Tuesday, February 16, 2010

CHIN Digital Heritage Symposium - Part 1

CHIN Digital Heritage Symposium
Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver BC
February 4-5, 2010

Keynote: National Museums Online Learning Project
Speaker: Davis Anderson – Director of Learning & Interpretation, V&A Museum, UK

The V&A Museum started a project called Going Graphic in the late 1990s.  Visitors were given digital camers and asked to capture images of the exhibits & museum, manipulating the images into posters.  Not only did this provide visitors with a unique souvenir of their visit, but the ‘best’ posters were added to the Museum’s website.  A second initiative was developed that saw people uploading audio/video to the V&A’s website explaining why/what/how the Museum means and matters to them.  This saw an increase in one million visits to the website in the first year alone.

The National Museum Online Learning Project was born out of these successes.  In an effort to make their museum websites more useful for schools and kids, 9 museums joined forces in order to provide a much broader community appeal than just one museum doing something innovative.  The group wanted to demonstrate a productive, innovative, effective partnership model.  Other goals were to create sustainable and scaleable content and a technological model with potential for future re-use and growth across the heritage sector and to build a critical mass of high-quality digital learning.

Challenges are similar to CHIN’s Agora learning objects found in the teacher’s centre, where students are given tasks to accomplish while working through a virtual exhibit of items from the Museum’s collection.  Challenges include designing a variety of objects from furniture to clothing accessories, and learning about historical personages and architecture.
Creative Spaces is a social networking application that allows artists of all kinds to draw inspiration from participating museums’ collections.  Users make connections and form mini-communities of in interest around specific tools with museums and galleries as a continuing space of creativity & inspiration.  The website features 28 videos from users showing how different people are inspired by collections.

$50,000 in legal fees to draft contract arrangements, and one partner’s micromanagement caused some tension and caused one partner to drop out of the initiative.  Initially it was very difficult to convince people to participate and coordinate efforts, although all say it has been worth the effort.  Some hesitation was due to opening up of the interpretation of the collections by the general public and other museums. 

Lessons Learned:
1.      When embarking on group efforts, it is absolutely imperative to draft an agreement on the common purpose, both philosophically and practically, in order to prevent conflict and slow decision-making in the future.
2.      Developing services with time-limited project funding is high risk and makes sustainability more difficult to achieve.
3.      Collective action through partnerships for the public good is only feasible when there are clear benefits (financial, technical, political, etc.) for the individual museums that participate.
4.      Museums must effectively argue for the value of their public resource.

Next Steps:
A group of 8 museums are meeting with the BBC to discuss sharing access to their digital archives.  The idea is that for a small subscription or access fee, the Museums as well as other publicly funded cultural institutions in the UK will be able to easily access information that will assist in the interpretation of their own collections.

Britain’s Government Strategy
Known as “Digital Britain”, proposed legislation will “enable commercial schemes for dealing with orphan works to be set up on regulated basis”.  For people unfamiliar with the term, orphan works are items in your collection that fall under the copyright act, but for whatever reason the rights holder cannot be found.  This limits how the object can be used by the Museum.  The proposed legislation would also state that “powers to grant rights over certain works could be exercised collective licensing arrangement and to assume a mandate to collect fees on behalf of rights holders who have not specifically signed up to that society.”

Keynote: Preservation vs. Perpetration – How to Keep Art Performing
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Electronic Artist

The traditional opinion of artists has been that artworks go to museum to die, but the opposite can now be said, especially for digital works that would need to be moved to new platforms in order to be preserved.  From the artist`s perspective, it is absolutely imperative that their intention for preservation be sought before any such preservation work occurs.  Some artists prefer to allow the art to have an ``honourable death`` instead of being migrated to new platforms.  While opinions are changing, they have viewed museums as traditionally being paternal and condescending in regards with artists` intentions for their works.

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