Wikipedia, the most widely used encyclopedia on the world, consistently ranks among the web’s top sites and garners instant recognition among nearly all internet users. A related project—Wikimedia Commons, a source of free-use, public domain photos, video and other multimedia available to anyone—is less widely known, but essential for supplying multimedia content for Wikipedia articles.
Earlier this month, the Wikimedia Foundation (the umbrella organization for both of these wiki projects, as well as several others) began a landmark collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution when the Archives of American Art donated a trove of 285 WPA-era photographs to the Commons database.
“We’ve been interested in Wikipedia for years, but we didn’t really know how big the Foundation was and the efforts of the Commons until Sarah Stierch came on,” says Sara Snyder, an IT specialist at the Archives of American Art. Stierch became the Smithsonian’s first “Wikipedian-in-Residence” this summer at the Archives, as part of Wikimedia’s “GLAM” Project (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) that strives to increase the flow of information between these institutions and Wikimedia.
The images donated are all part of the Archives’ collection of Works Progress Administration (WPA) photography, and this is the first time they are available to the public in a high-resolution, digitized format. The WPA was a Great Depression-era government program intended to provide relief for the unemployed. In addition to completing infrastructure and education projects, the WPA commissioned artists to produce paintings, murals and sculptures. Many of the photographs in the donation detail these activities, while others were creative assignments for exhibitions and photo murals.
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