Map of the globe shows lines crossing between different spots on the map. The lines show how art has moved from place to place.

Art Tracks Digital Provenance Project

Art Tracks is an initiative of the Carnegie Museum of Art that aims to turn provenance (external link) into structured data by building a suite of open source software tools. These tools transform traditional written provenance records into searchable data, with an emphasis on existing data standards and a strong focus on building tools that are useful, and usable, across multiple institutions.

Once provenance information is converted into structured data, we can ask complex questions like “Which works in our collection were in the same city in the same year?” or “Which artworks in our collection were owned by an artist whose work is also in our collection?” By doing more with the data we already have, we can discover gaps in knowledge, shape collections policy, and better understand the ecosystem of the collection and the institution.

For an overview of the project, please check out the presentation videos from Digital Provenance Symposium 2016 and Digital Provenance Symposium 2017 for vigorous discussion about the role of museums in understanding, researching, disseminating, and digitally publishing museum collections.

Reference Materials

The CMOA Provenance Standard is a strict superset of the AAM provenance standard, designed to resolve ambiguities and provide guidance and machine-readability. A draft version (v. 0.2) has been published. Examples of records written using the CMOA style are available.

The JSON (external link) version of the standard also has a JSON-Schema available that both documents and validates the intermediate JSON version of the provenance standard.

A thesauri of Acquisition Methods has been created to help explain and define the various ways that works of art can change hands. There is also a SKOS version of this vocabulary available.

Software & Demonstration

The Museum Provenance library is the core technology developed for this project. It takes provenance records and converts them into structured, well-formatted data.

The Elysa tool is a user interface designed for museum professionals. It assists with verifying, cleaning, and modifying provenance records.

An initial provenance interactive prototype was created in spring 2015 to research ways to present detailed provenance information to the public. Much of the work and evaluation done will inform new projects, including the Northbrook data visualization in the Scaife galleries, on view since October 6, 2017.


The Art Tracks Digital Provenance Project is made possible in part by a generous grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional research support provided by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation (external link), the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art (external link), and the Richard C. von Hess Foundation.

Institute of Museum and Library Service
National Endowment for the Humanities