This term, as part of the MA program, I am completing a practicum with IMMA, the Irish Museum of Modern Art. The practicum provides me with hands-on, real-world experience working on a digital humanities project and helps the host institution find solutions to a unique problem or challenge.

Introduction

As my Bringing Irish Artists Closer practicum with IMMA (the Irish Museum of Modern Art) enters its final month, my focus has shifted to center on the web-based application prototype. While the prototype for this project is initially intended to complement the Gerda Frömel exhibition by presenting information and context on Frömel and her art, it also needs to be flexible and adaptable enough to accommodate future artists featured in the series. As a result, many of my conversations with IMMA supervisor Aoife Flynn and exhibition curator Sean Kissane have carefully considered the need to plan for the future and preserve the prototype’s structure and foundation for the exhibitions still to come.

Of course, it can be challenging to envision all possible future scenarios when designing and creating a website prototype, but keeping the expected uses of the prototype in mind can be helpful in guiding the decision-making process. The future of the web application was foremost in my mind when I opted to create the prototype using the WordPress platform. In addition to being a platform with which I am already familiar and proficient, WordPress is free and open-source, with both blogging and content management tools. Most importantly, however, since the project’s timeline and scope didn’t allow for building the prototype from scratch, WordPress offers specific options that will help ensure the application’s preservation.

Migration

IMMA website IMMA’s current website, in terms of both design and content management system (CMS), is more than ten years old. According to Aoife Flynn, IMMA’s Public Relations Executive, the result is a website that “is not extendable and has become costly to use” and update (“Re-Imagining IMMA Online”). Accordingly, IMMA is in the process of planning and designing a new website, with the goal of launching it within the next few years, and therefore it was not practicable or possible to use IMMA’s CMS for this practicum project. WordPress has an extensive library of site themes, which offer opportunities to create a prototype with a clean, streamlined design and structure that can easily adjust to and merge with IMMA’s new website when it does debut.

Such a merger is possible because of WordPress’ functionality and the ease with which a website or blog can migrate to another domain or server. For the purposes of this practicum, the prototype will be created on WordPress’ “.com” platform, with access shared between myself and IMMA. WordPress will fully and freely host this initial version of the prototype until the new main website is live. At that time, WordPress’ capabilities will provide IMMA with several options. The museum’s staff might choose to change the prototype’s URL, directing it towards IMMA’s new website, while leaving the content and structure in place, or IMMA might choose to export the entire prototype in XML format for implementation on IMMA’s new content management system. Both options preserve the original content of the application prototype while giving IMMA the greatest amount of flexibility in deciding how to incorporate the application with its new web presence.

Private Pages

Another key consideration for the future of the IMMA prototype is designing and creating an application versatile enough to accommodate multiple artists. Though the initial prototype will focus on Gerda Frömel, it is IMMA’s intention to use the digital application for the whole of the Modern Masters Series, which will feature a variety of artists. As one might expect, each artist has his or her own influences, affinities, media and practices. Throughout her career, for example, Frömel studied metalwork and sculpture, created devotional objects for Christian churches (such as stained-glass windows), exhibited both small-scale bronze castings and pencil drawings, and designed and produced a large, stainless steel public sculpture on commission. In contrast, Irish artist Patrick Hennessy focused solely on painting still life, landscapes and portraits, while Barrie Cooke was an abstract expressionist painter who also created mixed media pieces.

Given the wide diversity and variety of contemporary artists in Ireland, it would be quite difficult to create a “one-size-fits-all” application. Instead, in consultation with Aoife and Sean, I’ve structured the prototype with a few high-level categories that can then be divided further into sub-categories more specific to each artist. In order to maintain the clean, streamlined design and navigation, these sub-categories will be constructed as private pages in WordPress.

Page VisibilityOne of the benefits of a web-based application comes from (relatively) unlimited real estate on the Internet. WordPress allows users to create as many pages as needed and, most importantly for this project, WordPress offers the option of setting pages as “private.” Private pages do not show up on a website or application’s navigation menu, in RSS feeds or in search engine results. These pages are only accessible through the administrative console, by site editors and administrators. Thus, the WordPress prototype can host multiple pages representing the various sub-categories for each individual artist in the Modern Masters Series. These pages can then be turned “on” or “off” depending on IMMA’s needs for the application at any given time. The overall structure of the prototype will remain the same, but IMMA will retain maximum flexibility over its content, allowing the museum to use the application beyond its initial intended implementation.

Conclusion

In creating a digital resource for IMMA and its Modern Masters Series, I have given careful consideration of the future needs and uses of the application, particularly when choosing a web-publishing platform with which to build the prototype. With the planned new website and a diverse range of artists featured in the series offering unique challenges, WordPress provides appropriate options and solutions to IMMA’s needs. The result will be an application with built-in flexibility to ensure the continued use of a valuable digital art resource.


Works Referenced:

Flynn, Aoife. Reimagining IMMA Online. Dissertation. Trinity College Dublin, 2014. Print.

IMMA. Irish Museum of Modern Art. Web. 6 April 2015.

“Page Visibility.” WordPress Support. WordPress, n.d. Web. 6 April 2015.

“WordPress.com and WordPress.org.” WordPress Support. WordPress, n.d. Web. 6 April 2015.

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