Archive for November, 2009

Cancer research – A model for standards: Andrew Rozefelds (TMAG)

Cancer research data is fed into one national database to ensure consistent standards are met. Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery Collection Manager Andrew Rozefelds asks whether the collecting sector could learn from this model.

Listen to interview

My name is Andrew Rozefelds. I work at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, and I’m in charge of collections and research at the museum.

My area of responsibility covers all of the collections held at the museum. And this includes science collections, including botany, zoology, and geology. It includes cultural heritage and indigenous cultures, and also the fine art collections as well.

We’re working on the digitisation of data for the OZCAM, which is zoological collections online for Australia. We’re working on the Australian Virtual Herbarium project, which is herbarium-based records online. These both fall into the area of the Atlas of Living Australia project.

At the same time, one of the curators here is working on an electronic e-flora for Tasmania. He finished the first volume of that last year, and is working on a new part of it this year. These family treatments have been published as fascicles electronically, and they’re available to all researchers online and cover about 40 families of Tasmanian plants.

The biodiversity issues involving both herbarium and zoological collections… One of the interesting issues is issues of sensitivity of data. This comes into play when you’re looking at records for endangered species and rare species. You may not want all of that information to be accessible to the public, mainly because some of these species are endangered. And collectors will actually go out and decimate a population in some cases, particularly for some of the rare orchids and things like that.

And also just access to some areas. There’s always a risk of introducing pathogens to those areas as well. This is one of the reasons why they restricted access to the Wollemi Pine community in New South Wales, because they didn’t want to risk bringing pathogens into that area which could perhaps decimate the population.

One of the issues is to decide which data should go on the web and which data can be made accessible. But there are national protocols that they’re working towards, part of the Atlas of Living Australia project.

As people may or may not be aware, cancer is a notifiable disease in Australia. So, all records get collated and information is stored systematically, and there are World Health Organisation codes for recording data about the disease. And state governments around Australia basically collate all their cancer information in a standard template, so they can actually look at where the disease is occurring. They can look for environmental factors and things like that.

It raises interesting issues, because they put in very strict standards as to what data could go in. And all of the data is reviewed in Canberra to ensure that it is actually consistent. And it’s a model that, perhaps, museums could look at, in terms of ensuring – particularly for biodiversity data – that standards are maintained.

In the case of the cancer work, my understanding is that they record information like whether it’s a primary, secondary, or tertiary. They include information about where it was first detected, the organs affected, and the type of cancer. And all of this information goes into a national database.

And I guess, with biodiversity data, it’s the same kind of requirement. We’re trying to basically provide access to a range of stakeholders with accurate, consistent information. So, national standards are definitely needed.


Virtual Museum of the Pacific pilot launched

The Virtual Museum of the Pacific was launched for community consultation at the “Access to Cultural Collections” seminar yesterday. Pacific Islander arts and community development representatives met at the Australian Museum to offer feedback on how they will use the website and whether it suits the Pacific Islander way of approaching navigation.

Australian Museum Director Frank Howarth opened the “Access to Cultural Collections” seminar by saying that the future of cultural institutions lay in ‘facilitating debate’ and ‘connecting with communities’. He stressed the importance of taking these objects back to their communities virtually. “The knowledge and power in these objects is immense”and they have the potential to enrich lives. The Museum has been collaborating with the Juvenile Justice Department to help make connections with cultural identity. Welfare workers were keen to take laptops into jails and community centres so that the Virtual Museum of the Pacific could help revive knowledge, skills and reconnect to cultural beliefs.

The interface of the Virtual Museum of the Pacific. Photographer: E Furno © Australian Museum

With the help of an Australian Research Council (ARC) linkage grant, the Australian Museum (Vinod Daniel, Melanie Van Olffen, Dion Peita) and University of Wollongong (Prof Amanda Lawson, Prof Peter Eklund, Prof Peter Goodall, Dr Brogan Bunt) started designing and building the website in December 2008. The first step was to build a prototype site displaying 427 of the Museum’s 60,000 objects in its Pacific Collection. They used high quality images and well-researched collection item descriptions.

It is well-known that museums are moving away from just displaying objects and are actively trying to capture people’s attention online. The Virtual Museum was designed so that the Australian Museum would use its traditional categories alongside user-generated tags, in different languages and specific to different regions. Information about the objects is available through a variety of mediums from catalogue descriptions and wiki annotations, to audio interviews, transcripts and video so that all of the ways a user communicates are met. Mr Howarth hopes in the future there will be the ability to search for objects using motifs or designs and move away from the reliance on language.

Detail of a record in the VMP of a Solomon Island comb with basic metadata and tags. Photographer: E Furno © Australian Museum

The biggest issue that came out of yesterday’s community consultation was the navigation of the website. Canberra academic Siosiua Lafitani descibed the Pacific view of space and time as circular – everything has a relationship. While the Western concept of space and time is linear. Hyerpace allows people to connect past and present knowledge remotely in a circular way but the design of the navigation tools would need to enable this.

Museums are finding themselves asking the eternal question: How can museums provide access to collections while respecting traditional owners and uses? How can the rights and needs of creators and preservers be balanced? Chief Marcellin Abong, from the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, reinforced that under Pacific Law both the object and the spirits associated with the objects need to be respected. In the complex traditional rights system used in the Pacific, copyright is paid with respect. Spiritual law would need to be understood before the consultation period is finished and more objects were uploaded onto the site.

Over the next three months there will be extensive community consultation and feedback before the project moves to the next phase of development. It is also starting to looking for future funding streams as the ARC grant finishes in December 2010.


Calling all curators – what does social media mean to you?: Erika Dicker

Powerhouse Museum curator Erika Dicker is preparing a paper to present at the Museums and the Web 2010 on the changing role of the curator. In a very Web 2.0 approach, Erika is crowd-sourcing the content of the presentation by asking the curatorial fraternity to complete an online survey. It will be interesting to hear her findings as the lines are blurring between curators, other museum departments and the general public, so please take the time to share your thoughts.

Erika Dicker’s curator profile portrait, used in her Object of the Week Blog, on the Powerhouse Museum website.

Museums and galleries are very quickly putting their collections online, reaching and interacting with a new audience via the use of social media.

But what does this mean for curators?

Curators have traditionally been knowledge specialists responsible for an institutions collection. But when that collection and information is made widely available via the internet, to be viewed, used, shared, and manipulated, where does that leave us?

Do curators know what social media is? Do we use it? Or are we more likely to throw up our hands and say: “What the hell is this Twitter thing anyway!?”

The up and coming younger generation has been dubbed “generation c”, the ‘c’ standing for content or even curator! This essentially refers to the fact that this generation is one that uses social media to curate their own content, and content of others, such as photo galleries on Flickr, or blog content. This even extends to the numerous museum exhibitions that have been crowd sourced, allowing online users to curate the content for real exhibitions. Where is our place in this new world where everyone has the ability to curate their own content online, and increasingly on the museum floor?

The junction of social media and museums is so often controlled by an institutions web services or IT department, now it’s time to find out what impact it has on curators.

I am currently undertaking a large survey of curators internationally to find out the answer to this very question. This will form part of a paper being presented at the Museums and the Web conference in April, 2010.

So this is your chance to let it be known what you think. Do you use social media? Do you understand it? Do you despise it? Do you love it? And ultimately how do you think it has impacted on your life as a curator?

Complete the survey here and please pass this survey on to your curatorial departments.


Significance – a cautionary tale: Tania Cleary

Dr Tania Cleary presented a paper at the Community Heritage Grant awards at the National Library of Australia last week on Significance. She has been the Significance Assessor for the National Library of Australia since 2006. Dr Cleary has worked with indigenous, colonial and contemporary collections held in both public and private institutions in Australia and Asia. She was a valuer for the Commonwealth government’s Cultural Gifts and Cultural Bequests programs between 1996 and 2007 and was recently appointed Queensland Liaison Officer for the UNESCO Memory of the World Program.

Listen to the audio file or read the transcript here. This material can also be found in Sector Resources on the CAN website.

Let me start by saying that this is a session with a mission – my focus this morning will be on the Significance Assessment process and the Significance Assessment report primarily because I think it is valuable for you to understand how the Community Heritage Grant (CHG) Assessment Panel will consider this report in the future.

For many of you it may be easier to understand the emphasis that I will place on the subject today if you have already read my paper Assessing the Significance of Cultural Heritage which is printed in your workshop handbook.

This paper focuses on how to choose the assessor, necessary preparatory activities and outcomes that demonstrate how the Significance Assessment process can influence collections management, exhibition and conservation decisions, so I will not speak to these issues today. However what I will address is the Significance Assessment Report and the steps you can take to ensure it is a valuable and strategic document.

Let me begin with an anecdote that will serve to illustrate two important points. Recently an organisation achieved a high national significance ranking, it was successful in obtaining a grant to conduct a significance assessment. In the following year the organisation applied for a CHG to undertake conservation treatment on a specific component of its collection. On the surface this seems a logical outcome however the Significance Assessment Report let the organisation down. It did not interrogate that part of the collection that was the subject of the grant, the assessor did not determine its significance and in fact did not mention the objects at all. As a result the CHG Assessment Panel struggled to find evidence to support the need for conservation treatment.

Unfortunately this is not an isolated case; too often the Statement of Significance is couched in generalisations. However it is not about generalisations nor is it about sweeping claims. It is about detail, accuracy and objectivity. The Significance Assessment Report in this case claimed the whole collection was highly significant however it failed to provide reasonable grounds for this determination: comparative collections were not cited and issues of rarity, integrity and representativeness, comparative criteria that provide important contextual information, were not addressed.

Significance is not transferable and it would be wrong to assume that one or a few significant objects from a collection can influence the overall Significance Statement for that collection. In some Significance Assessment Reports the collection’s significance has been unnecessarily enhanced producing an artificially complex or erroneous Statement of Significance.

So what is Significance? For many of us it may be easier to understand Significance as the difference between guesswork and certainty. An assessment methodology that was once marginal and applied to historic sites and properties has now become mainstream. Today Significance is highly promoted because it provides a creditable and well-established framework to determine why an item or collection is important to the nation. The documents Significance: a guide to assessing the significance of cultural heritage items and collections and Significance 2.0 – a guide to assessing the significance of collections (Heritage Collections Council 2001 and 2009 respectively) contain the roadmap for museums, galleries and all collecting institutions wishing to establish the significance of their collections. As the methodology for assessing Significance has developed the gap between assumption and certainty has narrowed.

Significance develops as its controlling elements four primary and four comparative criteria.
*The primary assessment criteria include: historic significance, aesthetic or artistic significance, scientific or research significance, social or spiritual significance.
*The comparative assessment criteria include: provenance, rarity or representativeness, condition or completeness and interpretive capacity. Whichever assessment criteria we start with it is likely to lead to others.

However not all criteria need to be met, not all criteria may be applicable but at least one of them must apply. It is your responsibility, as managers of the project to ensure that the significance assessor that you engage is familiar with the assessment criteria and more importantly collections, i.e. objects, because the significance assessment is more than a report about the history of the collection and your organisation. It is an exercise in curatorial and collection management judgement.

The majority of representatives present this morning have been successful in obtaining a grant for a Significance Assessment. What I wish to highlight for you is how your report should be structured and how it will be scrutinised should you aim to apply for additional CHGs including Preservation Needs Assessment and specific conservation and preservation activities.

In my written paper I have provided a report template that I recommend your assessor adopt. The Significance Assessment Report should include 11 sections:

1. Executive summary
A brief summary of Statement of Significance.
Short, medium and long-term collection management, conservation and interpretation/exhibition= impacts.
2. General information Description of organisation, location and collection management structure.
3. Methodology Discussion of significance assessment criteria and method by which objects are to be
assessed e.g. primary and comparative criteria. Summary of collection that is being assessed (or percentage of whole).
4. Collection Historical background and description of collection including focus, scope and historical
themes represented in the collection.
5. Condition of the collection Summary of collection condition.
6. Comparative examples Comparison with other public collections.
Comparative examples will identify how the collection intersects with other collections.
7. Role of collection in the community
Location and access, significance to the community. What kind of attachment or level of interest does the living community have to the collection?
8. Assessment against primary and comparative criteria
Objective application of primary criteria:
historic, aesthetic, scientific, research or technical and social and spiritual significance.
The degree of significance is evaluated against comparative criteria: provenance, representativeness, rarity, condition, completeness or intactness and integrity and interpretive potential. In combination they determine the meaning and value of an object or collection.
9. List of significant items
A catalogue listing of objects identified within the collection having significance: including registration/accession number, object name and primary and comparative criteria that have
been satisfied/established.
10. Statement(s) of Significance
Relating to individual objects and/or collection as a whole.
11. Conclusion and summary of Statement of Significance.
Summary of recommendations.

To often what is found wanting in the Significance Assessment Report is an accurate and detailed listing of what has been examined, what proportion of the collection this represents and what the selection was based on. The etailed catalogue listing will inform preventative conservation action and specific conservation treatment. It is important to understand that if material has not been identified as Significant then it is unlikely that it would be considered a strong candidate for subsequent grant assistance.

Another anecdote to illustrate the point. Picture a collection of historical and antiquarian books. Volumes line storeroom shelves but there are also stacks of dusty books on tables, in cardboard boxes and in drawers. In amongst the book collection are photographs, prints and letters. This collection might be historically significant because of its association with a deceased figure. It might therefore be rare in that it is not represented in other collections but how do we know unless it is investigated and its component parts identified?

Too often applications have been made to the CHG to “conserve photographs” in collections such as this. Conservation might include physical treatment or digital scanning to increase access and preserve the original.

Although there is nothing wrong with either option the CHG Assessment Panel will be examining the Significance Assessment Report to see if the photographs were examined in any detail and highlighted in any way. The significance of photographs in collections such as this will remain unclear if research does not throw light on who or what was photographed, from whose perspective, what the present condition of the material is and, in terms of reformatting, if copyright clearance has been obtained.

Cultural sensitivity in particular is called for if photographs contain images of Indigenous people. Your significance assessor must explain in the Significance Assessment Report why or how your institution’s documentary heritage, art, material culture, oral history, machinery, transport or textile collection, is of national significance and to do this in the timeframe allocated requires input from you.

To assist the process you will need to prepare for the assessor’s arrival and anticipate their needs: have organisational records in order: object files, catalogue registers, database listings, visitor books, exhibition labels/catalogues and media releases. Determine beforehand if the whole or a component of the collection will be assessed. If it is a survey of the whole collection then think strategically and select a range of objects or items from each category so that the assessor can gain an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the whole collection. On the other hand if a component of the collection is isolated for detailed investigation then the rationale for this decision must be included in the section of the report concerned with methodology. Organise adequate working space and have people on hand to assist with the physical movement of objects if required. When the draft report is made available to you, you will need to determine if it addresses your needs. If there are recommendations made to improve storage or exhibition conditions, or to undertake specific conservation treatments make sure that the objects or parts of the collection this refers to have been included in the assessment task.

The Significance Assessment Report carries a burden of responsibility regardless of whether national, state or local significance has been determined. As carers of the distributed national collection, i.e. the sum of all heritage collections of significance to the nation, the impact of your management decisions will be felt beyond your community, region and state.

The logic of your management actions will follow from the report’s recommendations. Consequently the report is a key foundation document that should be available for conservators to read if they are engaged to assess the collection for preservation needs or conservation treatment. A nationally
significant object might require a different methodological approach to an object that is without provenance, or has no outstanding aesthetic, historic or social value.

Balancing the scales, the Significance Assessment process can provide an opportunity for collection development through enhanced public recognition and understanding. Some members of the community may have a strong emotional attachment to the collection and this can act as an aid or catalyst
for greater community/council/government participation in the collection’s preservation. Unity of interest can often lead to a strong investment in the collection especially if the collection is unique (the only one), rare (one of a few) or representative (similar to other existing comparable collections).

Your assessor will need to substantiate these claims by demonstrating that comparative research has been conducted. I have read many Significance Assessment Reports claiming that a collection is unique or rare. As I contemplate the impact of such a statement I often think that perhaps it would not have been so confidently made had more comparative research been undertaken.

In closing this session I wish to restate that my objectives this morning were to focus on the Significance Assessment process and the Significance Assessment Report. If I can urge you undertake two tasks before the Significance Assessment commences they would be:
• Firstly, familiarise yourself with Significance 2.0, go online and read the case studies offered.
• Secondly, ask your assessor to follow the Significance Assessment Report template.

In combination these steps should ensure that your Significance Assessment Report becomes a valuable management document in both the short and long term.

Tania Cleary


Preservation funding: Tamara Lavrencic

Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales Collections Manager Tamara Lavrencic explains what is involved in managing a preservation needs assessment. This recording was made during the Community Heritage Grant awards presentation on November 10. This material can also be found in Sector Resources on the CAN website.

Preservation Needs Assessments (supplementary material)
The goals of a preservation needs assessment are to enable your organisation to identify risks to, and develop a long-term preservation strategy for, the collection. The assessment takes the form of a general survey, i.e., one that looks at the general condition of the collection and the suitability of current storage and exhibition methods and the current storage and exhibition environment as well as other uses for the collection. For community groups, a preservation needs assessment almost always involves calling in a consultant to help you with the technical details.

How to prepare for a preservation needs assessment
The consultant will require background information, which you can collate before you contact them. Prepare for the preservation needs assessment by reading the information sheet on Preservation Needs Assessment, which can be found on the Community Heritage web page.

Other documents useful for the conservation include the original application form submitted for a Community Heritage Grant and the report on significance assessment if you have one.

Choosing the consultant to do the preservation needs assessment
An experienced, qualified conservator should undertake the preservation needs assessment. When you’re selecting a conservator, ask for references from previous clients that they’ve undertaken preservation needs assessments for and where possible, ask to see an example of a report. Check that the conservator carries insurance. The professional body for conservators is the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material (or AICCM), Incorporated. You can obtain lists of qualified conservators in each state from the State Divisions or from most State Institutions (Art Galleries, Museums, Archives and Libraries). The AICCM web site provides the contact details for private conservators working in each state and territory.

New graduates of Museum Studies and similar courses generally don’t have enough experience to assess the preservation needs for collections.

Cost estimate
A preservation needs assessment usually involves a conservator carrying out a site visit to assess the environmental conditions and condition of the collection and spending a further 2-3 days collating the information and producing the report. Depending on the size of the collection, it may take 1-2 days to assess the building and collection and will cost around $4000. Travel and accommodation costs will add to the cost if the conservator does not live locally. Ask for a written quote that details the components such as: on-site visit, travel costs, report writing etc.

Briefing the consultant
Ensure that the consultant is aware that the preservation needs assessment is expected to result in a report with an action plan and prioritised recommendations. The Community Heritage Grant Office will provide a template for Preservation Needs Assessment, which follows the outline below. The conservator is required to use the template for the report.

The report should include the following:

Title page
*Name of the organisation
*Title, eg. Preservation Needs Assessment
*Author of report
*Date of report

Table of Contents – Should include page numbers for quick reference

Executive summary
*A brief introduction to the organisational aims/objectives and:
*Up to three key recommendations from the assessment
*Any key issues that will impact on the organisation’s ability to implement the recommendation outlined in the report
*Key recommendations – A summary of the key/major recommendations for further action listed in priority order and cross-referenced to the main body of the report.

Collection Description
*Condition – Includes the types of objects/formats are collected, size of collection, significance, use and alternatives to physical access. Looks at the overall condition of the collection and notes what parts of the collection are in poor condition and most at risk.
*Building – Description of the building type, construction materials and any glaring concerns.
*Environment – Surveys the internal temperature, relative humidity, light and dust levels and assesses whether they pose a risk to the collection. Looks for evidence that the environment is putting the collections at risk.
*Storage – Comments on whether the materials or method of storage pose a risk.
*Display/exhibitions – Provides an outline of the existing exhibitions and display layout of the organisation, including outlying buildings and spaces provided for temporary exhibitions.
*Housekeeping – Examines the cleaning/housekeeping practices used throughout the building and assesses whether they contribute to the long-term care or deterioration of the collection.
*Visitor impact – Assesses the impact that current visitation level has on the wear and tear to any part of the collection and/or building fabric.
*Disaster preparedness – Checks whether there a disaster plan or a list of emergency contacts.
*Training needs – Looks at what training has been given and what is needed for current and future plans.
*Recommendations – Summary of recommendations from above sections, in a prioritised plan of action. Should indicate those that are urgent (need to be done in 12-24 months) and those that are medium to long-term.
* Authorship – Indicates who has written and contributed to the writing of the report, their positions and qualifications.

Finally, make sure that the consultant is happy to take calls if questions arise after the report has been handed over.

Managing the process
If the consultant requires some funding up-front, only make a partial payment. Retain the final payment until you’ve had a chance to read the report and ensure that it meets the requirements outlined above. It’s acceptable to ask the consultant to rephrase a section if you’re not happy with it.

Ensure that the recommendations are realistic for your situation. While the report may well be used to successfully apply for further funding, it still needs to identify projects that your organisation is able to sustain.

The terms preservation, conservation and preventive conservation are interrelated and often used interchangeably. The Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material (Inc) defines these three terms as follows:
*Conservation: The conservation profession is responsible for the care of cultural material. Conservation activities may include preservation, restoration, examination, documentation, research, advice, treatment, preventive conservation, training and education.
*Preservation: The protection of cultural property through activities that minimise chemical and physical deterioration and damage, and that prevent loss of information. The primary goal of preservation is to prolong the existence of cultural material.
*Preventive conservation: Action taken to retard or prevent deterioration of or damage to cultural material by control of its environment. This is done through the formulation and implementation of policies and procedures for the following: appropriate environmental conditions; handling and maintenance procedures for storage, exhibition, packing, transport and use; integrated pest management; emergency preparedness and response; and reformatting/duplication.

Conservation is usually undertaken by conservators, people trained in the theory and specialised practice of materials conservation. They work in a variety of places such as museums, art galleries, libraries, archives and in private practice.

Preservation and preventive conservation are undertaken by individuals and organisations that collect cultural heritage; historical societies, community groups, museums, art galleries, libraries and members of the public to name but a few.

The Community Heritage Grant program brings conservators and collecting organisations together through funding grants for preservation needs assessments and conservation treatment. Preservation needs assessments (also known as preservation surveys) and significance assessments are the building blocks for preventive conservation. While a significance assessment helps you understand what is important or unique about your object or collection, preservation needs assessments tell you what condition the objects are in and what factors pose risks to the permanence of the collection.

It is preferable to have the report from significance assessment available for the conservator prior to undertaking the preservation needs assessment, as it will help the conservator to determine priorities and levels of conservation and preservation treatments.

The assessment involves a visit by the conservator to look at the building structure and assess its ability to protect the collection. The conservator also examines the collection for signs of damage, and assesses whether the damage is the result of the nature of the materials used in construction of the objects, environmental factors (temperature, humidity, light levels etc), handling or a combination of factors. For more information on the signs or indicators of damage, visit the AICCM visual glossary

A preservation needs assessment:
*Evaluates the organisation’s policies, practices and conditions that affect the preservation of its collections,
*Assesses the general condition of the collections and how to preserve the collections long-term, and
*Identifies specific preservation needs and prioritises recommended actions to meet those needs.

Together with significance assessment, the preservation needs assessment report provides the information necessary to form a preservation or preventive conservation plan, which may include the following actions:
*Stabilise or upgrade the storage and/or display environment, including building repairs, relocation of sensitive materials, reducing light levels, controlling relative humidity.
*Rehouse parts of the collection in enclosures that will help preserve them.
*Reformat unstable formats such as nitrate film, acetate film, videotapes, cassettes and newsprint. Reformatting may involve microfilming, digitisation or photocopying records that are in an advanced stage of deterioration.
*Conservation treatment of significant, and at risk, items from the collection.
*Develop procedures and policies, including those on disaster prevention and response, preservation and collections management.

Tamara Lavrencic
Collections Manager
The Mint, 10 Macquarie St, Sydney NSW 2000
t. 02 8239 2360 | f. 02 8239 2444 |


VJ Sustenance mixes digitised collection @Allsorts Online, December 1

Video jockey Lynne Sanderson, aka VJ Sustenance, will mix the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) collection at the Allsorts Online Forum on December 1, demonstrating yet another application for digitised collections. The Adelaide-based artist will draw links between art and technology during the Allsorts Online Forum wrap-up party by mashing-up the digital images and responding to the classic 19th Century library interior. The event will be set in the beautiful late-Victorian Mortlock Chamber at the State Library of South Australia. Lynne gives a little insight into the art of a video jockey and her approach to the cultural heritage collection.

What style of work do you make as a video jockey? What influences your own artwork?
My visual style is primarily photographic. I used layered and effected video concentrating on movement and tempo. I shoot most of the video that I use. The footage could be either something I shot on the street in Berlin or Adelaide or models shot in a controlled studio situation. Graphical elements also appear in my mixes, blended and affected throughout the mix. Sometimes I use royalty free archival footage. I have a large bank of loops that I draw from.

Often I will shift between thematic frameworks, changing with shifts in aspects of the music. I have recently been doing audiovisual performances with my physical controller the v-tar. It looks like a flying v guitar and it is custom built so that I can trigger audio and visual on cue, without sitting at a computer. This has allowed me to start experimenting with the performative aspect of my work.

There are many influences on my artwork. From other audiovisual artists such as Ryoji Ikeda, Severed Heads and Hexstatic to music video and movies to small things such as a particular movement or motion or something I might see happen in the street. I also take a lot of inspiration being immersed in music and sound. Then there are the unexplained accidents that can occur when I am playing with the software patches I have created. I am also highly influenced by the action of play.

A rear screen projector will be set-up in the Mortlock Chamber, at the State Library of South Australia, where VJ Lynne Sanderson will mix ANAT’s collection.

Your background is installation art, how did you move into vjing?
I have always done both… I actually started my career in the early 1990s showing slides (a kind of early vjing before the technology was ready) with a techno band. It was after that that I started exhibiting my artwork in galleries and then moved into installation works. I was still developing my club video works in parallel to the gallery works. I enjoy showing my work to different cross-sections of people. I get a different feedback from playing live than from installing an artwork in a gallery. Ultimately though, I like to involve others in my artistic process, whether it is people playing with my installations or enjoying a beat driven visual mix.

Allsorts Online and CAN is looking forward to watching you mix part of the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) collection on December 1 at the State Library of South Australia. How will you approach this project?
I have been given some moving images from ANAT’s collection. These have been cut up… and I am experimenting with manipulating them live. I am interested to see what comes out after they go through my software and are re-contextualised.

What type of material will you be mixing? What idea will you try to convey as you mash-up the work?
I will be mixing a selection of ANAT’s archive over a period of years. This will include some documentation of workshops that they have run and artists moving image works that have been included in their magazine Filter. There will also be some documentation of artists’ installations.

I enjoy improvising when I vj… So I will be listening to the music and mixing the works together with a certain tempo and motion. I will play with the material and see what happens. Ideas will be revealed.

VJ Sustenance @ Persian Garden Adelaide Festival 2006 from vj sustenance on Vimeo.

What potential do you see for your own work as cultural heritage organisations digitise more of their collections?
This the first time I have mixed other artists works. It is a bit of a different mindset than using my own video footage and animations. In the process of working on the project, I see a lot of potential to have access to rare early film footage or images. I have been wondering what would happen if you merged/mashed two or more famous artists works together. It poses the question.. Are you creating a new artwork from doing this?

As the world digitises to preserve and share, will you start using new material that you had not considered before (ie CCTV footage, plates from rare illustrated books)?
Possibly… it depends on what sort of access is granted to use these artworks and what I might be working on conceptually.

What opportunities do you see for collecting institutions in using digitised material?
It would be great to be an artist–in-residence in a cultural institution and have access to various famous works to create something new from something old.

Allsorts Online: the collecting sector, academia, the arts and the media
Event: Allsorts Online Forum
Date: December 1
Venue: State Library of South Australia, Adelaide
Cost: Free
Time: 8.30am – 5pm + Drinks

Event: Allsorts Online Masterclasses
Date: December 2
Venue: Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) and the Royal Institution of Australia (RiAus)
Cost: $250 per 3-hour session
Time: 9am – Noon, 1pm – 4pm

Image caption: 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.


Museums and schools – Mutualism in the cultural realm: Sally Gissing

Sally Gissing discusses how the Museum of the Riverina’s Education and Public Programs strategy works to develop partnerships with schools in Wagga Wagga. The multi-platform approach supplements school excursions to the Museum with educational material designed for the Web. Evaluation is also central to the Museum’s strategy to ensure long-term success.

In biological terms mutualism describes the close and often long-term relationships between two different species where both species derive benefit. There is great scope for cultural venues such as museums to establish such relationships with schools. It is promising to see that more teachers in and around Wagga Wagga are realising the educational value of our museum. This year we have seen a significant increase in school group visitation at both our museum sites.

There are numerous advantages for the museum and surrounding schools in developing this relationship. For the museum the advantages have included fostering a new generation of museum stakeholders – supporting sustainable growth, an increase in visitor numbers and breaking that stereotypical mould that the museum is just full of “old stuff” that has little to no relevance to our younger audiences. I see a significant opportunity for museums to support teachers in their role through the provision of curriculum linked educations resources and excursion opportunities. For students entering the world of museums can create a valuable learning experience. Providing students with the chance to explore, investigate and discover museum content and stories can facilitate a variety of key developmental outcomes e.g. the development of social capital, lifelong learning skills, sense of identity and place, and an appreciation of cultural diversity.

For museums the purpose of education programs is to provide an access point for audiences to engage with museum content. It’s important when designing this access point to provide students with opportunities to complete activities that they wouldn’t be able to complete in a classroom environment. That means avoiding the old worksheet and finding alternative solutions such as museum theatre and practical workshops. Whilst hosting the National Archives of Australia – travelling exhibition Max Dupain: On Assignment we used featured images as stimulus material for drama games that required students to imagine what the subjects of these photographs were thinking and feeling as well as why Max Dupain decided to include them in his work.

Find ways to make organising an excursion to your museum easier for teachers. Provide clear links to the curriculum and venue and safety information for your museum site. A lot of schools plan excursions in term 3 or 4. Ideally it’s best to get your promotional material out to schools at this time or as early as possible. Try to minimise admission costs (remember just getting the students to your museum can be a costly exercise) and consult with teachers prior to the excursion whether or not they have specific requirements such as students with special learning needs.

Continual evaluation both informal and formal is vital for maintaining the quality and effectiveness of education programs and services. A good philosophy to follow when measuring the success of education programs is to focus on what the students learnt rather than what you have taught.
Informal evaluation strategies may include summation questions at the end of the program e.g. what was an interesting story that you learnt today? Formal evaluation strategies can include evaluation surveys for teachers and students. You can do this using hard copy evaluation sheets or online using websites such as SurveyMonkey.

One major goal we have in terms of education is cracking the secondary students market which can be challenging given teenager’s strict criteria as to what constitutes being entertaining and ‘cool’ (what ever the in vogue term may be). In developing our social media strategies and online content we hope to more readily connect with this audience. Using social media websites such as Slideshare, Flickr and Vimeo we plan to upload curriculum relevant education resources such as podcasts and video as well create opportunities for students to develop and display their own multimedia content.

In using the above strategies we hope to continue fostering a positive and mutually beneficial relationship with local schools and students in Wagga Wagga and surrounding regions. If you would like any more information go to our website.


Calculating the impact of your online collection: Ingrid Mason (CAN)

How do you calculate the impact of your collection online? CAN’s National Project Manager Ingrid Mason will be discussing this topic at the Allsorts Online Masterclasses in Adelaide on December 2. This YouTube video offers a little taste of what is to come.

A series of masterclasses for curators, writers, artists, online producers and education specialists to learn and share insights and skills for work on the Web. The masterclasses cater for professionals from the collecting sector, academia, the arts, and media who want an injection of knowledge and inspiration in making collection material publicly accessible and usable and to build up community interest and participation in digital ventures. Please register now.

Session 1: Arts as a Living Culture (Gavin Artz, ANAT and Fee Plumley, Australia Council)
Session 2: Cultural Digital Storytelling (Gavin Bannerman, SLQ)
Session 3: Community Building with Social Media Tools (Ellen Forsyth, SLNSW)
Session 4: Collections Online: Ideas and Issues (Ingrid Mason, CAN)

Event: Allsorts Online Masterclasses
Date: December 2
Venue: Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) and the Royal Institution of Australia (RiAus)
Cost: $250 per 3-hour session
Time: 9am – Noon, 1pm – 4pm

Registration: Register now
For more information, click here


Mentoring digital media projects: Chris Winter (ABC)

ABC Innovation ’s Chris Winter is at XMedia Lab, Amsterdam, this week mentoring the development of future digital public media projects. This is where some of the most cutting edge work is developed. Chris will be speaking at the Allsorts Online forum in Adelaide on December 1. He will be speaking about the exciting new projects ABC Innovation is working on as well as giving insights on Sydney Sidetracks and Gallipoli.

What is your role at the ABC?
I have been involved in a number of projects over the last few years – managing ABC2 from launch in 2005 until mid 2007, the ABC mobile election & news application in 2007/2008, Sydney Sidetracks, delivered to online and mobile platforms in 2008 (and pleasingly winning some commendations and an award along the way), an oversight and mentoring role on a number of other projects – ABC Earth, ABC FORA, ABC Mobile (2009), the Big Diary — and now more and more developing and managing relationships with outside bodies that are pertinent to our work – universities, research organisations, museums and other collections (as a result of the Sidetracks project), government (state and federal) and helping organise for staff presentations by interesting visitors, as well as internal events promoting learning, discussion and collaboration – a day for the ABC’s web developers for example, held early this year.

What is the focus of this years’s XMedia Lab in Amsterdam – XML Amsterdam “Public Media”?
The general themes are articulated at XMedia Lab. I have chosen to focus on interaction and audience behaviours, and how the latter have affected our work and our strategies.

XMedia Lab is designed to assist people to get their own digital media ideas successfully to market. How does your role at the ABC support this idea?
XMediaLab is a golden opportunity for people seeking feedback and advice about digital media projects at various stages of development. Getting to market may indeed mean a commercial outcome, or it may simply mean an idea is on its way to realisation and publication. Helping any project along this path is completely consistent with my role at the ABC, and has the added benefit of improving my skills, knowledge and experience through exposure to both the other mentors and the project teams.

Over the years quite non-commercial ABC projects have benefitted from the hothouse of an XMediaLab and exposure to experienced media workers who may bring a completely new and refreshing point of view – not only through their formal presentations, but through the intense one on one sessions in the lab.

Do you see a role for collecting institutions within public broadcasters’ multi-channel programming? Is there an example where there is happening in other countries?
Absolutely – and by the time I return from my trip, I may have a more detailed answer for you! Perhaps not a whole channel though …

How could collecting institutions, as not-for-profit entities, apply the principles of “commercialising digtial media ideas” to their own operations?
My interest in collections so far has been confined to finding reasons and opportunities to give often hidden treasures an airing – again Sidetracks is one such example, a reminder of past places, people and events, and so too is Gallipoli, although much more focused of course – without any thought of making money. Interestingly, as the Powerhouse has discovered, making some of a collection more accessible under a Creative Commons licence – in other words, in a limited sense, for free – has not affected their ability to make money from the collection. However, one hopes that more and more examples of a collection become more and more easily browseable – making them more easily appreciated and acquirable. Of course I am talking of images here, rather than three-dimensional physical objects.

To what extent should publicly-funded cultural bodies be involved in developing digital media projects that competes alongside commercial entertainment in the marketplace?
Many publicly-funded cultural bodies are the homes of wonderful stories – the challenge is either getting them out so they can be enjoyed in places other than dark rooms in far away cities, or presented in such a way that word of mouth makes an exhibition a “must see” – perhaps ACMI’s new display area is one such example. Or its Mediatheque which allows rights-fraught material to be seen without breaking the law. Perhaps one day the three-dimensional objects that populate much of the real estate in museums can be enjoyed remotely and cleverly without losing any of their “presence”. After all, what’s important about a museum is not the four walls, but what its collections stand for and the staff who understand their importance and the stories that surround them. If solving these problems distracts people from “commercial entertainment” or even makes money, that’s fine with me. The ABC is publicly-funded, and largely not-for-profit, yet it is allowed to generate income from goods associated with its charter activities – although of course, not everyone is necessarily happy about that!

As an XMedia Lab mentor, what message will you be sending out to those people travelling to Amsterdam?
I’m not sure exactly who these people will be, and I don’t really have a single message – but what’s important to me about a place like the ABC are the wonderful storytellers who work there – whether the stories are real or made up – and whether we can keep a grip on how important it is to reach everyone with those stories – regardless of who they are, where they live, when they choose to become absorbed in our stories, what device they choose to use – and to ENGAGE them. Alarming for some perhaps is the reality that we are becoming curators as well as creators.

Event: Allsorts Online Forum
Date: December 1
Venue: State Library of South Australia, Adelaide
Cost: Free
Time: 8.30am – 5pm + Drinks

Event: Allsorts Online Masterclasses
Date: December 2
Venue: Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) and the Royal Institution of Australia (RiAus)
Cost: $250 per 3-hour session
Time: 9am – Noon, 1pm – 4pm

Image caption: 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.


Digital Folk Art – A whole new world of art that is not art: Gavin Artz

Gavin Artz is finding business models for artists working in the digital arena. His previous career saw him working with corporate giants, now he is the chief executive at the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT). As he undertakes his MBA exploring the relationships between creativity and business management, the arts community has someone looking after its financial future. Gavin will be delivering a session at the Allsorts Online Masterclasses in Adelaide on December 2.

“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” – Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970)

Digital folk art comes from open source technologies and associated open distribution channels and raises many questions for the arts.

The price of technology has fallen, often to nothing, as access to technology and technological know how has exploded. Whole open source industries offer easy to use, powerful, creative tools that build digital communities of shared creative meaning. There is a digital culture that creates and distributes online, that reflects on the world and represents it to a community ready to digest.

This is a vibrant, living, creative culture and just as folk art is a daily response to the world people live in, decorating and telling stories on everyday objects, this digital folk art does the same. As with some folk art, digital folk art can be seen as kitsch, amusing and distracting decoration; some also can be seen as powerful and influential art. With the multitude of work created only a small proportion maybe seen as art, the people who create it and experience it don’t care what it is called, they don’t care about the art world; they live and respond to a bigger world, they live art.

If we live art, if our daily lives engage continually with artistic expression, do we in a modern western society have the capacity to recognise such a creative culture as art?

Digital folk art benefits from the change in economic models that the digital era has ushered in. The digital world encourages abundance (Anderson 2006), server costs are negligible, access and software are cheap or free. All work can be made available and no one person is mediating your experience. No one is limiting access to the full breadth of art and culture.

Galleries, museums and exhibitors are at a crossroads. These organisations have traditionally operated within the economics of scarcity; limited wall space, limited storage space. The digital world does not work on that model. The digital world does not need to show work in a building and you don’t have to leave your daily life to experience it.

*What spaces will be the environments in which to have an arts experience?
*Will we know we are having an arts experience?
*Do we need to know that we are having an art experience?
*What will be called art and what work should be preserved?
*Do digital artists want work preserved?
*Is there a role for curators when scarce resources no longer need to be allocated?
*How do artists make a living when it is difficult to show work and very difficult to sell work?

We are on the eve of a shift to a different concept of artistic creative culture. We are moving to a conception of the arts that does not just have its domain as a cultural activity, but one where this creativity is central to culture, community and the economy. This new conception of a creative culture is full of opportunity not only for artists, but all citizens. However, to get to these opportunities we need to review concepts we have long taken for granted.

Gavin Artz will be presenting one of the four masterclasses CAN, the Royal Institution of Australia and the Australian Network for Arts and Technology are running on December 2. Gavin’s intensive workshop will cover the issues facing artists and galleries as they enter the online world to promote artworks and collections. He will be running the classes with Australia Council Digital Programs Officer Fee Plumley. With just 10 people in the three-hour workshop, there will be ample opportunity to draw on their wealth of knowledge and experience.

Event: Allsorts Online Forum
Date: December 1
Venue: State Library of South Australia, Adelaide
Cost: Free
Time: 8.30am – 5pm + Drinks

Event: Allsorts Online Masterclasses
Date: December 2
Venue: Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) and the Royal Institution of Australia (RiAus)
Cost: $250 per 3-hour session
Time: 9am – Noon, 1pm – 4pm

Image caption: 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.

Anderson C. 2006, “Long Tail, The, Revised and Updated Edition: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More”. Hyperion, New York.


Goulburn gallery uses Flickr to identify C17th painting

The Goulburn Regional Art Gallery is asking the Flickr community to help it research one of its 17th century paintings in its collection. It is a charming oil on wood donated to the gallery by a longtime Goulburn resident who believed it was a Claude Lorrian (1600 – 1682). Gallery director Jane Cush has found no evidence to prove that the painting was created by the French master and has decided to use citizen-research to confirm the artworks’ origins.

This is a great example of a gallery director admitting that they do not know the history of every item in their collection and see value in the community helping them. Many curators and gallery directors would believe a gallery’s standing would be jepoardised by admitting that they do not know everything, while others are using all the resources at their disposal to make their catalogue as up-to-date and accurate as possible.

If you have ever seen anything like it, please contact the gallery on +61 2 48234443.


National Portrait Gallery (UK) vs Wikipedia: Jessica Coates

Wikipedia uploaded part of the National Portrait Gallery, UK’s online collection to its own Wikimedia Commons website. It is every art gallery’s greatest fear. Now that it has happened, Creative Commons Clinic Project Manager Jessica Coates explains how the test case is being dealt with.

If you’re of a copyright bent, you may have notice the discussion lately surrounding a legal dispute between UK’s National Portrait Gallery (NPG) and Wikipedia.

For those who haven’t heard, on 10 July Wikipedia contributor Derrick Coetzee received a threat of legal action from the NPG relating to Coeztee’s taking of more than 3300 Zoomify images of public domain paintings from the NPG’s website, which he then uploaded to Wikimedia Commons. The NPG claims copyright in the images, which are essentially high resolution digital preservation copies of the paintings, and alleges that by posting them to Wikimedia Commons Coetzee has infringed not only this copyright, but also a number of other legal rights relating to the works.

In responding to the allegations, the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF) (which is representing Coetzee) have focused on the jurisdictional issues of the case ie whether Coeztee’s actions should be judged under US or UK law. There are also a number of other legal questions that arise in relation to the case, such whether Coetzee illegally circumvented the Zoomify copy protection on the works.

But what jumped out at me (and most readers judging by the online discussion) is the NPG’s claim of copyright in its digital copies of public domain paintings. Is it really true that if I get a work that is in the public domain – say, the Mona Lisa – and take a high quality scan of it, I have created a whole new work that attracts copyright protection?

As the EFF points out in their article on the case, it is fairly clear that under US law such images would not be protected by copyright. The US courts considered the application of copyright to reproductions of public domain material in Bridgeman v Corel and found that copyright does not subsist in ‘slavish copies’ (ie that seek to exactly replicate the original) of public domain works unless there is some level of originality (eg in the construction or composition) that differentiates the copy from the original work – mere technical skill and effort is not enough. So my photograph of my friend standing in front of the Mona Lisa is protected, but my photocopy or scan is not.

The lawyers for the NPG argue that UK law goes in the opposite direction – or at least that Bridgeman v Corel doesn’t apply in the UK, that there are no relevant local precedents and that legal opinion is against the US case law. Andres Guadamuz from the University of Edinburgh argues in this blog post that the question isn’t as straight forward as the NPG lawyers contend. But it is certainly true that the requirement of ‘originality’ that is the basis of the US decision doesn’t apply in the UK, with British courts being far more willing to find a work is protected by copyright based on skill or effort alone.

So what is our position here in Australia? Unclear. I have to admit, I (and I think most of the local copyright community) had thought that the Bridgeman v Corel rule applied here, and hence such material wasn’t protected. However, Australia’s approach to originality has traditionally been more aligned with the UK than the US. In fact, the leading Australian case on the issue (Telstra v Desktop Marketing) arguably sets the bar even lower by finding that a telephone book was original based almost purely on the level of effort required to put it together. On the other hand, in the Ice TV case decided earlier this year the High Court seemed to suggest that they did not support the low originality test set by Desktop Marketing – although their comments were only in passing, and the case was decided on another issue.

This doesn’t mean that Desktop Marketing is the end of the matter in Australia. After all, it was looking at a text-based work which, in anyone’s judgement, was an entirely new product – not a photograph that is merely intended to be a facsimile of an existing work. It turns out Australia doesn’t really have a lot of case law about subsistence of copyright in photographs or verbatim copies (at least as far as I can see). IP commentator Rickertson points out that because the Copyright Act says that the owner of copyright is the person who took the photo, without requiring any particular artistic or intellectual merit, an argument can be made that just pressing the button is enough to invoke copyright protection. But, as Rickertson also points out, this logic would lead to the illogical position where every individual photocopy received separate copyright protection.

Until we actually have a case on point in Australia, it seems unlikely we’ll have a legal answer. So the question we need to ask ourselves is which precedent do we want to follow? If someone’s intention is to copy something exactly, should we be protecting the copy? Or do we want to take the direction of the US and require some extra level of creativity?

Of course, this question isn’t simple. After all, the NPG spent a lot of money digitising the paintings, which they (presumably) hope to recoup by selling high resolution copies. If anyone can copy high quality files once they’re put online, will that deter galleries from digitising or providing access to their works in the future? On the other hand, should publicly funded institutions be using legal technicalities to restrict access to material in their collections, even after copyright has expired?

My personal opinion is that I don’t think it would be good for Australia to go down this route. Many copyright experts are already concerned about the low level of originality required by Australian law, and how it is stifling innovation by stopping people from making use of public information and data. Do we really want to extend this drawback to public domain works?

After all, the digital era has changed how people create and use copyright material. Remix and mash up are now not only genuine art forms, they’re a standard means of communication for an entire generation. We all complain about piracy, but can we really blame the pirates if we don’t give artists, students and innovators something they can legally use, if we tell them that even century old paintings are out of bounds?

The more we extend copyright – whether by legislative amendment, contractual restrictions or, in this case, judicial interpretation – the more we reduce the pool of material that we are all free to use. Is it really a good idea to restrict the resources available to the many for the sake of the benefit of a few?

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.

Jessica Coates will be presenting a paper at CAN’s Allsorts Online forum in Adelaide on December 1. The one day free event will be a dynamic discussion on how collecting institutions can share content online. Jessica’s role in promoting Creative Commons licences is central to the success of online collections and telling stories about the nation’s cultural heritage. On Wednesday December 2, CAN is teaming up with the Australian Network of Art and Technology (ANAT) and the Royal Institution of Australia to host four masterclasses. By limiting the classes to 10 participants, there is an opportunity to leave the class with a personalised experience and an action plan.

Event: Allsorts Online Forum
Date: December 1
Venue: State Library of South Australia, Adelaide
Cost: Free
Time: 8.30am – 5pm + Drinks

Event: Allsorts Online Masterclasses
Date: December 2
Venue: Australian Network of Art and Technology (ANAT) and the Royal Institution of Australia (RiAus)
Cost: $250 per session
Time: 9am – Noon and 1pm – 4pm

Jessica has requested this article is published under the attribution non-commercial share-alike Creative Commons licence.