Getting to know WikiProject:Public Art

Wikipedia provides an exhaustive amount of information about everything from dinosaurs and astronomy to television and politics. Many don’t realize that nearly every topic within Wikipedia is maintained by a WikiProject, a model that Wikipedians use to create and improve articles.  While the articles hyperlinked above receive a fair amount of attention from Wikipedians, one topic that’s lacking in coverage is public art. WikiProject:Public Art hopes to resolve this by increasing the quality and quantity of articles about public art in Wikipedia.

The aim of WikiProject:Public Art is to advocate for public art that is often hidden in plain sight. In researching and sharing information on Wikipedia, we care for art in the most basic way — by documenting it. Once in Wikipedia, geolocated artworks can be found on mobile devices, making the information accessible while passersby are on-site. On top of that, because Wikipedia is automatically linked with other online platforms, such as Facebook and Qwiki, the information spreads surprisingly far.

WikiProject:Public Art was first developed in 2009 as Wikipedia Saves Public Art, an experimental project that Jennifer Geigel Mikulay, assistant professor at Alverno College, and Richard McCoy, conservator of objects at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, integrated into the IUPUI museum studies course Collections Care and Management. Inspired by the nationwide project “Save Outdoor Sculpture!”  from the 1990s, the students researched and wrote 42 articles and established the IUPUI Public Art Collection within Wikipedia.

Following the success of the IUPUI project, resources were streamlined to make the model scalable for not only college campuses, but also for cities, museums, and other public spaces. Since then, successful projects have included the following:

  • The Milwaukee Arts Board is supporting a collaborative effort to document every public artwork in the city. Students from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have contributed dozens of articles so far.
  • In Washington DC, George Washington University graduate student Sarah Stierch established a Task Force to list and document every public artwork in the capitol. There are now plans for Baltimore and Philadelphia to develop Task Forces.

Hopefully, more Task Forces will be established and more educators will incorporate WikiProject:Public art into their coursework.  Often, it just takes one person to create a list of artworks in a city or a new article on a long-forgotten sculpture. You never know who might learn something new about an artwork that, until now, they might not have noticed.


Photo: A “little bird,” the mascot for WikiProject:Public Art, sits atop “Graft” (2008-2009) by Roxy Paine. Photo by Sarah Stierch, cc-by-a.

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