The art world can have a reputation of being exclusive, but Whanganui's Sarjeant Gallery is a bit different. It's letting the public in on one of the most sought-after jobs - curating the exhibitions.

The plan was inspired by Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall.

"It was just a thing that came out of an idea I had about two years ago, to put a series of postings on Facebook about my favourite things in Whanganui," McDouall said.

"I boldly said 'I could do my 50 favourite pieces of art at the Sarjeant' and someone said 'why don't we scale that down to 10' because 50 is a hell of a lot."

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And so the My Choice series of online exhibitions was born.

"It's not that far away that we'll be asking members of the public," Relationship Manager Jaki Arthur said.

The invited guests will be asked to choose works and they will be exhibited through the Sarjeant website.

The Explore the Collection portal is essentially an interface in the Sarjeant's website with a search engine allowing access to almost the entire collection, something difficult to display in a building.

"To house 8,300 works that are in the permanent collection the building would cover six football fields," Arthur said.

It's a valuable resource not only for art enthusiasts, but also for schools and the general public.

"Explore the collection is a result of something that was very unfortunate in that the old Sarjeant gallery had to be closed," Arthur said. "But the silver lining is it gave us the chance to decant and audit a massive collection and build a prize-winning digital portal."

"Decanting a very old collection like this is a really rare thing. You can imagine it's a herculean task.

The project was brought to life through a collaboration with tech company Vernon Systems, exchanging technology for digital content, using data and images from the Serjeant collection.

Collection Manager, Jennifer Taylor Moore said the project is valuable for making connections with the public.

"Just to give access and ways in, if they didn't know who we had in our collection or where to begin," she said.

"Some of the ways in are exploring by colour, so you can search through all the blue works in the collection. Or you can also search by keyword like roses or flowers or cats or trees and find all the artworks in the collection that contain those things."

With a collection of European art, a significant collection of New Zealand art, and the largest collection of NZ pictorialist photography in a public collection, there's plenty to choose from.

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