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Sarjeant Gallery Wins Award for Digital Portal

Sarjeant Gallery wins the Digital Exhibition or Collection Award at the National Digital Forum 2017 Awards Ceremony for their Explore Their Collection Portal

At the National Digital Forum Awards 2017 in Wellington yesterday the Sarjeant Gallery’s Explore the Collection portal won the prestigious Digital Exhibition or Collection Award with judges commenting “For their new online collection site. For doing it the right way with open content and links and punching above their weight”

The state-of-the art online search capability developed by industry leader Vernon Systems using the Vernon Browser, enables anyone to search the Gallery’s collection of over eight thousand NZ and international art works from the last four centuries to the present day. The Sarjeant’s customised version of Vernon Browser is called ‘Explore the Collection’ and can be found at

Based in Auckland, Vernon Systems are an award-winning software company who specialise in building Collection Management Systems for cultural organisations all over the world, including the Arts Council Collection UK, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Auckland Art Gallery, Cincinnati Art Museum, Historic Environment Scotland, and many other celebrated cultural institutions.

Cleverly adding to pre-existing catalogue images and data records, the development team has created a free, intuitive, world class search capability for the Sarjeant Galley which will enthral and delight art collectors, historians and aficionados, as well as students, teachers and the general public. In many cases, the artist pages are linked to the appropriate page in Wikipedia or Te Ara (the encyclopaedia of New Zealand). Users can explore the collection and make wonderful serendipitous discoveries.

Vernon Systems CEO Paul Rowe and his team worked closely with Sarjeant Gallery’s Curator of Collections, Jennifer Taylor Moore, to create the website. Now anyone, even those without any prior knowledge of the collection at all, can peruse the old masters, contemporary artists, photographs, paintings, sculptures and ceramics that make up the nationally significant Sarjeant Gallery collection.

Jennifer Taylor Moore says “One of the most important aspects of our online facility was to make sure that it is very easy to access without assuming that the visitor has any prior knowledge of our collection. The other aspect was to offer a thoroughly engaging experience to the visitor and encourage them to keep exploring and making new discoveries. We believe these aims have been achieved, and then some”

Once permission is garnered, each piece in the Sarjeant’s vast collection is loaded to the Explore the Collection site. It is tagged with artist name, place of birth, dates, colours, object types and image orientation. Searching the collection can either be a journey of discovery, or very specific to pin point a particular work.

The Vernon Browser is particularly innovative in that it employs many different automated algorithms which give an extremely high level of functionality. For example, automated algorithms generate the colour swatches and the subject tags for each image. Because of the implementation of so many different automated processes in one place, the Sarjeant Gallery’s Explore the Collection capability far exceeds what would typically be available for a small budget. The Explore the Collection capability is the first Vernon Systems site to have this high level of automated functionality which makes it a world first.

Interestingly, the Google API automated subject tagging that the Gallery initially thought would only be used by staff, is now a publicly accessible feature as it has provided a much wider range of keywords for visitors to search on. For example searching for ‘circle’ is now possible – as is searching for ‘bearded men’, ‘cow’, and ‘coastal’.

Work continues on refining and developing the site as Sarjeant Gallery staff work through getting copyright clearances from the rights holders; so images will continue to be added as permissions are granted.

Vernon CEO Paul Rowe “This is a huge achievement for a regional gallery with a small staff and it was only possible through the Sarjeant Gallery’s drive to open up access to the whole collection. Their team enthusiastically tested prototypes of the website and worked on improving the existing data during the project.”

This endeavour between Vernon Systems and the Sarjeant Gallery has been an ongoing effort for six months and signifies the huge commitment the Gallery has to its nationally significant collection and ensuring it is as publicly accessible as is possible.

Excitingly Jennifer Taylor Moore the Sarjeant’s Curator of Collections who has led this project and Vernon Systems, have been invited to talk about the Sarjeant Gallery’s Explore the Collection site at the Museums and the Web Conference in Vancouver, Canada in April 2018.

This is evidence of the level of interest in the project and recognises that the Sarjeant Gallery is one of only a few regional galleries in the world to provide such sophisticated options for exploring their collection. The new site increases the accessibility of collection and provides a rewarding and exciting experience.


For more information about the Sarjeant Gallery:

For more information about Vernon Systems:

For those wishing to read more about the project, Paul Rowe has written two longer blog posts about the decisions made during the development and the features available on the website. The first of these is “Looking at the Sarjeant Gallery’s collection through robot eyes.

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