NGA Images: An Open Access Repository

Alan Newman, USA , Peter Dueker, USA

NGA Images <> is an online repository of digital images of the collections of the National Gallery of Art. On this website users can search, browse, share, and download reproduction quality images. A standards-based reproduction guide and a help section provide advice for both novices and experts.

More than 20,000 open access digital images up to 3000 pixels on the long dimension are available free of charge for immediate download and for any use without restrictions. NGA Images is designed to facilitate learning, enrichment, enjoyment, and exploration. Launched on March 15, 2012 users of NGA downloaded more than 100,000 images in less than six months.

Using the development and release of NGA Images as its case study this paper explores the issues, challenges and opportunities for museums seeking to broaden access to digital resources by utilizing web-based technologies. A low-cost two-year project, created using customized off the shelf-software with limited staff resources the success of NGA Images demonstrates the enormous institutional benefit that can be obtained through the pragmatic utilization of technology when paired with progressive and mission-centric policies.


Rights and reproductions charging models for museum images have been well studied and documented historically by Simon Tanner, David Green and others and generally are based on a notion of revenue enhancement. These systems often are costly and time-consuming to maintain and frustrating for both the giver and receiver of images. The end result often runs counter to expectation and becomes a financial and resource burden. Advocacy for mission-based open access image programs has gained considerable momentum over the last decade and presents an alternative for museum image collection administration which allows refocus of staff resources on clear mission driven functions.

This paper will describe the background leading to the adoption and articulation of the Gallery’s open access image policy and the mechanism for its implementation.  We will discuss the design considerations that were successful and those that were limited by constraints posed within a modest software acquisition and development budget.  Finally, we will map out future plans to further enhance the user experience and make the search, sharing and download capabilities as effortless as possible.


Alan Newman, Chief, Imaging and Visual Resources

Peter Dueker, Head, Digital Imaging Services