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Pennsylvania Acadamy of Fine Arts

Case Study: Redesign and functional overhaul of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) School and Museum website using cmScribe Content Management System (CMS)

NetReach was selected in a competitive Request for Proposal (RFP) process by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) to update their website. The RFP called for a fully-content managed website using a newly developed set of graphical standards—including a redesigned logo, font usage, and colors. Existing web-based functions needed to be maintained or enhanced as well as the architecture, navigation, and usability.

The older website, completed in 2004, contained well over 250 static pages with some content management functionality, a gallery of images, and other limited functions.

These older functions included the following:

  • An 800+ item collection of images and descriptions of works of art from the permanent collection of the Museum with a search and filtering capability. Visitors were also able to order Giclée prints.
  • A very limited, and not much used, calendar function.
  • Various “e-Commerce” forms were used for renewing or registering for membership, an arts camp, or a Continuing Education (CE) class.

    PAFA Project Assessment & Challenges

    Using NetReach’s assessment process, PAFA staff and the NetReach team identified the existing site’s foremost issue as not being user-friendly, both for visitors and staff. The old site used a non-intuitive top fly-out navigation scheme. The site’s structure and information architecture was confusing and combined a lot of content under an “About” tab. Rigid templates and a proprietary, limited CMS did not allow for logical growth of the site and it restricted editing of the site’s content.

    Challenge Solution
    • Extremely short 5 month turnaround time – tight launch date to coincide with rebranding introduction.
    • cmScribe’s Advanced Application Building tools shortened development time of necessary custom functions.
    • cmScribe’s templates and page building metaphor decreased development time.
    • PAFA Marketing Director kept tight communications with Board and approval deadlines.
    • Reviewing, editing, and migrating of the existing site’s content under an extremely short development timeframe.
    • NetReach suggested PAFA work with a communications firm with Museum/Arts experience. They acted as the content project management and liaison for the page content migration.
    • PAFA had many diverse events hosted by either the School, Museum, or other stakeholders such as the Women’s Board. Event information was either not available to visitors or was “hidden” throughout the site. This did not project a dynamic, exciting institution. PAFA was missing an opportunity by not having a robust calendaring system for its various events.
    • NetReach design team reviewed PAFA events as well as calendaring systems used by similar institutions. A Calendar static prototype and technical specification was developed for client evaluation and approval prior to building.
    • cmScribe’s Advanced Application Building tools allowed for rapid development of a state-of-the-art calendaring system including multiple “Browse by” categories and a filtered Search.
    • The Calendar and Special Events section of the site now acts as a “launchpad” to the diverse events scattered throughout the site.
    • The Collection had 800+ items with three different image sizes in an existing database which needed to be moved. The image Search function did not completely work.
    • Custom import scripts were written to bring over the existing database elements and convert them to the new database structure.
    • The Search function was enhanced.
    • A Browse function was added.
    • Site design needed to present PAFA as one institution, even though it has several very diverse audiences:
      • Museum members, visitors, and the public.
      • Students, faculty, and alumni.
      • Staff, including the marketing department, IT, the Women’s Board, and others.
    • After a thorough review of competitive Museum and School sites, a navigation structure was designed that allowed for all parts of the institution to be presented, collectively as necessary (i.e., “Visit Us”) while also allowing for discreet sections for the Museum and School.

    • Introduce “Portfolio,” PAFA’s online store.
    • cmScribe’s e-Commerce module was used to introduce some Portfolio selections, most notably exhibition catalogs, to the online shopper.

    Project background on rebranding as “PAFA. Museum + School. A Rare Combination.”

    In 2007, the Board of Directors of this historic institution which combines a Museum and a School of Fine Arts into the oldest and most culturally unique American Arts Institution, was doing some soul searching.

    The Museum is internationally known for its collection of 19th and 20th-century American paintings, sculptures, and works on paper; while the School, founded on a European Beaux Arts “atelier,” has an approach to fine art education that attracts committed and promising students from not only across the county, but across the world.

    So what’s the issue?

    People perceived this venerable, old institution with its historically significant Victorian-era Landmark Building as “slightly musty.” The general public was not as aware of the dynamic, newly renovated Samuel M.V. Hamilton building with its sleek new glass and concrete galleries. These two buildings exemplified “the Academy” today. A rare combination of solid tradition and dynamic contemporary vision, the permanent collection as well as exhibitions of controversial modern masters and light-filled studios where tomorrow’s artists are nurtured and presented to the public at the blockbuster Annual Student Exhibition, the Academy was rebranded as PAFA.

    For more information about the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) website redesign or other NetReach projects, please contact us at 215-283-2300.