The Quilt Index, an online archive of more than 50,000 documented quilts, plans to begin adding quilts from outside the United States to its robust database. To design a blueprint for creating a truly international digital quilt collection, the Index received a significant planning grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
Already, the audience for the Quilt Index is global, but the plan is for its online collections to be global as well, a logical but not simple next step. Users of the Quilt Index range widely, including historians, librarians, curators, quiltmakers, quilt collectors, genealogists and fabric designers, and all will benefit from making the archive international, with an enhanced capability for interchange and cross-cultural collaboration.
The one-year grant of about $100,000 will help the project's organizers solve problems such as "supporting multilingual indexing, searching and retrieval of information," according to the IMLS. In short, the Index wants to build a collaborative virtual museum across dozens of countries and cultures that share a passion for quilting.
The Quilt Index is run in partnership by the Michigan State University Museum, MATRIX Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online at MSU, and the Alliance for American Quilts. All three partners are dedicated to using new technologies to preserve and share the stories of quilts and quilters online. Jointly, the three partners, along with the International Quilt Study Center and Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln -a new partner for this project-- will use the grant to assess the challenges of going global, and then develop a plan to respond to those challenges. It is expected that this project will provide lessons to other museums and libraries working on international projects.
The IMLS, the primary source of federal support for the nation's libraries and museums, has provided vital support in previous efforts to build and enhance the cutting-edge tech tools for which the Quilt Index is justly lauded. Regarding this new grant, the IMLS said it believes that museums and libraries "play a vital role in helping us experience, explore, discover and make sense of the world. Through building technological infrastructure and strengthening community relationships, libraries and museums can offer the public unprecedented access and expertise in transforming information overload into knowledge."
The Index is already a trusted resource used by scholars and quilt enthusiasts all over the world, but the images and data currently online all come from U.S.-based museums and state documentation projects. However, the quilt revival that blossomed across the U.S. beginning in the 1970s is now spreading throughout the world. Both contemporary and vintage quilts are basking in a new glow of appreciation for their worth as both artistic and historic artifacts. The Quilt Index has always endeavored not just to preserve and show significant quilts and tell their stories, but to create multiple tools that allow scholars and historians to study and compare quilts from anytime and any place, and to actively collaborate online.
This new grant will help the Quilt Index prepare to add international quilts to that mix. Among other things, the Index staff will create an extensive online list of international institutions that own important quilt collections and then will help those institutions prepare plans to add their quilts to the Index. The Index is building an international advisory board of 12 representatives knowledgeable about quilt collections in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.
It is not settled yet which country's quilts will be the first documented on the Index, but Marsha MacDowell, curator of folk arts at the MSU Museum, who returned recently from a study trip to South Africa, sees great possibilities for the project's global future. "After visiting textile collections in over 21 museums in South Africa in early 2010, there is real excitement on the part of the staffs of those museums to be able to compare and contrast their own holdings with collections not only around the world, but also within their own country," she said. "And I am already excited to see how those South African collections are related to the history of world economics, trade, migration, politics, religions, art and cultural traditions."
For further information about this grant please contact any of the experts listed at the top of the release. To visit the Quilt Index and study its current resources, go to www.quiltindex.org.