VRA 2014 Case Studies in International Resources, Robinson


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Presented by Amy Robinson at the Annual Conference of the Visual Resources Association, March 12-15, 2014 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Session #2: Case Studies in International Resources
MODERATOR: Bridget Madden, University of Chicago
Bridget Madden, University of Chicago
Patrice-Andre Prud'homme, Illinois State University
Amy Robinson, University for the Creative Arts (UK)
Andrea Schuler, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

This session will present four web resources that are international in origin, audience, material, and/or scope. The presenters will discuss various aspects of visual resources librarianship, including project management, workflow, cataloging, digitization, digital library platform design, interactive and special features, digital preservation, and collaboration.

Andrea Schuler will present the new digital library for Archnet, Patrice-Andre Prud’homme will speak about the creation of an interactive website for Niiyama Poetic Japanese Pottery, Amy Robinson will present the Zandra Rhodes Digital Study Collection which features digitized materials from the designer’s archive, and Bridget Madden will discuss hosting a public collection of the South Side Community Art Center’s images at an academic institution.

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  • I’m Amy Robinson and I’ve travelled from the United Kingdom for my first VRA Conference, and my first overseas conference, to tell you about this exciting project that I’ve had the privilege to be part of. This is the Zandra Rhodes Digital Study Collection project, which I project managed as part of my role between late 2011 and early 2013.So where have I come from, and who is behind this project?
  • I’m from UCA, which is the University for the Creative Arts. The University for the Creative Arts is a specialist art and design institution, with around 7000 students, based in the south of England in the UK.
  • The University has five campuses, across the southern counties of Kent and Surrey, which are all within an hour to two hours drive from London. These five campuses have their origins in a number of independent art and design colleges, dating back to the late 19th Century. In more recent years, through a series of mergers, these colleges were unified to become the University for the Creative Arts as we are known today.
  • Notable alumni of the University include British artist Tracey Emin, and the British fashion designers Karen Millen and Zandra Rhodes. The project that I am talking about today was a collaborative initiative between the University, and one of its former and highly successful students, Zandra Rhodes, who also became the University’s first Chancellor in 2010.
  • Zandra Rhodes, pictured here in her fashion studio, is among the most famous names in British fashion over the last fifty years and her work includes the design of dresses and garments that have been worn by icons such as Diana, Princess of Wales, Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Ross, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and Freddy Mercury from the British rock group ‘Queen’. She is particularly well known for her use of textile print design and for her bold use of colour, and her own image is as dramatic, glamorous, and extrovert as her designs. Here you can see the homepage of the Zandra Rhodes Digital Study Collection, which is at: zandrarhodes.ucreative.ac.uk.  Zandra has kept a sample of each one of her fashion designs since her first collection in 1969, which are held in trunks in her private fashion studio in London. She felt that she had collected all of these garments, and stored them for years, and she wanted to make them more accessible. Our Director of Research at the University at the time took the opportunity to respond to a Jisc funding call for digitization and Open Educational Resources (OERs), in order to digitise Zandra’s archive and make it available online. We were delighted to hear that the funding bid was successful. JISC is a publically funded body in the UK, who support the use of technologies in education. Over the past decade, they have been one of the key funders for digitisation in UK Universities.  The project set out to photograph and catalogue a selection of 500 garments out of the thousands in her archive and to make them openly available for free use in learning, teaching, and research, and under the terms of our funding, we released the collection under a non-commercial Creative Commons licence.  The project was very much a collaboration not only with Zandra and her studio staff, but across various departments of the University, including the Library, Learning Technologists, Research, and myself from VADS, which stands for the Visual Arts Data Service . VADS already hosts a huge online image archive of over 120,000 images free for use in education at vads.ac.uk. These images cover the broad range of the visual arts, including applied arts, architecture, design, fashion, fine art and media. We also involved the University’s fashion and textiles students in the project as paid interns, assisting with the unpacking, pressing, dressing, and identification of the garments.
  • There is a lot I could tell you about this project, and I would be delighted to answer any questions or tell you anything else during the conference. But for today’s presentation, I’m going to focus on my three top tips that I have taken from this experience.
  • My first tip is about creating a “living archive” of memories and techniques.By working directly with the designer in her studio in London, and not just by working with her archive of designs, we have captured a great deal of firsthand knowledge, insights, and understanding of her methods, inspiration, and the stories behind her garments. We’ve also captured knowledge from her Production Manager, who has worked with the designer since 1976, and was the last of the long standing members of staff at the studio who hadn’t yet retired. This has enhanced the metadata that we recorded about each item.We have also captured this information in the form of video interviews with the designer talking about the inspiration behind 20 key garments and collections that she chose from across her career, as well as video tutorials with the designer and her staff, demonstrating the process of making a typically handmade Zandra Rhodes dress. These tutorials step through the process from the initial idea and drawings in her sketchbook, through to screen printing the textile print design, through to the pattern cutting, and the final sewing of the garment.
  • My second tip is about providing opportunities for creative arts students to contribute to a ‘live project’. As you saw in the video, undergraduate fashion and textile students were working as paid interns on the project. And as one of them said, “I have gained skills and knowledge that I could never have learnt at uni alone…the fact I now have this experience behind me shows future employers that I am willing to work hard”.As the project progressed, we later identified further opportunities for students from other creative arts disciplines to contribute to the project. This included Film Production students who were invited to come and help film with Zandra in the studio. We also invited photography students to come and take portrait photographs of the designer in her studio, for use on the project website and in publicity. They also provided photography for the project launch event, which you can see here as a news item on the University’s website, and these images also featured in numerous press articles including in Hello! magazine. As one of the photography students said, “I had the privilege to photograph the evening…I had never worked with anyone of her status”.
  • My third and final tip is about how we have been able to use this experience to help researchers and students with managing their own data. Now that the Zandra Rhodes Digital Study Collection project is finished, I have been using the experience of this project as a case study in workshops for visual arts students and researchers, in order to give a real world example of the range of digital data management issues that they may face, and how they can potentially be approached. This guidance includes, for example, the importance of standards (such as the VRA metadata standard which we use as a basis for the VADS image database) as well as providing guidance in areas such as file formats, back-ups, preservation, copyright, and approaches to filenaming.These workshops are being delivered as part of a new project that I am working on – the Visual Arts Data Skills for Researchers (VADS4R) project, which is providing training on research data management in the visual arts. The project is a collaborative venture between UCA, Glasgow School of Art, and Falmouth University, and runs from 2013-14. I’ve been incorporating the Zandra Rhodes Digital Study Collection project and other case study examples into these workshops that we are delivering. This, I hope, will engage participants in the topics we are talking about and make these relatively new and unfamiliar terms of ‘digital curation’ and ‘data management’ easier to relate to.
  • Thank you to the VRA for having me here today, and to all of you for listening. Here are my contact details and the web addresses for the initiatives that I have mentioned, including:The Zandra Rhodes Digital Study Collection: zandrarhodes.ucreative.ac.ukThe VADS website: vads.ac.ukAnd the VADS4R website: www.vads4r.vads.ac.ukWith thanks to Jisc for supporting the project, and to the whole project team in particular Zandra Rhodes, and to the VRA Travel Awards and Art Libraries Society UK & Ireland for making my attendance at VRA possible.
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