Migrating the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Exhibitions Website to WordPress

Example of the exhibition permalink template

Working with the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, we recently completed a redesign of the Exhibitions area of the Museum’s website. The project was a collaboration between Spellerberg Associates and staff at the MCA.

On the front-end, we implemented a mobile-responsive design reflecting a contemporary interpretation of the Museum’s established visual identity. We also addressed elements of the navigation convention that had proved inconsistent and unclear to users. On the back-end, we moved from legacy CodeIgniter-powered infrastructure to WordPress.

Working with a live website and content set, it was important that the project be completed with continuity of service and minimal disruption to content editors. With this in mind, we adopted an iterative approach, with the migration taking place in two stages. First we moved the individual exhibition pages, one by one; second we moved the category archive pages.

Migrating the Exhibition Records

Example of the exhibition Category template
Example of the exhibition Category template

Exhibitions were created in WP as a custom post type. Knowing we had hundreds of records, we configured this type to be non-hierarchical, like Posts (hierarchical types, like Pages, run into performance problems with large sets). To match our data, three custom-field metaboxes were added the Edit screen: Start Date, End Date and Read Dates; other data was input into WP’s standard fields. Records were migrated manually, providing the opportunity to clean the content (remove dead links, etc) and update the accompanying images.

A “redirect” field was added to the legacy CodeIgniter CMS and was populated with the URL of the corresponding WordPress permalink. Using this data, the CodeIgniter templates redirected visitors from the legacy pages to the new, WordPress versions. In this way the migration was rolled-out incrementally, as records were completed.

Migrating the Exhibition Category Pages

Exhibition records were organized into a custom taxonomy called “Exhibition Categories,” which was used to generate the Past Exhibitions pages. During the first stage of the work, these taxonomy archives were redirected to the URLs of their CodeIgniter counterparts. Once the migration of the individual records was complete, the Exhibition Category templates were fully implemented and the redirect removed.

All exhibition records were filed in the appropriate “Past Exhibitions” category, even if the show had not yet completed. The taxonomy archive templates then used the Exhibition’s “End Date” custom field to filter out current and upcoming shows, displaying only those that had closed.

The last element was the Current and Upcoming Exhibitions pages. These were created as WordPress Pages containing custom loops which look up and display exhibitions with the appropriate Start and End Date custom fields. Here’s an example of the WordPress code:


The CodeIgniter versions of these pages were then redirected to their WP counterparts, completing the migration.

Project Team

Marty Spellerberg, Principal, Spellerberg Associates
Sarah Wambold, Former Director of Digital Media, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Marian Oman, Content Coordinator, Spellerberg Associates
Shauna Skalitzky, Assistant Editor, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

Posted July 2014

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