Artstor is a non-profit initiative, founded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with a mission to use digital technology to enhance scholarship, teaching, and learning in the arts and associated fields. ARTstor consists of:
- A repository of hundreds of thousands of digital images and related data;
- The tools to actively use those images; and
- A restricted-usage environment that seeks to balance the rights of content providers with the needs and interests of content users.
Ultimately, Artstor was founded to contribute to the work of the arts and educational community. Artstor's primary goals as an organization are:
- To assemble image collections from across many time periods and cultures that will, in the aggregate, have sufficient depth, breadth, and coherence to support a wide range of educational and scholarly activities;
- To create an organized, central, and reliable digital resource that supports noncommercial use of images for research, teaching and learning; and
- To work with the arts and educational communities to develop collective solutions to the complex challenges that are an inescapable part of working in a changing digital environment.
Why and how was Artstor created?
During the late 1990s, institutions of higher education — particularly image-intensive fields like art history — were beginning to struggle with how to migrate from analog slides to digital images. At the same time, those who care for objects, buildings, and sites were also wrestling with digitization: how might this new technology lead to greater recognition and appreciation of their works? Among the only points of clarity: digitization would mean addressing high costs, a lack of standards, and daunting intellectual property concerns.
Responding to the community's needs, the Mellon Foundation created ARTstor. A few years earlier, the Foundation had achieved notable success in creating JSTOR, a non-profit on-line archive of digitized scholarly journals.
The Mellon Foundation's goals for Artstor were similarly ambitious and global from the outset. The first phase of the project involved partners in China, France, the UK, and the US to build the Mellon International Dunhuang Archive — a digital repository of extraordinary, high-resolution images from 40 cave grottoes in the Gobi desert (one of the largest Buddhist art sites in the world), along with images of silk banners and manuscripts from the caves brought to western Europe by English and French explorers at the turn of the 20th century. While the project presented many challenges, it was a resounding success, demonstrating the ability to preserve objects in peril, to reunite for study in one location works of art previously scattered around the world, and to join people across geographical and cultural divides.
Dozens of collections from a wide variety of cultures across all major time periods have followed, including a collection of 190,000 old master drawings originally photographed at over 100 different repositories, 20 years of contemporary New York City gallery shows, archives of Islamic textiles, the restored Ghiberti "Gates of Paradise," African masks, medieval manuscripts, images of all exhibitions shown at MoMA, and many others.