Hymn to Apollo

Today is opening day for the latest exhibition at ISAW. Hymn to Apollo: The Ancient World and the Ballets Russes runs through June 2nd and "explores both the role of dance in ancient culture and the influence of antiquity on the modernist reinventions of the Ballets Russes", an innovative and influential dance company of the early 20th century. We just went live with the website components of the exhibition.

Since the Institute's first exhibition in 2008, it's been our practice to provide accompanying information on the web, and to keep that information online even after the exhibition closes. That first exhibition, Wine, Worship, and Sacrifice: The Golden Graves of Ancient Vani got little more than brochureware that described the exhibition, its location, associated events, a few "highlight objects", and how to buy the print catalogue. We experimented with doing more, for example with The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley, 5000 - 3500 BC. In 2012, with Edge of Empires: Pagans, Jews, and Christians at Dura-Europos, we brought exhibitions content into the same content management system that we use to curate the rest of the institute's website (Plone) and began moving toward presenting a comprehensive, illustrated checklist of all exhibited objects.

And that's what you get with the latest exhibition Hymn to Apollo. The navigation for the exhibition content follows the same pattern we've been using for the past couple of years, providing individual sections for:

Although the vast majority of the content for these pages is produced by ISAW's exhibitions team and the individual curators for the show, the digital programs team plays a significant role in helping get each exhibition ready to go. In addition to creating the page navigation framework and helping the exhibitions team populate it with the content outline above, we do the work of formatting and cropping the object images and in converting data from the exhibitions team's checklist database to provide the web page for each object.

For Hymn to Apollo, I'm especially pleased that we've been able to "go live" for the first time with fully curated "alternative text" for every object image in the checklist, thereby improving accessibility for those who experience our website using a screen reader and/or refreshable braille display. Members of both the digital programs and exhibitions teams worked on these textual descriptions, trying to strike a balance between completeness, brevity, accuracy, and simplicity. It was hard work!

For example, for Giorgio de Chirico's costume design for a male guest for Le Bal, we provide the following alternative text:

Painting of a faceless man with a top hat and cane wearing a tight-fitting uniform decorated with images of a broken column and other architectural elements, as well as a brick-style pattern below elbows and knees.

This is our new standard approach for exhibition and other website content. We've already also rolled it out for the previous exhibition, Devotion and Decadence: The Berthouville Treasure and Roman Luxury from the Bibliothèque nationale de France and we'll be working our way back through all the past exhibitions to bring them along as well.

If you are a screen reader user and you have thoughts about how we could be doing an even better job making the content on our website accessible and useful to you, please don't hesitate to send me an email at tom.elliott@nyu.edu. We're always looking for ways to improve.