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Ackland Art Museum to complete digitization of Asian collections due to recent grant

Unbeknownst to many, one of the southeast’s best Asian art collections lives at the Ackland, right at UNC’s doorstep.

And thanks to a crowdsourced fundraising project initiated by Charlotte’s Arts and Science council-backed Power2Give organization and supported by the North Carolina Arts Council, the Ackland Art Museum will be able to digitize the collection, making the images available worldwide through their website.

In a little over a two month period, $2,864 was raised to complete the digitization of the collection — 89 Asian screens and scrolls. This was possible due to the two to one pledge by the NC Arts Council at the inception of the nonprofit organization partnership. 

For every dollar that a donor pledges, an additional 50 cents will be provided by the NC Arts Council. Twenty-five donors pledged $1,922 toward the project. Matching funds from NC Arts Council totaled $942.

“The Ackland Art Museum had received grants from the NC arts council in the past, so we were invited to put together a project and then try to get that project funded through the Power2Give project funded by the arts council,” said Brandon Foster, development strategist at the Ackland.

“We were looking for alternative ways for funding the digitization of these 73 scrolls and 11 screens and we thought, ‘hey, this is a great opportunity because the Ackland has arguably the best section of Asian art in the southeast, and we know there are folks out there who love that art and who would probably be willing to making images of these works of art online.’”

He said creating a strong narrative component was important for the success of the project, which ultimately raised the goal amount in about two months, a month less than the average Power2Give campaign. Due to the success of the project, he forecasts more crowdsourcing initiatives in the future.

While 13,700 works of art out of the Ackland’s 17,000 have already been digitized, the funds raised will all go towards digitizing the Asian art, a portion of the permanent collection not put on display often because it requires an especially delicate hand.

“These are very, very fragile works of art,” said Emily Bowles, Ackland’s director of communication. “Every time you unroll them, you put them at risk so people working to photograph them not only have to be trained professional photographers, but they have to know how to handle them.”

Photographer Diane Davis is one of these professionals who specializes in capturing delicate art and has been working over the past three and a half years to digitize the Ackland. Using a camera that can capture up to 200 megapixels per photo — around 20 times more than the average personal camera — she combines art with technology to capture these works of art.

“To be able to take each work out with my white gloves and hang it very carefully and capture it pixel by pixel is a delightful, honorable thing to be able to do in my day to day life,” she said. “I feel like I’m the good steward of technology, but I‘m also helping make the best quality image files that we can for this museum.”

Bowles said the museum is excited not only to now have the ability for the local community to see pieces of rare and beautiful artwork, but to have that artwork available globally.

“We have particularly fine world class works of art and it’s very exciting to think that these were worldwide,” said Bowles.”It’s exciting but it will help people understand the caliber of our Asian art.”

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