You probably don’t know about an incredible information source The Mint Museums – both the original on Randolph Road and the one uptown – offer at no cost. But students, artists and scholars in Europe, Asia and Russia have found their way to it.
It’s the Mintwiki, and it’s been accessible online for more than a decade. It’s not that the Mint has been trying to keep it hidden. It’s just that it began as a teaching tool for docents. It has become much more than that, but the Mint has never promoted Mintwiki, so people who find it have usually stumbled upon it.
Here’s how it works. Let’s say you’re heard about the Michael Sherrill retrospective on view through April 7 (you should go!) and want to know more about the exhibition and the artist. Go to the Mint website, click “Explore,” click “Current Exhibitions,” find “Michael Sherrill Retrospective” among the eight exhibitions currently listed and navigate to the home page. At the bottom of the page, you’ll see “Learn more on Mintwiki.”
From there, you’ll go to a page much like one you’d find on Wikipedia – although the information displayed here has all been carefully vetted by the Mint’s long-time librarian, Joyce Weaver. You won’t need to wonder if you what you read here is accurate. It is.
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There’s background on the artist, videos of the artist explaining his work and his process and links – lots of them – to more scholarly and popular articles about the artist. There’s even a list of print resources available in the Mint libraries for anyone compelled to learn more.
It takes a lot of work to keep Mintwikis up-to-date. Weaver has never had the time to create wikis for the works in the permanent collection. But every special exhibition programmed at the Mint since wikis were first established has wikis associated with it. And they’re there in perpetuity.
The one and only
It’s such a handy and reliable resource, you might assume that every art museum has its own wiki – software that allows a group of users to add, delete, edit and share content on a website – but Weaver said she doesn’t know of another museum with a wiki platform.
It started small in 2006 when Weaver went to a seminar the Mint co-hosted for the North and South Carolina chapters of the Special Libraries Association. The seminar’s title, Weaver recalled: “We Have a Website; Now What?” (Remember, this was 13 years ago. Organization leaders knew they needed a web presence, but they didn’t always know how to harness the power of the worldwide web.)
“Originally, Mintwiki was just a list with links,” said Weaver, who’s been the Mint’s directory or library and archives since 2004. “But it’s been developed into a much more robust resource. We can embed videos and photos. Different content providers, including curators, interns and volunteers, have permission to load content on the site. But I vet everything before it goes live.”
Weaver, who has devoted her entire professional life to gathering and archiving information, is really no different from any of us when she’s doing online research. She’s gotten sucked into the rabbit hole, where one topic leads to another topic to another … and, 45 minutes later, you’re no closer to finding what you were looking for, but you have become well-versed in Picasso’s Blue Period; the 1953 Miles Davis album by the same name; Sonny Rollins, the sax player on “Blue Period;” and Rikers Island, the notorious prison where Rollins served time for armed robbery.
“The discovery piece is part of the fun,” she said. “I have to reel myself in from time to time.”
While she cautions against getting too far afield when researching a single topic, she does advocate digging a bit. “You can’t just go to Google and look at the first page and think you’ve done your research,” she cautioned. “There are all sorts of reasons things pop up on the first page of a Google search. You’ve got to look a little deeper.”
Mintwikis allow scholars, artists – and casual patrons – to go beyond surface-level knowledge. Mintwikis is better than a Google search because Weaver has curated what’s there. “I don’t want this to be what you’d get on the first page of a Google search,” she said. “This is a deeper dive. And, we’ve done the work for you.”
Weaver hopes Mintwikis are a starting point. “Ideally, Mintwikis should get you interested enough to come in and see the art in person,” she said. “It should be a gateway.”
Want to learn even more: You can make appointments to visit the Mint library at the Randolph Road location.
This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.
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