Ararat Gallery TAMA digitisation project delves into arts law

Ararat Gallery TAMA digitisation project delves into arts law

Photo: Frances Burke, Spider Orchid (place mat) c. 1955, Screen-printed cotton, 27 x 36 cm. Image courtesy of RMIT Design Archives, Ararat Rural City Council and MDP Photography & Video.

Ararat Gallery TAMA’s involvement in a pilot project to digitally photograph its permanent collection to make it more accessible to the community has prompted interesting investigations into arts law.

In 2019, the Gallery was selected as one of three regional gallery collections to participate in Creative Victoria’s Regional Digitisation Roadshow. This pilot program saw around 900 of TAMA’s collection items digitally photographed over five weeks in 2019, with the intention of publishing images of the works on the new Victorian Collections website for anyone to view anytime.

Ararat Rural City Council CEO Dr Tim Harrison said since then, the Gallery team has been assessing the copyright permissions the Gallery has, or needs to obtain, in order to publish the artworks online, a complicated process that has involved many phone calls, emails and meetings.

Dr Harrison said that in late 2019, to help with the process, the Gallery team connected with Arts Law, a community legal centre that provides services to artists and arts organisations.

“Staff spent several sessions discussing and developing a non-commercial copyright licence with an intellectual property lawyer from Arts Law, adapting one of their templates to fit the Gallery’s requirements,” he said.

“With advice from lawyers, the team has endeavoured to make the licence as future-proof as they can, keeping definitions open to hopefully allow for new publishing and cataloguing technologies that develop in the future.”

There are approximately 450 artworks to seek licences for. That isn’t necessarily 450 artists, as we may have up to 10 works by the same artist in our collection, but regardless, a significant undertaking to continue.

Dr Harrison said the digitisation project is a very important extension of the Gallery being a community owned facility as it means the collection will be accessible to a much broader cross-section of the population by being online.

Ararat Gallery TAMA was established in 1968 by Ararat residents who fundraised to acquire art works through a range of activities including a “discotheque”, pancake and champagne nights, and a “Bonza Booze and Bangers Nite”. This community led acquisition program continued until Ararat Rural City Council took over the facility in 2005.

Some interesting facts that have come out of the digitisation project include:

  • The Japanese Packaging collection consists of 186 objects – as these were commercially produced, they are out of copyright and the Gallery can publish images of them without a licence. Whilst digitising the associated files for this sub-collection the Gallery learned that the objects travelled around 10 galleries in Australia and 11 in New Zealand from 1979 to 1981 before being distributed between TAMA, the Art Gallery of NSW and the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston. They are in remarkable condition considering all that handling and travel.
  • The Grimwade Costume Collection includes around 450 items. The Gallery believes most of these will also be out of copyright due to the fashion brands producing commercially, but there may be some boutique/custom pieces that are still covered.
  • The Gallery holds 42 Lionel Lindsay works. The National Library of Australia is the intellectual property holder for his work and they have generously given TAMA permission to use the images.
  • There are 40 Frances Burke pieces – RMIT Design Archives are the intellectual property holders and have recently signed the licence.
  • The Gallery holds a handful of other works already in the public domain – that is, not protected by intellectual property laws as the artists died before 1955.

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