Commercialising publicly-owned content. Feeding cultural heritage collections into the news cycle. Profiling the eccentricities of curators. Sharing collections with ABC Online. Cultural collectors as producers and broadcasters. The ideas discussed in the Allsorts Online 09 panel discussion, in Adelaide last week, challenged conventions and offered new perspectives on how the cultural sector operates. Allsorts09 drew on different media, arts and academic practices to start thinking about the future of the collecting sector in new ways. The sector will be able to contribute to Australia’s National Cultural Policy through the Government’s current public consultation process.
Chris Winter (ABC Innovation), Sandra McEwen (Powerhouse Museum) and Angelina Russo (Swinburne University). Photography by Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery Social Media Co-ordinator Brent Blackburn
Swinburne University academic Angelina Russo opened the discussion on the future of cultural institutions by focusing on the connections between broadcasters and the collecting sector. She suggested the future of the museum will be as publisher and broadcaster. Curators will become commissioning editors. Ms Russo cited four examples where relationships have been built between media organisations and cultural organisations.
*Smithsonian Channel set up with an online television channel with Showtime Networks to capitalise on it extensive collection.
*Who Do You Think You Are? BBC and SBS broadcast archival material into living rooms about the family history of celebrities. This brought amateur genealogists back into the collecting sector as they researched their own histories. Who Do You Think You Are? strengthened the relationship between museums, archives, the offical sponsor Ancestry.com and the BBC and SBS.
*Origins of Australian Football website looked at the history of AFL using the State Library of Victoria collection. The library used a major celebrity (AFL) to push content out and then drew on people’s curiosities to bring the audience back in.
*Te Papa and the Colossal Squid. Te Papa filmed the public defrosting of the squid donated to the museum frozen using a web cam. Discovery Channel was invited to make a documentary and TV journalists were also present. Te Papa web team blogged, tweeted answering an active respoionse from the international scientist community. This built strong public interest in the lead-up to the exhibition over the next six months. The exhibition was tied in with public lectures, a children’s programme and an online 3-D game involving building your own squid.
The Allsorts09 panellists were: Susannah Elliot from the Science Media Centre suggested a Sarah Keith (SBS), Ingrid Mason (Collections Australia Network), Sandra McEwen (Powerhouse Museum), Fee Plumley (Australia Council), Angelina Russo (Swinburne University) and Chris Winter (ABC Innovation).
ABC Innovation Manager New Services Chris Winter has been actively working to remove the boundaries between the collecting sector and the national broadcaster. He believes collecting institutions like the Powerhouse Museum and State Library of NSW see the ABC as an attractive platform to showcase its material through projects like Sydney Sidetracks. Mr Winter also looked at the changing way broadcasters present stories. Four Corners, for example, airs its documentary on ABC1 while repackaging it for the web with timelines, maps, edits and behind-the-scenes interviews. These different formats attract different age groups. Ms Russo agreed that broadcasters and the collecting sector are natural partners. They need to support each other but do not necessarily need to collaborate. She also identified republishing and repurposing as the next point of tension.
SBS National Manager Client Solutions Sarah Keith agreed with Mr Winter that broadcasters have become a content delivery business and can no longer afford to look at themselves as producing television and web material separately. SBS focuses on content and audience as an overall brand approach. SBS no longer has a Director of Television and a Director of Online but it has a Director of Content. This wholistic approach operates in the advertising department where the SBS sales team sells across platforms. They look at which audiences SBS needs to connect with and who they want to partner with.
The cultural sector is going through an identity crisis, says Collections Australia Network National Project Manager Ingrid Mason, who believes cultural institutions need to ‘get to grips with what they are actually supposed to be doing’ onsite and online. They should be drawing on skills used in the media, the arts and academia to achieve its core function. The blurring lines between these sectors is a necessary function for success, Ms Mason says.
The role of Web 2.0 in the collecting sector has increasingly significant in the last few years. Creative Commons Clinic Project Manager Jessica Coates remembered only a couple of years ago people were worried that posted comments would undermine a curator’s authority. Now conversation has come a long way. A speaker in the audience articulated the importance of museums positioning themselves as an authorative figure in the education system as students needed trusted sources.
Arts Council Digital Programs Officer Fee Plumley stressed that people find their own trusted sources. ‘We find an aggregator that provides reliable information. We are all experts in something. The didactic approach of only one expert is outmoded. It is great that we all get to be experts in one field,’ Ms Plumely said. She also emphasised that as more people participate in the online environment, traditional sources will be more highly valued. People will want to pay for high resolution photographs as more low resolution photographs are seen on the Internet.
Museums take authority very seriously, says the Powerhouse Museum’s Prinicpal Curator Sandra McEwen. There is a need to maintain boundaries yet museums realise people are learning in different ways and so they need to deliver truth in an entertaining way. The ABC has come to realise the way news has to be delivered is based on social capital. There is tension between social capital and maintaining the brand, says Mr Winter.
Science Media Centre Chief Executive Officer Susannah Elliot’s is wary of the blurring lines and news services maintaining credibility. Lobby groups infiltrating the news broadcast process. Ms Elliot stressed the need to ensure separation between lobby and evidence-based information.
Allsorts Online 09 ended with some exciting possibilties for future partnerships and collaborations with the collecting sector and the media. Both entities need to have a conversation with its audiences and both draw on archives to share and preserve cultural heritage. Web 2.0 has made way for an exciting future and a new way of looking at collections.
Top 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.