The David C. Driskell Center presented African American Art: Increasing Resources for Education in the 21st Century at the annual conference for the Association of African American Museums (AAAM), held August 8th through 11th, in Hampton, Virginia. The main focus of the presentation, by Dorit Yaron and Stephanie L. Smith, was on our IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services) funded digitization project and how that fits into the overall educational mission of the David C. Driskell Center. Fellow graduate student Tamara Schlossenberg and I were invited to attend the conference and participate in the presentation.
Many different types of institutions came together for this conference. Creating Access through Digitization of Collections, a session moderated by Mark Isaksen of IMLS, featured reports on funded digitization projects for manuscripts, sound recordings, and photographs, respectively, at three different archives and museums, with varying missions; Xavier University of Louisiana, the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, and the Withers Collection Museum and Gallery in Memphis. The session focused on how institutions can expand their reach (and visitor experience) through digitization, and the crucial aspect of securing funding for these projects.
Another session I attended, Using Technology to Remember the “King” of Jazz and How Your Museum Can Do The Same!, led by representatives of the Nat King Cole Museum at Alabama State University, focused on delivering digital content and more broadly speaking, technology as a complement to the traditional “house museum” concept and how other institutions might better engage visitors through technology. A lively Q&A following that presentation made it clear that museums, even travelling exhibitions, are grappling with how to improve their visitors’ brick and mortar and virtual experience through technology. While challenges, cost chief among them, persist, the overall spirit was one of optimism. Digitization is a way to assert museums’ relevance, not merely a game of catch-up. These projects are not just about satisfying pent-up demand for digital content, they represent a new direction and afford new opportunities. This insight made me feel even more confident and excited about our digitization project at the Driskell Center. We have already seen increased engagement with scholars as a result.
The conference was an opportunity to see the Driskell Center in the broader context of the African American museum world. Furthermore, it was an occasion to reflect on the Center’s mission as an extension of Professor Driskell’s career as artist and educator. Through the photos in the Driskell Papers collection, a powerful theme emerges. His student days; his teaching at Howard; at Fisk; and the University of Maryland, along with countless workshops elsewhere, are represented on a par with his personal artistic achievements, seamlessly. Likewise, the David C. Driskell Center tries to achieve that balance. This digitization project could be solely devoted to preserving artistic achievement but that objective is part of a broader aim to educate this and future generations about the African and African American contribution to world art. The David C. Driskell Center seeks not only to represent Professor Driskell’s personal commitment through digitization, but to embody it and move it forward. Our digitization effort advances our educational mission on multiple fronts. Students gain skills working on the project. And other students and scholars, within and beyond the University of Maryland community, have increased access to the Driskell Center’s resources and their work multiplies its impact.
This post was written by David Conway, Graduate Student in the University of Maryland MLIS Program and The David C. Driskell Center