44th Annual Meeting – Electronic Media Group Session, May 15, "Matters in Media Art III: Sustaining Digital Video Art" by Martina Haidvogl and Peter Oleksik

This talk announced the completion of the latest phase of the Matters in Media Art project focusing on digital preservation and assessment of digital video, and marked the official re-launch of the project’s website, mattersinmediaart.org. The website is the product of a collaborative effort over many years by teams of staff members from Tate, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the New Art Trust. In this talk, Peter Oleksik and Martina Haidvogl, media conservators at MoMA and SFMOMA respectively, provided a background and history of the Matters in Media Art project and walked the audience through the new website.

The New Art Trust was founded in 1997 by Pamela and Richard Kramlich, pioneering collectors of media art. In 2003 they approached the three museums with some funds to gather the four institutions together to discuss emerging practices in the care of media art, and the “Matters in Media Art” project was born. The first phase focused on lending and was launched in 2005. The second phase launched in 2008 and focused on acquisitions, and the third phase began in 2011. The scope of the third phase was originally going to be sustaining digital art; however, this proved too broad, as it could have included all digital art (software-based art, web-based/net art, graphics, and more). The effort was instead fine-tuned to focus on digital preservation and assessment of digital video. The speakers explained that the length of the third phase exceeded the other two not only because the original scope was too broad, but because the field was evolving so rapidly that material they were creating ended up in a constant state of revision. To address this, the group made two decisions: first, to launch a new website encompassing all phases of the project at this AIC Annual Meeting (to provide a much-needed deadline), and second, to create a dynamic resource that could evolve with ongoing input from the wider conservation community. They felt that the project should be a resource for multiple audiences and provide a framework for ongoing collaboration, rather than represent a single perspective and a static endpoint.

The new Matters in Media Art website is hosted on Github, situating the content in an open-source environment where anyone can make suggestions for revisions and additions. The group felt that moving away from closed platforms and static white papers would enable these resources to stay current despite the dynamic pace of change in the field generally. The text of the website was written by teams at the partner institutions and collaboratively edited during bi-weekly virtual meetings. The design team created mock-ups and design tests, coordinated user trials, and solicited and consolidated pre-launch feedback from users within and outside the conservation community. All the work on the third phase was done as a volunteer staff effort with no grant or other project-specific funding.

The speakers then walked the audience through the site in real time. They explained that materials from the first two phases required only minimal updates. The teams worked to ensure there is no outdated information from the first two phases on the site. The new “Documentation” section includes cataloging, condition reports, and assessing digital video. The new section on “Sustaining Digital Art” describes how to store digital works successfully. This section is framed by a survey as a first step that guides the reader through the rest of the section, enabling the reader to develop a plan specific to their needs.

The new material speaks to all audiences: individual, collector, and institution. Some in the audience remarked that this made the recommendations less focused and the site text-heavy. The speakers agreed that it was ambitious and emphasized that the teams want, invite, and need feedback to make refinements and speak to multiple audiences even more effectively.

Contribution guidelines were recently finalized on the website and include ways for users to provide feedback via Github or in a simple online survey. The speakers urged the audience to visit the site and provide their opinions. The project was also announced with a flyer provided to all conference attendees, to encourage anyone dealing with media conservation at their institution to consult this valuable new resource.