One Size Does Not Fit All: Adapting the Institution for Collecting Time-Based Media Artworks

Morgan Kessler and Joseph G. Heinen
Electronic Media Review, Volume Six: 2019-2020


The past couple of decades have seen enormous strides in terms of institutions tackling the issue of managing time-based media (TBM) artworks. Dedicated positions have been created, professional organizations, training programs, and interest groups have been formed, residency and fellowship programs have been established, and open-source resource platforms and starter templates have been freely shared. However, some institutions are struggling to make a case for a TBM program beyond the occasional internship, fledgling committee, collection assessment, or one-off fellowship. Too often, TBM artworks are brought in before the infrastructure is in place to manage, let alone preserve them. Museums are plentiful with opportunities for this kind of dedicated conservation work, but they are also political environments—projects need to fit in with strategic initiatives, budgets fall under certain degrees of oversight and control, new positions need to go through rigorous rounds of approval, and staff turnover leads to information gaps and for work of this nature to slip through the cracks.

Although the standard for TBM management appears to fall within the purview of conservation, not every institution has a conservation department nor are these departments always in a position to lead this type of work relative to the institutional structure. It takes a village to manage TBM works after all, so what are some alternative ways that this work can be done which bears in mind institutional context? How can a TBM program be created across departments and budgets (or in the absence of a dedicated TBM budget line per se) or built off of existing infrastructure? How do you advocate from within and generate excitement and buzz around this work when museums are tackling so many initiatives at once and issues such as this are considered less pressing? How does one begin to break down silos and challenge gatekeepers, particularly in large institutions when work is divided and turfs are often explicitly defined? What options or platforms exist for sharing the work across institutions?

Based on our experience at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, we will demonstrate how we have grown our TBM conservation program from scratch on a strict budget with limited resources, particularly when change is initiated without a mandate from above. We will cover digital storage solutions, leveraging collaboration within various departments to effectively condition screen incoming TBM artworks, and creating institutional buy-in by creating an active and effective TBM committee. This talk will focus on suggestions and priorities for institutions with limited resources and employees as we discuss the lessons we have learned in our work. We are also planning on conducting a survey to gauge the varieties of ways that institutions are approaching this work, particularly ones similarly responding to the challenges of caring for TBM without the aid of dedicated staff, budgets, or defined programs.

Keywords: Time-based media, digital preservation, digital storage, planning, digital collections


Morgan Kessler
Media Specialist
Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Joseph G. Heinen
Digital Preservation Manager
Los Angeles County Museum of Art