Sharing the diverse stories of the American West

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Autry National Center of the American West
City & State:
Los Angeles, 
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

The Autry National Center of the American West is an intercultural center in Los Angeles, California that explores the experiences and perceptions of the diverse peoples of the American West, connecting the past with the present to inform our shared future. In 2008, 162,000 people visited the Autry, including 40,000 K-12 students on school tours. In addition to on-site visitors, the Autry received more than one million hits to its website last year.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

In 2005, Microsoft awarded the Autry a server license for Microsoft 2003 operating system and 50 user licenses. This donation allowed the Autry to integrate its new one terabyte file server into its information technology network. The newly accessible and usable server, affectionately named the VanGogh server, was then set up to aggregate, organize and preserve the Autry’s immense digital image library. The library is now the Autry’s primary resource and database for digital images. It currently houses more than 100,000 images of art and artifacts from the Autry’s permanent collections, and thousands of institutional photos of construction projects, exhibitions, educational programs, cultural events and other activities occurring at the Autry.

Through Microsoft’s donation, the Autry was able to launch the VanGogh server and create a comprehensive, multi-purpose digital image library. This library significantly facilitates the wide-ranging goals of the Autry’s curatorial and community outreach departments while helping the Autry to address its mission, deliver important public services and programs, and reach new audiences. The library’s positive impact on the Autry’s curatorial and community outreach efforts is described below.

(1) Increasing Access to Museum Collections: The Autry National Center is home to several important collections of art, history and culture of the American West.

· The 238,000-piece Southwest Museum of the American Indian collection is one of the most significant and representative of its kind in the United States, second only to the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of the American Indian. Comprised of 14,000 baskets, 10,000 ceramic items, 6,300 textiles and weavings, and more than 1,100 pieces of jewelry, the Southwest Museum collection represents Indigenous peoples from Alaska to South America, with an emphasis on cultures from California and the Southwest. The collection is supported by a library containing nearly 205,500 archival materials, books, art, ephemera, maps, sound archives, and photographs.

· The Museum of the American West collection—founded by Gene Autry—is comprised of nearly 21,000 American paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, items of clothing and textiles, firearms, tools and utensils, games and toys, musical instruments, and other objects that explore the history—real and imaged—of the American West. The collection’s accompanying library contains 64,000 books, serials, sound and video recordings, photographs, maps, and printed materials related to the history, geography, fine arts, and material, popular, and consumer culture of the American West.

Unfortunately, due to serious space limitations, the Autry is never able to display more than 1-2% of these remarkable collections in its galleries at a given time. In 2002, Autry staff began work to digitize its collections in order to expose them to the public through an online database. By 2003, our files of master images were growing significantly: we could no longer easily manage them on CDs and DVDs. It was for this purpose that we invested in the VanGogh server, which was the first server in the Autry’s history with large capacity for file storage and organization. Thanks to the VanGogh server, the Autry’s Collections Online has been able to grow by leaps and bounds over the last several years, and is an important medium for reaching new audiences and providing the public with access to important and rare historical and cultural artifacts.

The website serving derivative images and deep data about our collections is frequently used as a research tool and image reference guide by scholars, historians, students, tribal members, curators and museum professionals from around the world. Curators at other museums use the database to select items and request loans for their own exhibitions, thereby expanding public access to the Autry’s collections and reaching new audiences. Because images are tightly and deliberately organized, these users of the website can request master high-resolution images which are easily accessed by our image licensing staff. Additionally, scholars and other professionals have the option to license images and use them in their own materials and publications, passing on the knowledge and interpretations to others and further sharing the Autry’s collections with new audiences. Collections Online is an essential and innovative way in which the Autry promotes its mission, shares its collections and engages new audiences from across the United States and the world.

The VanGogh server’s significance for the Autry goes beyond images of items in our collections. The server is also used to store a variety of other images, both professional and non-professional, created by staff throughout the organization to capture our plans and activities. Storing such as wide variety of images in a network library is a particularly innovative use of a single server.

(2) Communicating our Mission and Goals:

Thousands of institutional photos of construction projects, exhibitions, educational programs, cultural events and other activities occurring at the Autry are also housed and organized on the VanGogh server. These images are used to expand the Autry’s impact on the community and reach new audiences.

The Autry is currently undergoing a major campaign and building project. To inform the public about our project goals, the Autry regularly attends local neighborhood association and other community meetings. These presentations require a full disclosure of our plans including construction drawings, renderings and other visual aids, which are all stored on the VanGogh server. This allows for the flexible use and institution-wide access of pertinent information and visuals needed to create these public presentations and inform new audiences about the Autry’s goals for the future.

The library of exhibition, program and event images support the Autry’s fundraising and marketing efforts by providing a comprehensive resource for photos of the Autry’s activities needed to create fundraising brochures, annual reports, membership applications, newsletters, videos and other community outreach materials. These items are widely distributed to local and national audiences to introduce them to the Autry’s mission and encourage their involvement and visitation.


The VanGogh server allows for flexible use of an important component of the Autry’s intellectual property, and for the innovative delivery of this information to the new audiences though Collections Online, community presentations, and marketing materials. Its advent would not have been possible without Microsofts’ donation of the 2003 operating system and 50 user licenses, and the resultant introduction of the VanGogh server into the institution’s infrastructure.

Submission Category
Transformations to Maximize Impact