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No.17 Money for Nothing, Pics for Free

September 16, 2009
by Kerry Tremain

We’ve grown used to the ultra-rich paying astronomical prices for art, and this knowledge does add a certain frisson to the Sunday museum visit. So imagine a museum giving away its art to anyone who asks. Now further imagine that the museum allows you to cut up, remix, collage, or remake the artwork.

Welcome to the Open Museum. The art, as you may have guessed, is digital. The idea, pioneered by Berkeley Art Museum, is explicitly patterned on the open source software movement. It’s an idea that rocks not only the foundation of traditional collecting—which values rarity and exclusivity—but the very idea of a museum as a building with walls and security guards. “The Open Museum allows people not only to view digital art online, but also to download the artwork, including source code and multimedia files,” says Richard Rinehart, BAM’s digital media director. “Open access enhances research and, more importantly, promotes new cultural production as artists remix and reuse digital artworks.”

As every honest artist knows, new work is built on what came before. But what about intellectual property? “The Open Museum is about sharing, not stealing, and digital artists support the idea,” says Rinehart. “Most were drawn to work in digital media because of the open access.”

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