Brian MacElhose is the Collections Database Analyst at the Dallas Museum of Art.
Established in 1903, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) is among the 10 largest art museums in the country and is distinguished by its commitment to research, innovation, and public engagement. At the heart of the Museum and its programs is its global collection, which encompasses more than 23,000 works and spans 5,000 years of history, representing a full range of world cultures. Located in the nation’s largest arts district, the Museum acts as a catalyst for community creativity, engaging people of all ages and backgrounds with a diverse spectrum of programming, from exhibitions and lectures to concerts, literary events, and dramatic and dance presentations. Since the Museum’s return to free general admission in 2013, the DMA has welcomed more than two million visitors, and enrolled more than 100,000 people in DMA Friends,the nation’s first free museum membership program. For more information, visit DMA.org.
1. What is the biggest challenge your team faces on a daily basis?
Maintaining data standards is a tall order. Given that there is a great deal of freedom in some of the fields in TMS, users can easily stray from our data standards. To help with this I have been developing an online reference guide for the staff which provides formatting data standards as well as step by step instructions explaining how to achieve accurate data entry. I continuously think about what the logical flow would be for staff and what makes the most sense, in terms of ease of use, for our TMS user base.
2. Technology continues to have a significant impact on museum management and the engagement of audiences. How do you see the use of technology in your institution evolving?
The DMA embraces technology and all that it can offer. I think that the next step for museums is going mobile. Mobile technology and connectivity is evolving at an incredible rate around the globe. We, as a museum industry, need to keep abreast of these changes and find ways to make mobile technologies work for us in our daily work lives as well as ways to enrich our visitors’ experience. I believe that the DMA will continue to push technology as far as we can take it whilst maintaining stability and accuracy as it pertains to the information that we, the staff, are using as well as that which is provided to the public.
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3. What is the one change that you’ve made at your institution that has had the biggest impact?
Documenting data standards, procedures, and policies I believe to be one of the greater contributions that I have made for the DMA. Having this information available to the staff online creates a “virtual me” so that the staff can find answers to questions they have about TMS when they cannot find me.
4. If you were given $100,000 to spend on management of your collection or department, how would you use it?
Besides finding a creative way to take a trip to some exotic location under the guise of researching how to better manage collections data, I would love to use this kind of capital to bring on some temporary staff. It would be great to have them help clean up and update our data standards. There are a number of ways to bulk update data via SQL but often, with art related data, everything is not as binary as you would like it to be.
5. Do you have a favorite book, event or training resource that has helped or motivated you in your career?
Not a book in the standard sense, but the internet has been one of the greatest assets for me. Both https://www.w3schools.com/ and https://stackoverflow.com have been invaluable to me in the development of my technical abilities.
https://www.w3schools.com/ has been instrumental and is the foundation for how I taught myself SQL. It continues to be a source of assistance for me to this day. https://stackoverflow.com has been a great resource for me when trying to figure out how to make a complex script work in SQL or a complicated formula in Crystal Reports. There is still a great deal of trial and error involved on my part, but without these resources the starting place would be even harder to find.
6. What is one of the most interesting projects or exhibitions organized by your institution and why?
Hands down, for me, the DMA Friends membership program, which the Museum launched in 2013 and was the first free membership program in the country, has been one of the more interesting projects. I enjoy seeing technologies being developed, especially when their impact is as a valuable as this one. Providing free membership to our guests is a great way to broaden our reach and to get the community involved. By using a points and rewards system, it encourages and incentivizes our members to participate in Museum activities, events, and the like. I am very curious to see how this program continues to evolve. You can learn more about this project at https://www.dma.org/visit/dma-friends.