Archive for October, 2009

Revealing the Arts: a snapshot

The biggest problem the arts community faces is that it is not part of the political or social agenda, the head of ABC TV Kim Dalton said at the Revealing the Arts conference yesterday. He expressed his frustration at how the sector was not being taken seriously while the Federal Government pledged $4.7 billion to the National Broadband Network, $22 billion in “nation building infrastructure spending” and $3.1 billion over four years on innovation. Mr Dalton invited all arts organisations to work with the ABC and the Australia Council to lobby the Government and put the arts back on the agenda.

Mr Dalton saw the ABC as a laboratory for creative projects. It has the branding and platforms to be the ideal partner for creating new work and attracting new audiences. He believed the feeling in the room was that there finally was an acceptance of the digital era as a platform in its own right rather than it just being a marketing tool. The ABC was ready to collaborate and partner with the arts community to explore this new medium.

The ABC and Australia Council hosted Revealing the Arts to enable the arts community to engage in ‘creative conversations and solutions for the digital era’. The two-day conference embraced a Web 2.0 philosophy with host and ABC journalist Virginia Trioli involving the audience and Twitterers in a dialogue with panellists after each keynote speaker’s address. A live webcast encouraged the public to answer questions ranging from ‘Show Me Your Arts’, ‘Show Me How’, ‘Who owns Your Arts’, ‘Get ‘Em While They’re Young’ and ‘Show Me the Money’.

Michael Lynch, who has just returned from an eight year reign over the South Bank Centre theatre venues in London, and is now an ABC board director, says it is time for arts institutions to engage differently with governments. No longer can they rely on governments to come up with legislation and funding. The arts need to be more proactive and ‘push and pull governments to work for arts institutions’.

Wollongong University Head of Music and Drama Sarah Miller believed that it was time to build relationships across all platforms and ‘give up the silos’. Physical TV co-founder Richard James Allen agreed it was time for traditional and new media to be seen as their own categories and and to allow the bridge between both to have a place as well.

After intensive and often heated discussion around the lack of representation of artists in the room, whether there should be open-access or copyright is a legitimate income stream, the conference concluded with Australia Council CEO Kathy Keele and Mr Dalton drafting a to do list they could work on together to create a better environment for artists to work in the digital era.

The three main themes discussed througout Revealing the Arts were:
• Co-operation and partnership
• Sharing rights and access
• Digital world exists in own right with own set of values and potential

As the conversation invariably came back to the issue of rights, Ms Keele believed the Australia Council and its arts community needed to work to create better conditions for artists working in the digital era. How can the public access the nation’s archives and collections? Can an artist use these archives in their artwork? How do artists’s protect themselves? Rights training for arts organsations and fostering stronger relationships between arts organisations and artists was also a priority.

In an Australian first, the ABC launched its raw news footage of the Brisbane Zombie Walk under a Creative Commons licence onto its collaborative website Pool. The ABC has embraced the Govt 2.0 movement of sharing its resources by licensing its raw news footage under a Creative Commons licence.

The ABC has also just launched its arts portal ABC Arts.

Sarah Rhodes


News cycle and collections

GLAMs can set up their own little media empire online using YouTube and a blog. Web 2.0 has made traditional media platforms like television, radio and print available to everyone to utilise. Now there are opportunities to engage new audiences by tuning into the news cycle and analysing how a collection fits within this framework. Making a collection relevant beyond its cultural heritage.

Tram in Loftus St (detail), photographer unknown,1955. Len Stone/Vic Solomons collection, City of Sydney Archives.

Shooting Through was a beautiful exhibition of old photographs, tram conductors uniforms, tickets, destination boards, historical footage and interiews about the trams in Sydney at the Museum of Sydney. What made the exhibition especially interesting was Historic Houses Trust and Sydney Tramway Museum’s contemporary approach to the subject matter by trying to “reignite the debate for light transport in Sydney”. Bob Carr was chosen to open the exhibition as he was responsible in 1997 for the only light rail in Sydney. Within the exhibition, Lord Mayor Clover Moore talks about her vision for Sydney and advocates for the development of light rail to improve the public transport system.

As you may know, CAN is hosting a forum in Adelaide that will look at how collecting institutions are becoming cultural producers. If you are interested in using online publishing to get your stories out, then it will be worth the trip to South Australia to meet like-minded people and share ideas.

Allsorts Online: the collecting sector, academia, the arts and the media.
Date: Tuesday, 1 December 2009
Time: 8.30am-5.00pm + drinks
Cost: Free
Place: State Library of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia


Lawrence Hargrave: Digital storytelling using archives

CAN created this digital story ‘Lawrence Hargrave – Pioneer, Inventor, Adventurer’ for the archivists, at the Voyaging Together conference in Brisbane last week, as an alternate ways to present collection material. The six minute video maps material primarily from the Powerhouse Museum archives. It shows that while Lawrence Hargrave spent much of his time in Sydney developing the underlying principles used in aviation today, he corresponded with the cultural elite from Europe to North America. Google Earth helps tell a multi-layered story about Hargrave – a gentleman and brilliant scientist whose public life was firmly set within the Republic of Letters and a private man whose senstitive and passionate personality caused him to be described by Ruth Park in The Companion Guide to Sydney (1973) as ‘the crank with a kite’.

Bringing a letter to life by placing it in the context of a digital story, alongside photographs and objects from other collections, sparked a lot of interest. Archivists and digital storytellers both research and analyse content but take very different paths in the interpretive process.


Cultural institutions are becoming cultural producers: December 1-2, Adelaide

Cultural institutions are becoming cultural producers. Web 2.0 technologies are offering opportunities to self-publish, build digital stories, use social networking tools and collaborate with the media to tell stories about collections.

CAN is hosting a forum in Adelaide, Allsorts Online: the collecting sector, academia, the arts and the media, on December 1 that will explore the endless possibilities of how collections can be used creatively. The ABC and SBS will join speakers from galleries, libraries, archives and museums in sharing their skills and unique approaches in storytelling. Register here for Allsorts Online.

Sarah Keith will discuss SBS’s recent initiative with Regional Arts Australia. Sarah commissioned film-maker James Ashburn to drive across the country profiling artists in each state and territory. The vignettes were then edited and screened on SBS, in the ad-breaks, as community service announcements. This is a wonderful example of how cultural institutions can work with broadcasters to tell its stories to a wider audience. The stories can now be viewed online via the Regional Arts Australia website.

High heeled shoe on tricycle, `Liquorice Allsorts’, designed by Ross Wallace, used in `Parade of Icons’ Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Closing Ceremony, Sydney 2000. Collection: Powerhouse Museum, Sydney. Part of the Sydney 2000 Games Collection. Gift of the New South Wales Government, 2001.

Guest speakers
Gavin Bannerman (SLQ) — Brent Blackburn (TMAG) –Jonathan Bollen (Flinders) — Jessica Coates (QUT) — Susannah Elliot (SMC) — Sarah Keith (SBS) — Amanda Matulick (ANAT) — Sandra McEwen (PHM) — Darren Peacock (CCA) — Sarah Rhodes (CAN) — Angelina Russo (UM) — Jenny Scott (SLSA) — Chris Winter (ABC)

Date: Tuesday, 1 December 2009
Time: 8.30am-5.00pm + drinks
Cost: Free
Place: State Library of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia

Masterclasses: Wednesday, 2 December (see event programme)

Register Now for Allsorts Online


Shelf Life: woollen swimsuits and beauty pageants

‘Quite a few people come to the Research Library from the theatre, designers, artists and authors, gallery owners, antique dealers. It’s a dream getting all of these interesting people.’

Costume and set designers can often be found with their heads buried in a book in the Powerhouse Museum Research Library, looking into the history of costumes and props for their next production. Fashion designer Kit Willow-Podgornik has spent hours poring over costume books and periodicals, researching designs for her fashion shows in New York or Milan.

Powerhouse Museum research librarians Karen Johnson, Dimity Holt and Philippa Rossiter

Research Librarian Philippa Rossiter, together with colleague Dimity Holt, facilitates Museum curators’, exhibition designers’ and editors’ collection research, but some of the most interesting explorations come from the public.

It was the partnership with Little Leaf Pictures in the pre-production research for the ABC children’s television series My Place that captured the imagination of Research Library staff. Based on the classic story book by Nadia Wheatley and Donna Rawlins, My Place is the story of a Sydney terrace house over 100 years as seen through the eyes of the different children who lived there.

‘We had to find examples of clothing for each decade from 1888 to 1988, while reflecting the changes of interior décor in a terrace house over that time,’ Philippa said.

‘We needed to find product labels in colour so we looked in store catalogues to get the colours right, so then the artists would reproduce them. We researched domestic detail in depth, such as the sort of bread people had, or containers for milk and eggs.

The hardest things to find were examples of packaging for fireworks for the year 1911. Surprisingly, I found that today’s fireworks packaging is not so different from what was used at that time.

‘You do learn a lot. It is really like living back in those days. It is a very rewarding job because people are so focused on what they are looking for and so pleased with what you give them.’

Aviva Ziegler (two-time Logie winning director), Melissa Hines and Veronica Fury conducted extensive research in preparation for Fury Productions’ two-part series for SBS entitled The Glamour Game. Screened on SBS in November 2007, this series investigates the evolving face of Australian beauty and fashion, with the first episode looking at the history of the Miss Australia Quest and the second episode examining the progress of fashion in Australia, from Christian Dior’s New Look of 1948 to the present day.

Young women posing in swimsuits on sand dune, glass lantern slide, 1940s, Flickr Commons / State Library and Archives of Florida.

Diving into someone’s field of interest and swimming around with them through the material on offer at the Powerhouse Museum Research Library can produce some very unexpected results. Fashion designer and Queensland University of Technology PhD Candidate, Christine Schmidt, was researching the history of women’s bathing costumes between 1900 and 1950. While Philippa worked alongside her, the pair found a 1935 knitting pattern for a woollen swimsuit. Christine had the costume knitted up and found a mistake in the pattern and so knitted another one without the mistake to compare. After that, swimming costume knitting patterns started coming out of the woodwork. This led to an exhibition of the completed woollen costumes.

Make an appointment with Philippa Rossiter and let her know what you are looking for so she has time to think about what material you may need for when you arrive. Philippa and her two colleagues, Dimity Holt and Karen Johnson, are adept at combining their individual knowledge of this wonderful collection and finding material from unexpected subject areas.

Contact details for library staff are: Philippa Rossiter phone (02) 9217 0258; Dimity Holt (02) 9217 0259; Karen Johnson (02) 9217 0533.

Check out the Powerhouse Museum Research Library blog to learn about the range of research inquiries these professionals field.


What I have learnt from creating Culture Victoria: Eleanor Whitworth

Arts Victoria Senior Arts Officer Eleanor Whitworth talks about how Culture Victoria came into being, its successes and failures and what she would differently next time.

The Culture Victoria (CV) website is a space where cultural content from venues across Victoria are brought together to provide an immersive and focused entry point to Victorian collections using rich media. The objectives we set for CV are to: showcase the collections of Victorian cultural organisations; tell stories about Victorian communities and cultural collections; expose behind-the-scenes activities that the public does not usually get to see; and promote visitation to stakeholder websites.

The audiences we set out to target are: the education sector (specifically teachers and students accessing the Victorian education portal FUSE; Victorians and tourists interested in Victorian culture, community, and cultural collections; and communities of interest (e.g. Antarctica).

On the collaborative process CV was a group effort – from inception to production. It arose out of the Victorian Cultural Network (VCN) project, a collaborative partnership between Victoria’s major cultural organisations: the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Museum Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, State Library of Victoria, The Arts Centre, and Federation Square, facilitated by Arts Victoria. The VCN commenced in 2003. We began planning CV in 2004, and established a collaborative working structure where all VCN members participated, and some took a ‘lead agency’ role for the delivery of specific production elements (e.g. design and development of the content management system). It was inspiring to have a group of highly skilled participants from across the agencies working together. It did, however, soon become clear that this complex project would become an unwieldy beast if it were not reigned in. Reflecting on the collaborative process brings a quote from Karl Kraus to mind: “Democracy means the permission to be everybody’s slave.” Whilst this is a cheeky exaggeration, we did find that in the context of project delivery some centralised management was essential for a successful outcome, and we subsequently engaged a project manager.

Arts Victoria, Senior Arts Officer, Eleanor Whitworth at the OBJECTS FACES PLACES exhibition currently on display in the Arts Victoria foyer.

On access, stories, and storytelling
The underlying purpose of CV is to increase access to Victorian cultural collections. ‘Access’ comes in many forms – from exposure of raw data, to sharing the knowledge and expertise of curators and artists.

When we commenced planning CV, broadband was rolling out across the globe and it was agreed that CV would focus on media rich content (video and high resolution images) to provide an immersive experience for the user.

It was also agreed that CV content would be ‘story-centric’, where the story provides a contextual narrative connecting collection assets and shedding light on some aspect of Victorian culture, heritage or art. The stories are the engagement point for the public, each one forming a mini virtual exhibition where the aggregation of content from different collection domains provides the user with a multi-faceted experience of a particular topic.

A content management system (CMS) was designed with a ‘Story Builder’ function (using EpiServer). In the Story Builder, a story home page is created. Objects related to the story are created separately and attached to the story. Objects can be contributed by multiple authorised organisations. For example, William Barak includes content from the Koorie Heritage Trust, the National Gallery of Victoria, and the State Library of Victoria, creating a picture of Barak the man, his legacy, and Wurundjeri culture.

The story includes:
• A video of Joy Wandin Murphy discussing her family relationship with Barak, life on Coranderrk, and the cultural meaning of his works;
• A video of Nerissa Broben, Senior Curator at the Koori Heritage Trust, showing the unexpected findings of conservation work on one of Barak’s paintings, and talking about Barak’s use of traditional and contemporary tools;
• A video of Judy Williams, Librarian at the Koori Heritage Trust, talking about Barak’s time as a member of the native police searching for the Kelly Gang;
• A video of Judith Ryan, Senior Curator at the National Gallery of Victoria, talking about Barak’s position within the State collection, how his work came to be collected, his role as an innovator, and the legacy of Coranderrk as the first Aboriginal arts centre;
• Sixteen high resolution images from the three contributing organisations.

The CMS also enables management of intellectual property rights, and for organisations to attach branding to their content. The initial tranche of CV content was funded through the VCN and we engaged a content producer to facilitate and create contributions from VCN members and metro-regional partners (Bendigo Art Gallery, Geelong Performing Arts Centre, Koori Heritage Trust, Mildura Arts Centre, and the West Gippsland Library Corporation). CV stories are presented under a series of themes relevant to Victoria’s history and culture.

2008 Monster Petition Head Project Banner, signed by the Premier of Victoria and the Minister for Women’s Affairs, from Women’s Suffrage.

Each story fulfills at least one of the following:
• Showcases Victorian collections previously unavailable on-line (The Ross Sea Party)
• Shares the expertise of curators and reveals ‘back-of house’ activities (Restoring Shearing the Lambs)
• Reveals the creative process (In My Day)
• Reveals aspects of Victorian communities (Women on Farms, Digital Stories of the Mind and Body, Walhalla: fires, floods and tons of gold)
• Keeps archival material in the public domain (Kylie’s Costumes arose out of the 2004 exhibition at The Arts Centre)
• Celebrates significant events (Women’s Suffrage)

Project partners
During the development process, we worked with Collections Australia Network to develop a database of over 700 Victorian organisations that hold cultural collections.

We also worked with the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts which made their open search client available to enable us to offer users a search function across the websites of selected cultural organisations.

In hindsight
Some of the key challenges and learning that came out of the project:
a) Given the rate of change of technology, we found that by the time the website was complete a new suite of applications and approaches to online usage had arisen (e.g. Web 2.0 functionality. See Art Babble for a Web 2.0 bigger quasi-equivalent of CV). If we wanted to incorporate these applications we’d have to find more money. As such, if you want the flexibility for your website to adapt to new technologies, it is important to view it as an evolving entity, and to budget accordingly.

b) Another trend occurring alongside the rollout of broadband was the uptake of ‘Good Enough Technology’: cheap and simple tools (such as the Flip) that produce low-fi results which are not only acceptable, but are embraced by the general public. We positioned our production values at the high end, which presents two issues: 1) users need to have the bandwidth to display the content; 2) the expense of producing the media may prohibit smaller organisations from participating. We will continue to assess the trade off between high production values and accessibility, and also look out for middle ground options.
c) The CMS is a valuable shared resource that provides smaller organisations with the opportunity to increase the visibility of their content without investing in the underlying infrastructure. The tool does, however, come at a cost. Creating the content and the metadata is resource intensive, and the benefits of contributing to CV need to justify the time spent. Ultimately, it would be great to have an automated date exchange system in place, but this is outside the scope of our budget. Instead, we are testing and refining the upload process and assessing where support will be best targeted to assist content contributors.

d) Building the CMS presented several challenges. We always intended for CV content to be relevant to education audiences, but when designing the CMS, metadata for the education portal FUSE was not yet confirmed. We went ahead and incorporated standard education metadata fields. It turned out that these fields are not in the format required for FUSE. In hindsight, it would have been easier to wait until the education system was confirmed. That said we’ve also found value in ‘over-building’ the CMS, as it is easier and cheaper to cut it back than to bolt more on.

e) Due to our focus on media rich content, we built the initial version of CV in Flash. We did not sufficiently consider the implications that this would have on the accessibility of the content – both for W3C standards and search engine optimisation. We’ve subsequently rebuilt the front end in HTML, resulting in a dramatic improvement in the visibility of CV content in search engines, as well as the ability for people to link to specific stories.

e) We are currently thinking about the long term sustainability of the website and its content: What do we do post 2011 when the VCN project comes to an end? What is the legacy of CV? Is there value in a centralised CMS? What is the value of a story-centric approach?

Villers-Bretonneux, image courtesy of the Keeper of Public Records, PROV.

Where to from here
Since reducing the amount of Flash in the front end we’ve been able to more accurately track visitation. The improved indexing in search engines is returning over 900 unique visitors a month. This is without any publicity. The statistics are also showing that the media rich content has achieved an immersive experience for users with the ‘average time on site’ peaking at over six minutes and settling at about 3 minutes. We’ll continue to monitor usage and tailor publicity and content accordingly. We’re also continuing to refine the functionality and design of the site, including plans to minimise the remaining Flash wrapping around story content so that individual assets can be indexed, linkages can be made between assets, and videos can be embedded in external sites. We’ll also consider Web 2.0 functionality, such as enabling comments on stories and assets and, budget and copyright issues permitting, enabling users to create their own stories. VCN members continue to add content to CV and we plan to open contributions to organisations across Victoria. We are currently running pilots with the Public Record Office Victoria, The University of Melbourne, and the goldfields region (coordinated by Karlie Hawking out of the Department of Planning and Community Development) to refine the upload and ‘light-touch’ moderation processes (see the Villers-Bretonneux and OBJECTS FACES PLACE stories).

As part of the broader VCN project, we are also looking at federated search functionality for VCN members, and exposing agency APIs. Applications resulting from these projects may well find a home in CV. It is empowering to have a playground, even if it’s a small one!
For more information about CV contact Eleanor.


‘Not So Innocent Objects’ bring new collections to CAN

The Collections Australia Network is successfully building its national collection database through the development of thematic online stories. The first project, Not So Innocent Objects, has been made into a two-part series and uploaded onto YouTube. The Not So Innocent Objects video was shown during the National Public Galleries Summit, in Townsville last month, to demonstrate how online collections can facilitate relationships across the sector. The connection between the glass plate negative of the crime scene where 12 year-old Alma Tirtschke was murdered, and Charles Blackman’s ‘Fleeing Schoolgirl’ is a perfect example of how galleries, libraries, archives and museums can work together to tell a story.

Forensic glass plate negative showing where 12-year-old Alma Tirtschke was murdered in Gun Alley, near Little Collins Street in 1921, Victoria Police Museum.

Charles Blackman, ‘Fleeing Schoolgirl’, Print, planographic, 1953, National Gallery of Australia. The ‘Schoolgirl’ series was inspired by the murder of Alma Tirtschke.

Goulburn Regional Art Gallery director Jane Cush approached Ingrid Mason immediately after the viewing asking how the gallery’s collection could be uploaded to CAN. Since then we have collected their catalogue and uploaded it to our database. More about that next week.

While the project inspired many collecting institutions to upload part of their collection to CAN for the first time, Zac Lambert uploaded the second stage of The Rocks Discovery Museum collection. It now has more than 4000 objects online and is only accessible through CAN. State Records NSW also built on its existing collection.

Please welcome the following collections to the CAN online database:
Mackay Regional Library, Queensland
Victoria Police Museum, Victoria
Justice and Police Museum, Sydney, New South Wales
Australian Federal Police Museum, Australian Capital Territory
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, Tasmania
(These collections cannot be accessed online anywhere else except through CAN.)

Take a look at the CAN Partners who have built on their existing collections:
The Rocks Discovery Museum, Sydney, NSW
State Records NSW, Sydney, NSW

Email Sarah Rhodes if you would like to take part in a thematic story project.


Finding Common Ground between the web and the museum: Powerhouse Museum

Finding common ground between the visceral and the virtual is the next challenge for cultural institutions as they work hard to engage new audiences and meet the needs of existing ones. As curators, public program developers and web teams collaborate on innovative projects, institutions are finding themselves participating with communities in a way they never have before.

Common Ground at the Powerhouse Museum, digitally altered, courtesy of the Powerhouse Museum

In one of the most exciting applications of social media to date, cultural institutions across three continents are joining forces to project the Flickr Commons community’s favourite images in one worldwide outdoor event. The Powerhouse Museum and the State Library of New South Wales will work together to invite their online communities to the front steps of the Powerhouse. The State Library of Queensland and the Australian War Memorial will be hosting their own Common Ground. In the United States, George Eastman House, State Library and Archives of Florida, the Oregon State University Archives and the Brooklyn Museum are taking part. The Swedish National Heritage Board, is representing Europe. The festival of photography will happen simultaneously across the US, Australia and Scandinavia (according to the timezone, October 3 @ 6.30pm).

Election night crowd, Wellington, 1931, William Hall Raine, Alexander Turnbull Library, Flickr Commons / National Library NZ

Dubbed as a community-curated event, photography-lovers will congregate on the Harris St forecourt to watch their favourite images projected onto the Powerhouse Museum’s façade. There will be talks by curators and the Museum’s Flickr community. Principal Curator Matthew Connell will tell the stories behind some of his favourite images while Assistant Curator Geoff Barker will explain how to look after an historic photography collection. Bob Meade will talk about how his involvement in Flickr has turned him into a detective or citizen journalist. National Library of Australia web developer Paul Hagon will discuss his project that enables the community to geo-tag contemporary images alongside historic images on Google Streetview.

Participatory experience researcher Nina Simon wrote in her blog Museum 2.0 that there is ‘a problem of making the visceral as relevant, dynamic, and interesting as the virtual. If you do fabulous things online and not onsite, your online audiences will show up and be disappointed. They will feel deceived’. She used the Powerhouse and Brooklyn museums as examples. ‘You join the Brooklyn Museum’s posse. You tag your brains out on the Powerhouse online collection database. And then you show up in person and feel jilted.’ Institutions worldwide are uniting tomorrow night to find Common Ground.

Take a look at the images from the Common Ground event on the Flickr Commons discussion board or the Indicommons Blog next week.