Mingei International MuseumHow the Mingei International Museum moved 26,000 pieces of art (without a hitch)

Mingei International Museum | Airtable
  • 1978


  • San Diego


  • 51-200

    Company size

Faced with the monumental task of relocating their entire catalog, the Mingei International Museum took a tech-centric approach.

Designing tools with function

Technology has radically altered the way we interact with art. Social media has provided a new platform for discovery and gives galleries and dealers the ability to showcase work remotely. For all the advances in recent years, it’s understandable why a field like art might be reluctant to embrace the promises of tech. It can sometimes fail to deliver a personal connection and experience. Then there’s the sheer physicality of artwork: it defies easy digital solutions.

The Mingei International Museum in San Diego confronted these issues head on when they renovated their Balboa Park space earlier this year. They had to rehouse their entire collection in the process. “It was such an intensely monumental task that the people who were taking it on literally didn’t know where to start,” recalls Alexis O’Banion, Creative Director & Technology Strategist of the Mingei International Museum. The collection comprises 26,000 objects of high art, all of which were designed with a functional purpose.

The task of moving and tracking this type of collection is no small feat, even without the time constraints the Mingei team were facing. Not to mention, Mingei’s old inventory system was an outdated database that made everyday work a challenge. “There was no remote capability, no API,” O’Banion explains. “You had to be on a desktop to use it.” The logistics for the project were further complicated by having to accommodate multiple stakeholders on different teams.

It inspired our team to realize, “Hey, this is a really flexible tool. It’s not just something that the design department can use to track their projects. We can literally move a collection with it. We can track our events with it. We can make it do whatever we want.

Alexis O’Banion

Creative Director & Technology Strategist

Workflow highlights

  • Barcode fields were used for tracking the movement of objects, all of which had to be packaged in different ways. As O’Banion recalls, “We had to create labels for the boxes that the objects were going in. One box could probably hold three or four objects depending on the size.”
  • Every time an artwork is moved, a record has to be kept of the physical state the object is in, a process known as conditioning. “We needed a way to quickly condition an object, label it, package it, and then crate it. Times 26,000 objects.”
  • The team needed a tool that could be used by everyone on their team, even remotely in their storage room on a phone or tablet. It needed to be robust and flexible enough to meet their own specific requirements. Airtable was the solution—it allowed The Mingei to track the movements and condition of every object, every step of the way.
  • The chart block allowed the team to gauge progress. “We can literally see how many weeks it took us to pack certain objects, and there’s a graph week-by-week of how many objects are packed in a week. You can also see by color, which person was doing the packing. Even our director commented, ‘Oh, looks like we packed 10,000 more objects this week,’” says O’Banion.

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