At a time when major museums need philanthropy in the worst way possible, the Dallas Museum of Art announced Thursday a landmark gift — $1.42 million from the O’Donnell Foundation in support of what the museum describes as an “audience-centered digital transformation.”
Digital tools have become “increasingly critical” to the operation of Dallas’ largest art museum, officials said, explaining that the foundation’s largesse will help the museum extend its reach to art-lovers “regardless of physical location.”
The elephant in the room, so to speak, when it comes to fortifying digital operations nowadays, is the COVID-19 pandemic, which closed the DMA in mid-March. The museum reopened only recently and even then at limited capacity and with a panoply of strict safety measures in place.
The pandemic has left museums, theaters and arts operations all over the world with a crushing need to elevate their digital presences as fast as possible, in order to bridge the gap between the coronavirus and a return to normalcy. Whenever that may come.
As the DMA noted in its press release, the pandemic “saw the museum’s entire engagement model shift to online or virtual-only formats.”
“In the simplest terms, the need was to update what were outdated systems,” said KC Hurst, chief marketing and communications officer at the DMA. Not being as up to date as possible left room for improvement, she noted.
The money will also go toward overhauling the museum’s website, a benefit of which will be, in Hurst’s words, “to make the virtual experience come alive.”
Though the museum had been planning the modifications since Hurst’s arrival in 2018, the pandemic underscored their urgency, she said. Should such a thing happen in the future, where visitors were unable to visit the museum in person, “we will be much better prepared,” she said.
In a statement, DMA Director Agustín Arteaga reacted by saying, “While people are still separated physically, the ability to connect virtually is critical to the DMA’s mission.”
The project will begin in early fall 2020 and is planned to wrap up in winter 2022.
The DMA has enjoyed a generous history with the O’Donnell Foundation, which in 2013 gave $9 million to support the museum’s major switch from paid to free general admission. The earlier gift also carried with it a technological component, in helping to digitize the DMA’s permanent collection, which the museum said “created one of the most sophisticated online art collections in the world.”
Started by Dallas businessman and philanthropist Peter O’Donnell and his wife, Edith, the O’Donnell Foundation is one of the largest independent foundations in Dallas. Over the last 40 years, it has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to support scientific research and education in America.
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