Archives Receives Second Multimillion Dollar Grant from the Terra Foundation

By the Archives
April 7, 2011

The Terra Foundation for American Art has awarded a $3 million grant to the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art to support another five years of the Archives’ digitization project and to fund a new position that will create and oversee related online scholarly and educational outreach initiatives. With this second grant, the Terra Foundation has committed more than $6.6 million over a 10-year period.

Founded in 1954, the Archives is the world’s largest and most widely used resource on the history of American art, with vast holdings of art-related photographs, sketches, letters and diaries. Over the next five years, a substantial number of its most-requested documents will be prepared, scanned and made available on the Archives’ website, Grant monies also will enable the Archives to further develop Web technologies to support various social media formats and digital humanities scholarship.

Begun in 2005, the Archives’ digitization project has been transformational, dramatically changing how individuals can access and engage with its collections. Historically, the public only has been able to consult collection documents at the Archives’ Washington, D.C., headquarters, or access selected holdings through interlibrary loan or at affiliated Archives research centers in New York, the Huntington Library (San Marino, Calif.) and others nationwide. The first grant from the Terra Foundation, $3.6 million awarded in 2005, provided funds to launch the Archives’ digitization effort. Since receiving this original grant, the Archives has processed 138 collections, digitized 108 collections and made 1.45 million digital files and 13 terabytes of data available on the Internet and preserved them in a digital repository. Through a wholly redesigned website made public in January 2011, the Archives now provides unprecedented access to online exhibitions, oral history transcripts, audio highlights, Encoded Archival Description finding aids and guides, selected digital images and collections, and other research services. The Archives’ efforts have not gone unnoticed: there has been a substantial increase in overall site-visit sessions since 2005, nearly tripling the number of visitors annually to 2 million with a quarter of these being international users. 

The new grant-funded position of the Terra Foundation Project Manager for Online Scholarly and Educational Initiatives will work with the digitization project team already in place—archivists, curators, digital imaging technicians and a webmaster—to ensure the Archives remains a vibrant resource for the critical study and appreciation of American art, anticipating and responding to new digital modes of learning, scholarship, curatorship and reference. The position also will create opportunities to engage and familiarize growing audiences worldwide with the Archives’ unique holdings. 

“This new round of support from the Terra Foundation underscores the major success of our digitization efforts and the effect this project has had on bringing our resources to a global audience,” said John W. Smith, director of the Archives. “The staff and the board of trustees of the Archives are deeply grateful for the foundation’s enormous commitment to this endeavor and the partnership we have forged as a result. But the true beneficiaries of the foundation’s support are the thousands of researchers around the world who now have immediate access to our rich and diverse collections.”

“One of our highest priorities at the Terra Foundation for American Art is to make research resources on American art available to people around the globe,” said Elizabeth Glassman, president and CEO of the Terra Foundation. “We are proud to partner with the Archives of American Art to bring their important collections to individuals worldwide. In supporting the digitization project for another five-year period, the Terra Foundation will enable the Archives to build on the significant work completed to date, adding many collections to online holdings and initiating new ways to engage audiences.”

The Archives of American Art is the world’s pre-eminent resource dedicated to collecting and preserving the papers and primary records of the visual arts in America.

Established in 1978, the Terra Foundation for American Art is dedicated to fostering the exploration, understanding and enjoyment of the visual arts of the United States. With financial resources of more than $250 million, an exceptional collection of American art from the colonial era to 1945, and an expansive grant program, it is one of the leading foundations focused on American art and devotes approximately $12 million annually in support of American art exhibitions, projects and research worldwide. For more information visit the Terra Foundation website at