More than 10,000 items in the Walters Art Museum — about a third of the total collection — can now be viewed and downloaded online for free, without copyright restrictions.
The museum's collection is "basically public domain," said Dylan Kinnett, manager of web and social media at the Walters. "Something like this would be less likely at a museum with contemporary art, where the artist is still alive or the estate is still active."
The free online accessibility, which complements the Walters' free admission policy, allows viewers to see works spanning several eras, from ancient Egypt and the Americas to 18th- and 19th-century Europe. Objects from Asian and Islamic cultures are also included. Many of the downloadable art works are not currently on display at the museum.
The Walters started putting images online in 2007. "You could download them before if you were a super-savvy user," Kinnett said. "Now the site is very user-friendly."
The redesigned site (art.thewalters.org) offers various new features, including expanded research tools and the option of creating a personal collection file of favorite images that can be shared through Twitter or Facebook.
"We had a lot of feedback from school teachers, college professors and scholars," Kinnett said. "They loved how we had large images online, but they wanted to be able to download them, print them out, use them for PowerPoint presentations or e-mail them."
The Walters images are being made available through a Creative Commons license that prohibits commercial use. "We are not terribly worried about [violations]," Kinnett said. "It is not a deterrent to the release of the images. Our job is to make sure people are seeing the art."
The website upgrade was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. More images will be put online as funding becomes available.