Publishable summary of mid-term review report

As part of the mid-term review report that is requested by the European Commission in the framework of the mid-term project review, a publishable summary highlighting the most significant achievements in the first fifteen project months was written. The text describes the project's goals and objectives, the work progress and main achievements in the first fifteen months and finally the expected final results and their potential impact.

The project

Digitising Contemporary Art (DCA) is a 30-month digitisation project for contemporary art, i.e. art made after 1945 - a form of cultural heritage still largely missing in Europeana. It comprises a wide range of disciplines, from paintings, photographs, and sculptures to multimedia installations, book art and videos. DCA creates a digital corpus of high-quality reproductions of roughly 30,000 items including around 2,000 contextual documents. It also makes them accessible and retrievable through Europeana, not only as metadata and thumbnails but also direct links to qualitative reproductions of each item. DCA assures that the rights on all available digital content are cleared for online display. The supplied content, including masterpieces by key artists from most European countries, will fill a gap in Europeana‘s content supply. DCA’s corpus contains texts and images, as well as video and sound material that are still underrepresented in the portal.

The DCA consortium comprises four technical partners and twenty-one content providing partners from eleven EU Member States and one Associated Country (Iceland). The collecting institutions are mostly from countries that limp behind in making their cultural heritage accessible through Europeana, the so-called Tier 1 and Tier 2 countries.

DCA is the first and only collaborative European project focussing on the digitisation of contemporary art in general. It is a pioneer project in making contemporary art institutions familiar with both high-quality procedures of digitisation and Europeana.

The key objectives

DCA provides a basis from which to yield the highest quality reproductions, in consideration of the partner institution’s technical environment and financial resources. Special attention is given to including the whole life-cycle of a digitisation project into the procedures planned. The life-cycle of a digitisation project is made up of the following phases and steps:

Phases of digitisation trajectory

DCA deals with most of these steps. The exceptions are: selection (already made during the preparation of the DCA application), the presentation platform (will be Europeana, the partners‘ websites...) and the feedback system (feedback will be collected through Europeana, the partners‘ websites...).

The main issues for the DCA project are the definition of specifications for digitisation and metadata in order to make them interoperable and sustainable, and the choice of the appropriate aggregation solution for each institution. Ingestion within Europeana will be a major result of the project. The works being digitised in DCA mostly belong to small or medium-sized collecting institutions (mostly museums). This type of institution often experiences difficulties starting up or increasing the digitisation process and contribution to Europeana. DCA, as a collaborative project, offers such institutions the means, expertise and know-how required to make up arrears. Some of the DCA partners have already played an important role in European and national/regional digitisation projects. They have brought their expertise and know-how into the DCA project to share with other partners and apply to the field of contemporary art.

DCA does not only digitise contemporary artworks and make the resulting files and metadata accessible through Europeana. It also develops best practices in order to do so. Such practices are being developed on the grounds of expert assessment of digitisation procedures, equipment and parameters (e.g., file formats, codecs, compression levels), metadata schemes and database systems. They should ultimately lead to satisfactory search results as well as allow for serendipity. As a consequence they should incite active interest and further use of both the Europeana portal and the online presentation platforms of content partners.

In a nutshell all objectives relate to three wide goals:

  1. Carrying out the quality-driven and sustainable digitisation of contemporary artworks and related contextual documents while establishing best practices and guidelines.

  2. Promotion of European cultural heritage manifest in contemporary art by enhancing online access to digital reproductions and metadata for an interested public through Europeana and the online presentation platforms of content partners.

  3. Making contemporary art institutions familiar with Europeana.

La Llum, 1990 Petrificada Patrificante, 1978

Digitised works of art by Antoni Tàpies. Right: Petrificada Patrificante, 1978. Left: La Llum, 1990.

Work progress and main achievements in the first 15 months

The first six months of the DCA project were dedicated to establishing a framework that would allow for all content providers to plan their digitisation at an optimal resource-quality ratio. The framework was established on the stages and phases in the life-cycle of a digitisation project, and on best practices, expert knowledge and technical support. This required an extensive assessment of the status quo of the very different situations of each content partner, resulting in a digitisation plan. This plan details the targeted quality and schedule of identified content segments along the trajectory of the digitisation workflow. Only after six months, with all digitisation plans drafted, did the actual digitisation phase start.

The indicators show highly satisfactory progress after fifteen months, with figures exceeding all expectations. Nearly twice as many items have IPR cleared (9,827 items) and around 30% more items than anticipated were digitised (12,834 items). 12,508 of these digitised items were recorded in the partners’ collection management system with the appropriate metadata. This is already three times more than expected for the period. Aggregating digitised content and metadata to Europeana is planned for M22 onwards. This explains why currently only a fairly low number of digital reproductions have yet been placed online on the presentation platforms of the content partners (2,632 items online).

Parallel to the digitisation process, workshops were held to offer in-depth introductions to metadata schemes, file format and codec standards, XML exports, vocabularies, long-term preservation tools and strategies, aggregation procedures, copyright issues and the Europeana Data Exchange Agreement. The knowledge gained from the assessment of the content partners’ status quo was linked to the available expertise and experience in the consortium. This led to the creation of several deliverables. The first was a digitisation workflow description. Guidelines on metadata implementation and long-term preservation strategy followed, and both were published on the project website. Two other reports described the results of the content partners' assessment and of suitable aggregators for harvesting the metadata and thumbnails and ingesting them to Europeana.

Screenshot website

Screenshots of the DCA project website

A tool for monitoring the progress of the digitisation performance was implemented. The project management team has applied it successfully twice since starting the digitisation phase. It has also monitored the technical quality of the digitisation results once. This monitoring process also provided satisfactory results.

Dissemination activities have already started. At the kick-off meeting in Brussels on January 25, 2011 the project management team presented the core design and the project logo. They were unanimously accepted. A press briefing was already in place. All partners disseminate the project through their national press, present it at press conferences, on their websites, during meetings and conferences, or radio and TV interviews, … The DCA website offers a large amount of information and is regularly updated.

Expected final results and their potential impact

The digitisation of roughly 30,000 items from contemporary art collections and the ingestion of their metadata and thumbnails into Europeana constitute the immediate, tangible and final results targeted. Short and medium term impact expected is manifold.

The DCA project will add content to Europeana from both contemporary art institutions and European countries that have been lagging behind in providing content to the portal. Contemporary artworks will furthermore add to the diversity of content types in Europeana. DCA will not only provide access to texts and images, but also to other content types such as video and sound material. This new content will enrich the Europeana portal. An inherent characteristic of contemporary artworks is that they cover a broad range of topics and meanings.

Another impact will be the improvement of preservation policies within the institutions. The availability of high-quality digital reproductions will help to avoid possible wear and tear, damage and loss every time an artwork itself needs to be consulted (for instance for research purposes), and as such will prolong the longevity of the artwork. Documentation is an important requirement for the preservation of art, especially for forms of contemporary art that have a complex or ephemeral nature. Documentation is indeed often the only way to preserve the artwork. DCA creates such digital documentation, in the form of digital reproductions of both artworks and contextual documents.

The effect of DCA on the digitisation policies of participating institutions, and hopefully also in the medium term of other collecting institutions, is invaluable. It reinforces the growing interest of institutions in the online presentation of their collections.

Click here to download the full summary as PDF. Language: English

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