Digital R&D fund for the arts

splashburgerInternet and Web Development

Oct 22, 2013 (3 years and 7 months ago)

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Digital R&D fund for the arts


Data and archiving


Podcast
4

transcript


John Wilson:


Hello, and welcome to the fourth in a series of podcasts by Arts Council England,
looking at key digital topics broug
ht to light by the Digital R&D fund for the a
rts
;

the
seven million pound investment in digital projects across the arts sector, delivered by
Arts Council England, Nesta, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council, in
partnership.


This programme is all about data and archiving. There are a huge number

of arts based
collections out there, with many arts organisations holding, and indeed creating them all
the time. But how can digital technology help to make these archives and the data
within them accessible and useful?


In this programme we’ll be explo
ring a number of data and archive projects, including
one from the Public Catalogue Foundation, making available
huge amounts of public art
work;


Andrew Ellis:



By the end of 2012 around 210,000 paintings will be on the Your Paintings website.
Those wil
l come from approaching 3,000 collections across the United Kingdom. Those
paintings are the work of approaching 50,000 artists.


John Wilson:


The British Museum’
s approach to data and archives;


Dominic Oldman:



Some organisations might have information that The British Museum doesn’t have.
There’s some information the British Museum has that those other organisations don’t
have. But by combining them, and combining them with rules about that information, we

may b
e able to infer additional information that none of those organisations knew
before.


John Wilson:


Another view co
mes from the Google Art Project;


James Davis:



Some visitors want an official curatorial view only, and other people want to say what
they want to say only, and other people have a sort of range of responses in
-
between.
It’s about a tailored, customised set of thinking that caters for a wide range of
p
ossibilities.


John Wilson:


Along with how the use of the arch
ives has changed with the t
imes;



Catherine Kimbell:



We’ve had gay and lesbian records that have suddenly been discovered because
someone’s effectively decoded what they were called in Vict
orian and pre
-
Victorian
times, so all the time we’re trying to harvest what users are finding out about the
records, and adding that to the sum to
tal of what we know about them.


John Wilson:


But first to my guests on the programme today, and joining me i
n the studio are Drew
Hemment from FutureEverything, Bill Thompson from the BBC, and Dr. Paul Gerhardt,
who runs the Independent Consultancy Archives for Creativity. Welcome to you all.

A word of introduction, first of all. Drew, tell us, what is FutureEv
erything, and how does
the organisation use archives and data?


Drew Hemment:



FutureEverything

is a digital arts festival and an innovation lab. We’ve been involved in
open data projects for quite some years. As a cultural organisation we don’t hold a
collection but we’re very much engaged and inspired by the potential of living archives.



John Wil
son:


Bill Thompson, you made a brief appearance on an earlier podcast. You work at the
BBC. You're in the Archives Development Department. What does that involve?


Bill Thompson:



Developing the archive, that’s the easy way to say it. But I glory in the
title of Head of
Partnerships Development within Archive Development. There’s a lot of developing
going on. Really I'm part of a small group that’s thinking about how the BBC can get the
most public value from the things it has stored over the years.


The

BBC’s archive is massive and growing every day. It’s been curated. It’s been
looked after, largely so that it can serve the interests of the BBC itself, in terms of
programme makers. What else could be done with it? How could the BBC work closely
with oth
er institutions that either create or curate material on behalf of the public to
enhance its value to everyone?


John Wilson:


Paul Gerhardt; I presume you're serving a similar role but within the wider arts sector,
offering advice on how arts organisation
s can make use of their archives and make
them more available to the public?


Dr. Paul Gerhardt:



Yes, part of the job is to put together the arguments, to help them frame and win the
funding they need
,

in order to carry out the digitisation of their archives, in order to make
them publicly accessible.


John Wilson:


Well, an obvious place to start when looking at the archives is, of course, The National
Archives. Earlier this week we spoke to Caroline K
imbell, Head of Licensing at The
National Archives about why digitisation is so important.






Catherine Kimbell:


Far more people can interact with documents when they're online than can physically sit
in a reading room with a box in front of them. The ratio here is about 200 to 220 views of
a document online to every 1 production here, so access is a big one.


But a
nother main reason is preservation. I think certainly if your collection or your
material gets used in an education context, then if you are not Google
-
able, to this
generation of students you don’t exist. If you can’t Google it, it isn’t there, and it’s n
ot
going to get used.


Even if it’s only a very top level description of what you’ve got, or what you do, or where
you're going, and you can’t find it online, you're really going to struggle to A) reach the
‘born digital’ generation as your audience and y
our participants.


As a result you’re going to struggle to convince your funders what it is that you're doing
and how you let people know about it, because the digital route to finding out what’s
going on is the primary route these days, for most people.


John Wilson:


Caroline Kimbell, Head of Licensing at The National Archives, on the issues of access
and preservation of data.


Bill Thompson, an important point that she made there is that there’s a generational
thing, isn’t there? To a younger generati
on, if you're not there within the Google setup
you don’t exist.


Bill Thompson:



Yes, she said that, and it may be true, but I think that’s a problem, not something we
should be endorsing. The fact is, Google
-
able does not mean, or should not mean,
finda
ble.


There are many other ways to get access to information than using Google. To believe
that something has to be in a search engine in order to be found is, I think, to betray a
lack of understanding of how the internet works now and how the web could
work in the
future.


There is an enormous amount of development about technologies, things like the
Semantic Web, that would red
uce the need for search engines.


John Wilson:


Yes, we’re going to talk about that later actually.


Bill Thompson:



Well, the point about the Semantic Web, and other things like that, is that you don’t then
have to have this very simple
-
minded approach. That you type in some key words into a
form on a web page and it finds your stuff. You actually do proper, serious res
earch.


It seems to me that Caroline is slightly giving in to the laziness of young people and the
commercial interests of Google, by saying, ‘If it’s not Google
-
able, it might as well not
exist.’ If it’s not visible on a screen it might as well not exist
. I agree entirely. The
material has to be digitised. But we shouldn’t just accept the one model of search that
Google have built their business around and which they seem to see as the only one we
should accept.


John Wilson:


Paul Gerhardt, do you agree
with that?


Dr. Paul Gerhardt:


Let’s take one step back and say the good thing is that what we can no longer do is to
separate the task of preservation from the task of access. There was a time when
institutions and curators, could spend all of their work
ing lives making sure stuff was
looked after
,
well labelled and behind closed doors. You cannot do that today. If you're
going to invest in preservation then you've got to at the same time invest in the means
of making that material available outside of th
e institution.


John Wilson:


Well

let’s move on and take a look at the specific arts archive which has evolved with
the development of technology over the last few years, to offer the public an insig
ht into
dance and choreography.


The Siobhan Davies Repl
ay Project began in 2006 in partnership with Coventry
University, the AHRC and the Arts Council. It’s believed to be the first digital dance
archive in the UK, possibly even the world.


Sarah Whatley, the archive’s Principal Investigator for the project,
explains why and
how they did it.


Sarah Whatley:



Siobhan Davies Replay is a digital dance archive. It includes nearly all of the material
documentation, film media, still image, textual material, relating to the work of Siobhan
Davies, the
choreographer. Principally from 1988, which is the point where she
established her own company, but it also reaches further back to the early 1970s.



In a way it mirrors the development of contemporary dance in Britain. You can find
many, many videos. We
wanted to emphasise video because in dance it’s i
ncredibly
difficult, even today

with YouTube, Vimeo and all the other online platforms, it’s actually
still quite difficult to get access to dance. Certainly in 2006, when we began the project,
which doesn’t

seem that long ago, it was almost impossible
to get access to dance on
film.


But in addition it includes thousands of images, still images, photography of the work in
production, and in rehearsal.


One of the more exciting aspects, we think, is a lot of

unseen documentation. Film
material of the studio based work
;

the dancers in the studio, in rehearsal, making work.
From a user point of view you get a glimpse into the dancers’ making/thinking process.

We’ve also got two prototypes, which we call kitche
ns. They're places where the user
can see very much all the layers that formulate a single choreography. The kitchens
provide access to all of those rough sketches and processes along the way to the work
being finished.


Why we like them is because it gav
e us a chance to play with the visual design. The
visual design of the kitchen reflects something of the design of the dance. For example
in ‘Birdsong’, which is a work that’s made in the round, so it’s a circular choreography,
the visual design captures s
omething of those concentric circles, and how the work
moves inwards and outwards to the centre of the circle.




John Wilson:


Paul Gerhardt, let me turn to you first of all. We heard Sarah Whatley there talking
about how the Siobhan Davies Replay Archive

helps to present not only the finished
project, but also talks us back through

and

shows us the creative process. That seems
to me like a very good model for other arts organisations. It could be quite inspirational.


Dr. Paul Gerhardt:


I think it’s a great model, and I think it’s a good demonstration that a small archive,
focused on a particular art form, can design a relationship with the user that’s going to
really fulfil the purpose.


There’s an important point here, which is there a
re issues around our big national
archives that are very complex, and difficult, and are being tackled.

But what the smaller
archives;
the arts bodies, and the cultural bodies with interesting small archives, what
they should do is not wait for these big g
laciers to start to move, because they can do
really interesting things already. That’s a very good example from the Siobhan Davies
Dance Studio.


There’s another one
.

I
f you look at the British Council, and the work they’ve done on
their small but fascin
ating archive of films made in the 1940s, which were made for an
overseas audience. They have been rediscovered, digitised, put on the British Council
site and reinterpreted by a young team working for New Deal of the Mind. It’s a really
fascinating exampl
e of how a new generation has interpreted a bunch of material that
was created well, well before they were born, and probably their parents as well.


John Wilson:


Drew Hemment, the key here is being proactive with the archive. Again, it’s not letting it
sit there, but it’s actually doing something new with it. You can create something new
out of what’s been sitting there in the past.


Drew Hemment:


Absolutely. But I think the nice thing of the Siobhan Davies Archive, and what it can
illustrate to people
thinking of taking on this challenge themselves, is there’s a question
that comes before that actually, which is the question of what you capture.



I thought that illustrated really nicely how you give people access to dance. What we
saw there was it’s no
t just about the video; it’s

all those additional materials.

T
hat really
nice idea of revealing the different layers of the choreography, capturing that. Also I very
much like the way that the design was very sympathetic to the art form, that the

visual
de
sign really responded.


John Wilson:


Yes, she was saying how it mirrored what was happening in the dance piece itself, on
the screen.


Drew Hemment:



Yes, so I think there you’ve got a really good illustration of someone who’s really
thought through what

they're trying to capture, and how the final form’s going to be
appropriate and is going to enable an audience to get access to that work.


John Wilson:


Partnerships are very important. Building an archive from scratch can be a difficult
business, and it’s clear that establishing a partnership between organisations is crucial
to a lot of these digitisation projects. I’d like to take a look at two different

ventures
involving partnerships that are bringing art to the online world.


Firstly, Andrew Ellis

from the Public Catalogue Foundation, the PCF, whose work to
digitise oil paintings from all the public collections from across the UK enabled the Your
Pain
tings project, partnered not only with the BBC, but also with the audience, by
inviting them to add their own labels, or tags, to the art.


Andrew Ellis:


We were interested in the idea of involving the public in helping in some way.
Particularly given th
at projects, particularly in the US a project called The Steve Project,
ran out of Indianapolis and Washington, I think, was using social tagging processes to
show how audiences were actually using different words to catalogue paintings to the
words that w
ere being used by the authoritative curators. That interested us, because
obviously it’s the audience’s vocabulary really which is the one that’s going to be used
to do the searching.



What really determined the direction we took was coming across a project ran out of the
Astrophysics Department in Oxford, called Galaxy Zoo, in which they had a million
photographs of galaxies. Their PhD students were labelling them one by one. It was
tak
ing a long, long time.


They came up

with a fantastic web interface
-

a tutorial for the public

-

explained to the
public how you identify different galaxies. They put some very clever algorithms behind
the scenes to raise the reliability of the data.


T
hat struck us as being a good way forward, so we talked to them, and we talked to the
University of Glasgow, about the art historical classification systems we wanted in place
and also an audience focused consultancy that the BBC brought in to tell us how
the
public wanted to find paintings online.


We brought all that together, created a classification system that suited both the art
historians and the public, and then with the algorithms generated by the astrophysicists
we created Your Paintings Tagger.
That is our mechanism for asking the public to help
us to classify and tag

-

with key words

-

the paintings on the Your Paintings website.


John Wilson:


Andrew Ellis, from the Public Catalogue Foundation.


Now, in the second example of a partnership vent
ure, the Google Art Project sees
gallery spaces and art works from across the world being put online. James Davis, from
the Google Cultural Institute, explains more.


James Davis:


On the art project specifically we’re working with around 151 partners from about 40
countries around the world. This is expanding all the time. You can see in terms of the
scale of how the project has increased. From 17 museums a year ago, it’s around 150

museums now.


This is because the cultural sector and their audiences both agree that a platform like
this is a very good way forward and our audience write to us and they tell us so. They
provide us feedback which we incorporate into the product. Becaus
e we know it’s not
perfect. We’re continually trying to innovate, and add new features and use new
technologies, but also increase the accessibility, so that we can get to an even wider

audience. Because we all believe that art actually has a massive audie
nce online that is
as yet untapped, so we’re just beginning.


One of the advantages that we have is that we use lots of Goog
le’s platforms and
technologies
-

some of the invisible stuff that you’re not really aware of when you're a
user of google.com. The
re’s so much incredible powerful technology going on behind
the scenes that you don’t really appreciate when you are just using google.com search.
We use tools like App Engine and Picasa to drive how this project works, and this is to
our advantage that we

have access to those.


One of the challenges, if anyone else was trying to put something like this together, is
what projects and services they would use to drive things behind the scenes. I’d have to
say that we own some of the best products and service
s to do that. Anyone is welcome
to use Google products and services for their own ends, and lots of art related products
use Google technologies behind the scenes.


John Wilson:


Well there we are. We heard James Davis from Google,

and before him Andrew Ellis
from the Public Catalogue Foundation

-

two different approaches to similar projects.
We’re talking about partnerships here.


Bill Thompson, let me just ask you about Google first of all there. They’re offering this
service for

free. You can visualise galleries around the world. You can see paintings on
walls. What do Google get out of it?


Bill Thompson:


Well, Google get a number of things out of it. Firstly, they just get visibility, and
exposure, and are seen to be nice peop
le. Let’s not underestimate the importance of
the PR aspect of it. They also get to try out these tools and services in different
environments, more interesting environments.


But let’s not forget the fact there are people in Google, who we have just hear
d of there,
like Steve Crossan, who runs the Google Cultural Institute, who really care about this
stuff, who actually do want to make significant partnerships, who want to make the
world a better place, who have this bag of tools and technologies they’ve
got from
Google and can use it in interesting projects that cost Google very, very little. There are
all these things going on.



However, at the core of it, you should remember the internet mantra: ‘If you're not
paying for something, then you’re the thin
g being sold’. Ultimately what Google get out
of this is more ways to expose more people to adverts online, which is how they make
money.


John Wilson:


Paul, so Google there, according to Bill, is taking the commercial long view. At the
moment, with opening up the galleries, putting them all online, it all looks very
benevolent. It looks very altruistic.


Dr. Paul Gerhardt:


Obviously that would depend a

lot on your long
-
term understanding of Google, its
strategy, and where it’s going to sit.


But it’s not dissimilar from the partnership strategy of the Public Catalogue Foundation
that Andrew described. Because the reason that Your Paintings was able to
be
effectively launched, and to get the reach that I hope it has today, is because it was
launched in partnership with the BBC.


Also, in exactly the same way that Bill described, the BBC is benefiting from an
association with a national collection of oil

paintings throughout the UK. It’s benefiting
from being able to link that collection to its own programmes on art when they go out in
peak time, and to say, ‘If you enjoyed that programme, go and see these paintings, or
go to that gallery’.


It’s been ju
st as important for the Public Catalogue Foundation to find that major
partnership, in order to win eyeballs, and to get the access it needs, as it has been for
the galleries to work with Google.


John Wilson:


Well, let’s look at how tools are needed to develop large scale archiving and data
management.


We heard earlier Andrew Ellis explaining the tagger tool that the Public Catalogue
Foundation and the BBC have created in the Your Paintings project.


But duri
ng this summer of British sporting success, the V&A have been producing a
collaborative archive with its audience about the Olympics and the Paralympics, using
the well
-
established image archiving tool, Flickr.



The audience was asked to upload photos ont
o Flickr of any graphics relating to the
games. This could have been anything from quirky shop displays to the road markings
of lane closures, protest signs and ticket designs.


Catherine Flood, curator in the Word and Image Department at the V&A tells us

why
they use the audience’s help.


Catherine Flood:


We decided that Flickr would be a good place to host it. Then we promoted it through
Facebook, and Twitter and also through a blog on the V&A site. We pulled out some of
the interesting contrasts that w
e’ve got between graphics supporting the Olympics,
graphics criticising it, scale, projects that were projected over buildings, right down to
little stickers on the Tube. We just pulled out some of the themes and wrote about them
on the blog.


There was a

little bit of encouragement to begin with. We took quite a lot of our own
images to give people an idea of the sort of things they might include. But then it was
really up to people to interpret it the way that they wanted to.


When we catalogue actual p
hysical objects in our collection, we pay quite a lot of
attention to tagging and key words. Obviously when you hand that over to the public,
you can’t control it. But I think what we might do, when we download these images from
Flickr, if we have the reso
urces to, we might add some more tags of our own, to make it
a more usable database for researchers in the future.


John Wilson:


Catherine Flood from the V&A.


Paul, Catherine here was saying that curators felt they needed to often add their own
tags and
to correct what had been created by the public. Doesn’t that defeat the whole
object of the exercise though?




Dr. Paul Gerhardt:


I think potentially it could, but I would prefer to interpret that as a sensible engagement
with the audience. There has to be a to and fro. There has to be a respect for the
understanding that curators bring to the material, as well as an interest in, and

a
welcoming for the vocabulary of the audience, as Andrew Ellis put it very effectively
earlier on.


I'm just thinking of another example of audience engagement which, if you like, goes
beyond the tagging approach. That is the archive that’s been establi
shed by the film
director Sally Potter.


She has put her professional work, much of the private research and production work
behind her films, online, in an archive called The Sally Potter Archive, known as
SPARK.


What SPARK offers to users is the opport
unity to actually develop learning pathways
through Sally Potter’s work. It could be the colour of a dress that was worn in one of her
films. You follow through the design, the decisions made, the production shape, and
work out the thinking and the methods

behind it.


These learning pathways become part of the richness of the site itself. You can jump
on, piggy
-
back them. You can explore them yourself. You can develop your own
pathways. Opening up audience engagement can be a very rich experience in its ow
n
right.


John Wilson:


Bill Thompson, you’ve mentioned metadata, and we’ve been talking about the ways in
which the archives and the data can be classified through labelling and tagging. Just
explain in a bit more detail about the idea of metadata, and w
hy it’s so important.


Bill Thompson:


Well, in a sense, metadata isn’t even an idea. It is just the catalogue. As in it is the
description of an asset, of an artefact, of an item in the archive. It is useful, technically,
to distinguish between the record
ing of a podcast, or a television programme, or a still
photograph, if you like the bits that make up the actual thing
;

the asset, and how it is
described. That’s the metadata. It’s the data about the data.



What’s of interest, what’s exciting, is how you structure it. That you don’t just collect a
500 word description of something, but you actually break it down into a series of fields
with values, to say the recording date, the length, the bit rate, the name
s of the
contributors. If those contributors have names like John Wilson or Paul Gerhardt, you
link that in some way to bibliographical records of those people.


You start to create a mesh of interlinked information that allows you to position a
particula
r asset within the overall framework of an art form, or an organisation, or an
individual. That allows you to take the journeys that Paul was talking about earlier and
go from one collection to another collection seamlessly.


John Wilson:


This needs structural coherence though, doesn’t it, for the information that one
organisation is uploading to be understood by another organisation, for it all to mesh
together?


We heard earlier, you used the phrase Semantic Web. Let’s have another examp
le.
This is Dominic Oldman, Deputy Head of the Information Systems Department at The
British Museum, one of the leading research museums in the UK, describing his
approach to the Semantic Web and how it can be useful at the BM.


Dominic Oldman:


The proble
m is that museums all have different databases. They always use different
ways of formatting their data within a database schema. Syntactically we’re completely
at odds with each other.


Also, semantically we don’t describe the data in the same way, as we
ll. We have
different taxonomies. We have different terminologies for describing our data.

The Semantic Web allows us to put our data in a format which is compatible
syntactically. But also it allows us to describe or map our data, to descriptions which a
re
common between different organisations.


Instead of having a web page that has a location address, a URL, like
www.britishmuseum.org
, you put those addresses on individual pieces of data, so
instead of linki
ng between pages, you link between pieces of data.



Because you do that, you can combine data from different sites, and you can start
pulling them into your own applications, manipulating them, and analysing them and
perhaps even inferring new knowledge fr
om them, if you're combining them with
knowledge of other organisations.


In the Semantic Web there’s another term called Linked Data. Linked Data allows you to
set these hyperlinks between different snippets of data from different organisations. The
Sema
ntic Web is about describing those snippets of information in a very similar way.

If I describe an object in the same sort of way as the V&A or a university, then I can
establish not just hyperlinks between pieces of data, but potentially I can link data
simply by having an agreement about what those pieces of data mean.


That means that possibly I can federate searches across different organisations without
actually having any particular link between them, simply just having a common
understanding of wha
t that data means. It acts like a single database.


John Wilson:


That’s Dominic Oldman from The British Museum.


Now, all this talk of data taxonomy and Semantic Webs, I can imagine there’s a lot of
arts organisations that would find this stuff pretty
daunting. Okay, so I'm a small arts
organisation. I have digital assets. I can’t speak this language. I'm being left behind, I
think. I have a mass of data. I've collected it. I have no technologically inclined
employees. Where do I start then?


Dr. Paul G
erhardt:


I think probably one of the things that unfortunately we have to say, is that you mustn’t
start from the language that you’ve already developed around your own assets because
that’s going to be misleading. We’re talking about external standards h
ere, not ones that
come out of your experience and your direct relationship with the material.


You will have to get advice. You will have to talk to people like Bill, and others, who can
provide some expertise and guidance on minimum approaches that are
required, in
order to eventually standardise your metadata with some of these other projects.





Bill Thompson:


Paul’s absolutely right, you do need advice. But there are projects out there which are
trying to educate the sector.


I've been working with
in the BBC on The Space. It’s this attempt to bring the best of
digital art to every screen. As part of being part of The Space, you have to give us
metadata. We tell you what we need.


There is a metadata scheme underpinning The Space website, which we h
ave
mandated. Now that’s partly because it’s the only way to make it work, but also partly to
educate the arts organisations to say, ‘This is the sort of stuff you will need.’


John Wilson:


‘Get used to it.’


Bill Thompson:


Exactly.

Well, no, not get used to it, but learn about it a bit, appreciate why it is useful.
We hope that will give them the ability to take part in some of the wide range of activities
that are around for arts organisations that want to get involved with digital

projects, and
services, and stuff like that. Like, for example, hack days.


John Wilson:


Hack days Drew, that’s when you are asking people to come in and hold your hand for a
bit and help you through this process?


Drew Hemment:


Hack days are one of a
number of mechanisms for really trying to exploit the potential of
these archives and databases. Hack days would tend to be maybe a workshop, with
some coders and developers coming together with some of the data managers. They
may start with some problems
or some challenges. You might just get your hands dirty
on some data, and really try and see what kind of applications you can build, and how
you can stru
cture that around a particular
-

in this case cultural


organisation’s needs.




John Wilson:


Well

le
t’s look at some of the opportunities and the challenges that arise when thinking
about other organisations accessing the data in the archives for their own websites, and
how you can develop a system that enables them to do this.


One way of opening up yo
ur data is through what’s known as an API, Application
Programming Interface, a kind of technological conduit into a big software system.

One example of a cultural organisation offering the use of their API is the Brooklyn
Museum in New York. Their API is



and I'm quoting from their website here


‘A set of
services that you can use to display Brooklyn Museum Collection images and data in
your own applications.’ Incidentally, Art Fin
der, and the Google Art Project

have both
used the Brooklyn Museum’s API
to display the

collections on their websites.


Drew, there’s a question of trust here, I presume, isn’t there, that you're offering up this
information, this technology, and hoping that other people are going to use it well?


Drew Hemment:


I think there are two sides to that. One is people using your technology. One is about
accessing the cultural content as well.


I think the point just made is a fundamental one. We’re really looking at a shift here
where we’re looking at recorded culture
being made available to people.


API is one of the ways to give people access to a platform. The key there is that you're
allowing people to build on your work, and you're giving access to that work, so yes
there are issues of trust. But I think I’d flip
that and say the starting point is a spirit of
generosity. Again, as a point
-


John Wilson:


Which is what Paul was just saying there.


Drew Hemment:


-
previously well made. That’s not new. The aberration is modern so
ciety that locks
culture down.
We’re returning to a situation where culture is more about a living
tradition, where we can build on the work of others, as we’ve always really done.



John Wilson:


Which to me sounds like API facilitates that sort of spirit then?


Bill Thompson:


It does
, absolutely, just because it gives you an easy way to identify what’s there, and to
get your hands on it, and use it in new ways.


Also it’s a way that doesn’t necessarily remove it from where it’s originally being stored.
Crucially, with an API as the m
ethod of accessing a collection, the ori
ginal collection
remains intact

and where it was, but it can be used in a variety of different ways.


You have that link back to the provenance, you actually know where something came
from, whereas if you just throw

everything into the big digital bucket, you don’t know
what came from where.


That doesn’t mean it can’t be used creatively, but in the context of our discussion about
digital archives, and cataloguing, and cultural heritage, once you break those
connect
ions it becomes much harder to assert the cultural value of something.


John Wilson:


But if it can be used creatively, it can be misused creatively as well, I presume?


Bill Thompson:



But use and misuse are the same term when it comes to creative use
surely?


Dr. Paul Gerhardt:


Misuse has always
been possible. It wasn’t a game.


Bill Thompson:


It should be encouraged Paul.




Dr. Paul Gerhardt:


It wasn’t invented in the digital era. It’s always been there. Indeed misuse is in the eye
of the beholder.

A creative use of material will be interpreted by some as being an
abuse of that access and by others as being the most creative response to it. We have
to take that
on board

as part of our process of trust.


John Wilson:


Drew, on this question of the sh
aring of data on open data systems, this is something
that you're pursuing within FutureEverything at the moment, isn’t it?


Drew Hemment:


There’s a parallel with all this interest in opening up and making accessible cultural
experiences, and cultural works, and that is the movement around open data. Usually
that’s thought of in the context of government data, public data about our lives, our

transport, our weather etc.


There’s a movement to making that available, publishing that in accessible formats, in
formats that computers can read and make use of, in order to make government more
transparent, but also to spark innovation, so that people can access that data and
crea
te new services that wouldn’t have been conceivable previously.


That really prefigures many of these discussions and debates in the cultural space and
we can certainly learn from that. There’s been lots of work done about the underlying
infrastructure, t
he standards, that resonates through this debate, and it’s very much a
parallel concern.


John Wilson:


There are opportunities for arts organisations to use their data in cr
eative ways. Data
visualisation
-

this is almost creating visual patterns with dat
a, isn’t it?


Drew Hemment:


Well, data visualisation is maybe one branch of data arts. Data visualisation is a means
of making data intelligible, so it’s actually, I’d say, more of a design practice than an art
,


strictly speaking. One of the issues about
data is it is zeros and ones. Machines can
understand it, but we can’t.


Data visualisation is a very, very particular practice, which is all about interrogating,
exploring that data, writing algorithms and code to manipulate that, to expose different
dim
ensions, to reveal some picture about the patterns, about the stories that the data is
trying to tell us.


John Wilson:


This technology is developing all the time, things are happening so quickly, so this might
be a very difficult question. It’s crystal
ball time here. I want to ask my guests what they
think the future holds for data and archiving across the arts and cultural sector.


Paul, traditionally archives have always been about the past, but what about the future
for the past?


Dr. Paul Gerhardt:


I think we’re going to be moving on from the concept of archive. The word archive very
much still has locked within it this notion of institutions that hold material, which they
have sufficient control over, to release in dribs and drabs however they wis
h.


In essence what we’re talking about, are collections of our cultural memory. Those
centres of memory are going to have to become as important to the public, the learner,
the teacher, as our

public libraries of books are.


We’re going to have to find
ways in which we can draw on the public value, the
educational value of those collections, particularly moving image collections


which is
my particular interest


in the same way that we can draw on the printed word. As we
have done for 500 years, since
Gutenberg.


John Wilson:


Bill Thompson?






Bill Thompson:


I agree entirely with what Paul said. If there’s been a degree of consensus around the
table today, it’s partly because the three of us have been thinking seriously about these
issues for a long
time and have come to similar conclusions.


If you observe the impact of the technology, something’s become obvious. We need to
have standards for digitisation so that the material can be made accessible. We need to
have an emerging ontology, with a vocab
ulary and a taxonomy for the metadata, so that
we can find the stuff that could be accessed. We need to sort out a rights framework,
and new forms of artistic expression so that people can make use of this material, both
to highlight the old and to create
the new.


We do something for the arts that is similar to what the internet has done for commerce,
and the military, and governments, over the last 15 or 20 years. We actually take
advantage of the affordances of this new platform to revitalise all of our

creative
practice.


John Wilson:


That’s the key opportunity, Drew, is that the archives will not just be about
understanding the past. It will be about creating the way that we understand the present
and will be developing new artistic practices in the f
uture.


Drew Hemment:


One thing that is new about today is that every interaction we make that involves any
kind of digital tool, leaves a trace. Many of those interactions are with art works. For the
first time we are creating these living archives and w
e’re interacting with historic
archives in new ways. We’re transforming them into much more dynamic entities. This
does really open up some very exciting opportunities, some not insignificant challenges
,

and you’ve been hearing some of the ambition and som
e of the drive and commitment
that’s looking at that space right now.


John Wilson:


Well we’d very much like to hear from you on all of the subjects raised in this podcast.
Plea
se do Tweet us at #artsdigital.



Many thanks to my guests: Drew Hemment
, Bill Thompson and Dr. Paul Gerhardt.


Female Presenter:


The Digital R&D f
und for the
a
rts is open for applications until 30 December 2013. To
find out more information or to apply, visit www.artsdigitalrnd.org.uk.


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