Balboa Park Commons

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San Diego’s renowned Balboa Park and its extraordinary cultural institutions offer an astonishing array of treasures and resources. Its museums and institutions contain world-class masterpieces, specimens of extinct species, full-size aircraft and so much more. It would take weeks for someone to view all of the exhibits, visit the galleries, and use the interactive displays. Yet what is open to the public is only a fraction of the whole—on average, less than a quarter of the museums’ rich cultural resources are on display.

Launched in spring 2013, the Balboa Park Commons benefits students, scholars, and the general public who are interested in regional history, science, art, and innovation. It expands the museum experience beyond museum walls by providing a rich online library that offers unprecedented, free access to digitized photos, videos, journals, and more. To date, the Balboa Park Online Collaborative with its museum partners have digitized more than 300,000 objects for museums, and has uploaded over 25,000 digital assets from eight cultural institutions to the Balboa Park Commons website. Currently, the site hosts collections from the Committee of 100, Mingei International Museum, Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego Air & Space Museum, The San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego Museum of Man, San Diego Natural History Museum, and Timken Museum of Art.

Providing access to these meaningful resources is critical for learning and fundamental for sparking innovation. Aligned with Common Core Standards and Next Generation Science Standards, the Balboa Park Commons is a tool kit for San Diego teachers wishing to use the park museums’ collections for learning in the classroom, providing students and teachers with a fun and easy way to search, browse, and make connections with museum collections. Visitors to the site are able to freely download individual images or create sets of images to download for educational purposes.  Much of the information on the site is uniquely San Diego, capturing the diversity of the region and the history of the scientists, artists, and pioneers who have contributed to its development.

The Balboa Park Commons demonstrates the applicability of BPOC’s unique formal collaborative model to other national and international partnerships, particularly those involving small- to medium-sized organizations, which want to build strong relationships with each other and with their local communities in a cost-effective manner. Rosa Longacre, Archivist at the San Diego Museum of Man, said, “The long-term impact for the Commons project on both my institution, as well as the greater San Diego community, is that thousands of images from our Photograph Collection will be available digitally for the first time ever. The Commons has allowed us to share images and metadata in a searchable database that can be accessed anywhere, allowing our patrons to visit our collections from all over the globe!” BPOC has included a link to the Commons’ application programming interface (API) on the website, providing staff in any location around the world with an example of how to build a site like the Commons on their own. A model for institutions worldwide, the Commons does not just provide information; it empowers the visitor to explore, resulting in cultural enrichment and gained knowledge.

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