DAM Champ: Douglas Hegley

DAM champ Douglas Hegley is the Director of Media and Technology at Minneapolis Institute of Art (MiA). During the past 19 years in the museum technology field, he’s helped create collaborative technology environments, set the vision and strategy for technology and digital media, and sought to deeply engage audiences with great stories delivered digitally. With a formal educational background in psychology, he maintains an underlying focus on human-computer interaction and the capacity for technology to augment and enhance the ways that people accomplish their goals.

DAM champ: Someone who supports finding, setting up, or maintaining a digital asset management system (DAM). There is a wide variety in DAM champions, who come from positions in production, creative, management, IT, and marketing.


DAM Champ: Douglas HegleyHow do you use DAM at the Minneapolis Institute of Art?

At MiA, like all fine art museums, we’re dedicated to making the masterpieces of our collection accessible to as many people as we can — it’s literally written into our mission statement. Because we collect and share works of visual art, one of the best ways to make that collection widely available is to share digital images. We have our own internal photo studio, and we’re actively capturing digital images every working day — not just color digital photos, but also multi-spectral images, 3D scans, and more — including what we call non-art photography of people, events, exhibitions, etc.

“We conceive of digital asset management (DAM) as both an array of powerful computer systems and a set of methods and best practices.”

On the systems side, we use an ecosystem of DAM software products, search technologies, storage, our own API infrastructure, and several digital publishing systems to move our assets from capture through storage to deployment. On the methods side, we’re working in continuous cycles of improvement to refine our metadata models and ensure the long-term viability and easy accessibility of our assets. All of this effort is driven by a commitment to sharing our content with the widest possible community.

How did you find out about DAM systems as a way to deal with digital assets?
About 15 years ago, I was working at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The Met’s photo studio was moving from analog photography to hi-res digital capture. It quickly became apparent that we not only needed some place to store the resulting large digital files, but also methods to catalog and retrieve them. Thus began our journey working together to research systems, meet vendors, test products, etc. It’s been an interesting time. I’ve seen a lot of systems and approaches and met many dedicated professionals along the way.

Why is DAM important to nonprofits?
I’m not sure I’d distinguish between for-profit and nonprofit when it comes to digital assets. In my view, any business that is dealing directly with customers is essentially a digital publishing house.

“You might be using your assets to drive awareness, sell products or services, or as inventory from which to earn revenue. In any case, a strong DAM will make your approach more effective.”

At the end of the day, any business has a finite amount of resources to apply. When it comes to managing digital assets, it’s vital to create high-quality content and to be able to use that content readily. DAM systems directly supports that approach. Whether you’re capturing assets for a commercial catalog or to document works of fine art, you’re still utilizing the time and skills of your photographers and thus should make every effort to save and make available the assets that are created.

I suppose in our case, as we strive to capture extremely high-resolution images, multi-spectral data, and 3D images/video, we may end up with a greater need for storage space and long-term preservation. We also keep in mind that the process of photographing a work of art is actually a risk. We need to move the art, light it, capture the images, then move the art back to its secure location. We take this process extremely seriously and approach it with the utmost professionalism, because we know we are responsible for preserving these masterpieces for generations to come. That means we may move a bit slowly at times, but for very good reasons!

What is the best thing about DAM?
It’s an organized way to approach a vital activity of our operation, applying best practices along the way. A powerful DAM system also provides a degree of flexibility for adapting to future needs, which are sometimes hard to anticipate.

What is your biggest challenge as a DAM champ?
Approaching DAM professionally entails real expense, both upfront and ongoing. Museums must be very intentional about such investments, operating at the most efficient level and carefully meeting budget restrictions. For me, the balance between our aspiration to work at the highest professional level and the need to control costs is always a challenge.

What advice would you give to people who are trying to get a DAM system in their organization?
A full response to that question might require one to write an entire manual! However, I think I might have a few tips: 1.) Don’t be sold to by vendors. Do your research and keep your core requirements front and center. It’s easy to be wowed by bells and whistles, but it’s the core functionality that will rule the day. 2.) Work on your metadata model before you start ingesting assets; it’s a pain to re-work later. 3.) Bring in some expertise. There are a number of great consulting firms who can help walk you through the complex array of systems, vendors, and cost models. 4.) Define success up front. 5.) Be realistic with your goals. 6.) Good luck pitching the process to senior management, because they’re likely not to see the return on the investment (unless your assets are themselves an inventory that can be sold). Be persistent and don’t give up!

Do you have a favorite digital asset? What is it and why do you like it?
One of the greatest paintings in the collection at MiA is Rembrandt’s “Lucretia.” We have high-resolution images of this iconic work that we share across many platforms. For example, take a look at our ArtStory about this painting. Move over to the image and zoom in, especially on the model’s left eye. Can you see the tiny brush strokes of white paint that Rembrandt masterfully placed along the bottom edge of the eye, to convey a tear forming? That kind of skill — just a dab or two of paint in the right spot — inspires awe. For me, the ability to look at the painting so close up is truly wonderful, and perhaps obviously you can get much closer digitally than you ever could in the actual gallery!

Anything else you would like to say to the DAM community?
Isn’t it amazing how far we’ve come in the past 15 years? Not just in terms of systems, but in terms of the central importance of DAM to any enterprise. Now, looking forward, I’d challenge the DAM field to turn some attention to digital curation and digital asset archiving for long-term preservation. Contemporary artists are working in digital modalities. Are the DAM tools we currently have in place going to be able to help museums store, share, and preserve these works, which represent so much more than brand assets or marketing shots? It’s a great challenge, and I’d wager there are some very smart people out there who can figure it out.


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