Case Study

Boston Ballet

Ballet shoes on pointe



Boston Ballet wanted to preserve its rich, long-standing history and legacy, while positioning the ballet company for the future.


Boston Ballet’s previous archive – a sea of boxes in a small office – was unorganized, uncatalogued, and potentially unsafe for assets.

Our Solution

Acquia DAM (Widen), including the Assets, Insights, and Portals applications


With Acquia DAM, Boston Ballet protected, organized, and added context to its assets, preserving the organization’s history for generations to enjoy.

The Client

Boston Ballet has brought internationally acclaimed performances, world-class education programs, and valuable community initiatives to the Boston area for more than 50 years.

The Situation

Boston Ballet wanted to preserve and protect its rich, long-standing history — captured in various photographs, posters, brochures, news articles, and other artifacts — but the organization’s preservation methods were unsustainable. 

Michaela Donnelly, Boston Ballet’s former webmaster and DAM admin, knew that the way the Ballet was storing its archive — in a sea of boxes stuffed into a small, cramped office — was a recipe for disaster. “It was literally packed floor to ceiling with unorganized and uncatalogued assets,” she shared. 

The Challenge

With many of the Ballet’s materials living on outdated technology, including Zip drives and slides, it was nearly impossible to locate a specific document, and artifacts were at risk of being damaged. Without a meaningful way to preserve and catalog them, these assets were in critical danger of being lost.

Boston Ballet’s web team wanted to implement a digital asset management (DAM) system to support their web and marketing efforts with a way to effectively manage and store current digital assets while also preserving and protecting historical assets. The team’s specific goals included: 

  • Preservation: Extend the life of artifacts by digitizing them
  • Organization: Store and catalog all artifacts in a single, centralized location
  • Enhanced searchability: Capture each artifact’s description, context, and historical relevance
  • Maximized value: Use historical assets to support the Ballet’s website, social media, and digital advertising efforts

The Solution

Boston Ballet implemented Acquia DAM to house both current and historical assets between active and cold storage. While the active assets make up the Ballet’s current story, the archived assets hold the keys to its rich past. 

Archived assets allow for forward motion

The Ballet’s historical archived assets include anything before the current artistic director’s tenure, which began in 2001. While the archive also includes outdated assets from 2001 and after, the team had to draw a line in the sand as part of their DAM governance to keep moving forward. This is a challenge that many DAM teams face when trying to determine what to keep, purge, and archive, but it often requires this sort of clear divide, as Donnelly found, to avoid uncertainty in the process.  

Customized metadata fields provide context

To keep archived assets organized and searchable, Donnelly and her team used customized metadata fields to capture details about assets that were at risk of being lost to time and out-of-date technology. “We use some very specific metadata types to help us not only to catalog these assets and make them searchable…but also to provide context as to why these images are so important to the ballet and its history,” she shared. For example, details that were often casually written on the back of an old photograph or fading from the inside of a dusty playbill are now searchable fields within Acquia DAM. 

Specific metadata Boston Ballet uses to preserve historical details include: 

Archival materials: This metadata type allows the Ballet to quickly and easily sort the collection into two searchable groups. Assets with the “archival materials” metadata type are considered historical assets.

Type: A palette field simply called “type” has a controlled list of terms that provide information about the asset, such as: 

  • Autographed
  • Board materials 
  • Business card
  • Diary 
  • Invites
  • Letters
  • Memoirs
  • Performance reviews
  • Playbill

Specific archive: This field captures where the asset came from, such as: 


  • Boston Ballet General
  • Henderson Archive
  • E. Virginia Williams Archive (gift)
  • Sightlines Archive

Date: Historical assets have a date field configured for open text rather than a calendar date format. Because the exact date an asset was created is often unknown, this format allows Ballet staff to approximate with something like “circa 1965.”

Description: This field is perhaps the most critical in Boston Ballet’s archival methodology because it captures the unique importance of individual assets. “The description field is used not only to describe the image as you see it, but is also there to describe why this image is of a historical moment, how it relates to the Ballet, and just generally what its context is,” Donnelly explained.


Screenshot of Boston Ballet's DAM system showing metadata of a photo of Back Bay Theater's marquee

For example, the photo above is of the marquee of the Back Bay theater for the performance of Boston Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” in 1965. 

The asset’s description field captures this information along with its historical significance. In this performance, Maria Tallchief, one of the prima ballerinas of the American Ballet, appeared as the Sugar Plum Fairy. It was one of her final performances as a professional ballerina before she retired. “So that’s really significant, and it puts us in the larger framework of history, which is really interesting,” explained Donnelly. Acquia DAM allows Ballet staffers to capture this level of context in a highly searchable way. 

The Results

Thanks to Acquia DAM, Boston Ballet can effectively catalog its history, preserving the legacy of the lives that are part of its story. And this easy, reliable access to its past helps position Boston Ballet to be the ballet company of the future. 

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