, and better understanding how the API will be used. Aside from an unabashed excuse to geek out and create beautiful data visualizations and nerdy software, Art + Data Day was a meaningful opportunity for SFMOMA to better understand how its API will be used and how it can be improved. Written in collaboration with Beth Schechter of Stamen Design, this paper deep dives into the Art + Data Day findings, emphasizing how they inform digital storytelling, potential gaming opportunities, and innovative on-site digital experiences at SFMOMA, and presents the SFMOMA API.