Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art: A Digital Archive and Publications Project At the Museum of Fine Arts, Huston

The website that I chose for this analysis is: Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art: A Digital Archive and Publications Project At the Museum of Fine Arts, Huston http://icaadocs.mfah.org/icaadocs/en-us/home.aspx. As its title suggests, the organization behind this website is the Museum of Fine Arts Huston, under its International Center for Arts of the Americas, whose director is Mari Carmen Ramirez Ph.D, also curator of Latin American Art at the MFSH. The museum’s Documents Project is run by Ramirez, María C, Gazrambide, and an editorial board of sixteen members.

The main purpose of this project is to “provide access to primary sources and critical documents tracing the development of twentieth-century art in Latin American and among Latino populations in the United States.” [1] This website aims for a “multilayer” and comprehensive digital archive of key documents recovered from physical archives around the American Hemisphere. The first face of the project had teams of researches identifying documents in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Latino USA. The second face of the project, which is currently taking place, has a team in Washington DC working at the Art Museum of the Americas, Organization of the American States, archives.

The project is funded by both private and federal money. Its main funding source is The Bruce T. Halle Family Foundation, as well as some additional donors such as: The Wallace Foundation, The Getty Foundation, The Ford Foundation, The National Endowment for the Humanities, The National Endowment for the Arts, the Fullbright & Jaworsky L.L.P., and the Colección Patricia Phelps Cisneros in between others.

This website was created mainly for the use of curators and scholars, but it also serves the general public. One of the main features of this initiative is that it is free of charge, so anyone can have access to the digital archives.

The website’s designers, São Paulo-based Base7, managed to create a comprehensive site in which visitors can easily search for documents, through the use of the site’s search tools, both keyword and advanced. The user can also browse listings based on the document’s metadata: Editorial Categories, Titles, Authors, Topic Descriptors, Name Descriptors, and Geographic Descriptors. However, these listings require having previous knowledge about the subject of study; otherwise, the user will not be able to take advantage of them. The keyword search would probably be the most appropriate for non-scholar users as it allows for a general search that does not require such specific knowledge on the matter.

Users can also perform quick searches without an account and have access to a small image of the document, its metadata, synopsis and annotations. However, having an account allows users to access all the features of the digital archive and to “curate and save their own collection of documents, e-mail saved documents citations, view, share and export collections of documents, save search results in to a collection of documents.”[2] These features are very similar to the ones that ARTstore offers and are, perhaps, the most important attributes of the site.

Each document’s metadata has been carefully gathered to give the users complete citations, language of the document, type of document, tags, location of the document, and information about the researcher who wrote the synopsis and annotations. Here is an example: http://icaadocs.mfah.org/icaadocs/THEARCHIVE/FullRecord/tabid/88/doc/732252/language/en-US/Default.aspx

The documents are only available in their original language. They are not transcribed and the user only has access to its digital scan, which can sometimes be a burden because, if the document is too old, the digital version can be difficult to read. Not having the document translated into English, Spanish, and Portuguese can also limit accessibility to the information; not everybody can speak three languages.

Except for the documents, the website is available in English and Spanish, which grants researchers wider accessibility to metadata content, synopsis and annotations. However, as the site also offers a comprehensive collection of Brazilian Art documents, content should also be available in Portuguese.

Beyond the digital archive, the Documents Project also includes a series of publications based on recovered documentation. Its major publication is a series of Critical Documents of 20th-century Latin America and Latino Art, based on the Editorial Categories established by the project’s editorial board. When researchers affiliated with the project are cataloging and recovering the documents, they need to assign one or several of these categories to them. To see the scope of each category visit: http://icaadocs.mfah.org/icaadocs/en-us/about/theproject/editorialframework.aspx.

For the field of Latin American Art, the Documents Project is a unique source of information, an archive that enables the constant revision of vast primary sources of the 20th –century. For researchers, it has become the first place to look for primary sources. A part from being a member of the Washington DC team, I personally use the website constantly.          


[1] Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art: A Digital Archive and Publications Project At the Museum of Fine Arts, Huston.  http://icaadocs.mfah.org/icaadocs/en-us/home.aspx

[2] Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art: A Digital Archive and Publications Project At the Museum of Fine Arts, Huston.  http://icaadocs.mfah.org/icaadocs/en-us/home.aspx

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