Smithsonian open access? Yes, please.

Smithsonian open access? Yes, please.

Somewhere (Word doc? Evernote?) I have a running list of libraries and museums with publicly available digital asset, each entry annotated with info on their usage policy. Periodically I’ll google “open access art,” or some such, just to see if anything new has cropped up. A sea change is in full swing, with institutions increasingly embracing open access as a benefit rather than avoiding it as an existential threat.

In the past two or three years, I’ve developed a mental short list of go-to collections that are rich and open access (at least in part), with images available at high resolution: Getty Museum, The Met, Cleveland Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Art, Rijksmuseum.

Turns out the Smithsonian has joined the fray. I sought out the FAQ to check the launch date (“just how long have I missed out on this?”). It’s pretty darn new.

Welcome to Smithsonian Open Access, where you can explore and reuse millions of digital items from the Smithsonian’s collections (2.8 million at February 2020 launch). We have released these images and data into the public domain as Creative Commons Zero (CC0), meaning you can use, transform, and share our open access assets without asking permission from the Smithsonian.

What will you create?

From the Smithsonian Open Access portal (

Like the Rijksmuseum’s Rijksstudio, the Smithsonian’s program encourages engagement. Users can create their own collections, which are called shoeboxes (a charming, informal touch), and can do with the material what they will. I can’t wait to really explore the collection.


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