The Research and Scholars Center had its origin in the Office of Research and Professional Training, created by Director Joshua Charles Taylor in 1979, to embrace the Intern Program and the Fellows Program of the National Museum of American Art (NMAA). About 1983 the office was split, with the Intern Program passing to the Museum Programs Division and the Fellows Program transferring to the Museum Resources Division as the Office of Research Support. In 1989 Director Elizabeth Broun reunited the two offices as the Research and Scholars Center, with Rachel M. Allen as Acting Chief, 1989, and Chief, 1990-2001. As head of the Research and Scholars Center, Allen served as the museums project coordinator on a variety of outside projects and collaborations, including work with the Museum Education Site Licensing Project (MESL) and the Art Museum Image Consortium (AMICO).
The stated purpose of the MESL was "to explore and promote the educational benefits of digital access to museum collections through campus networks maintained by academic institutions in order to help promote the development of computer-based learning tools for the study of art and culture."
MESL was designed to explore ways to make museum images and related information available in an online environment for educational purposes. Organizational planning for the project began in early 1994 supported by the Getty Art History Information Program (AHIP) and MUSE Educational Media. An initial call for participation went out in September 1994. From among 80 applicants, seven museums and seven universities were selected as participants, with AHIP and MUSE Educational Media serving as project managers. The project covered two academic years: 1995-1996 and 1996-1997. The project concluded in the summer of 1997, with a final report published in 1998.
AMICO was "a non-profit corporation formed by North American Art Museums to provide educational access to and delivery of cultural heritage information by creating, maintaining, and licensing a collective digital library of images and documentation of works in their collections."
Early in 1997, the AAMD (Association of Art Museum Directors) invited its members to send representatives to an organizational meeting for what would become AMICO. AMICO was officially organized in October 1997, as a program of the Association of Art Museum Directors Educational Foundations, Inc., and the AMICO Board was constituted. In 1998, AMICO was separately incorporated as an independent, not-for-profit organization, ending its direct connection to the AAMD.
Built on the success of the Museum Educational Site Licensing Project (MESL), AMICO was designed to provide high quality images and information documenting the largest art museum collections in North America available for licensed educational use on campus networks. AMICO operated from 1997 to 2005. AMICO members made a library of digital multimedia documentation of more than 50,000 works of art available under subscription to educational institutions.