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Collecting New Media Art: Impacts on art collecting policies

Award Information

AHRC ref: AH/J005908/1
Discipline: Visual Arts
Funding opportunity: Fellowship
Areas of Impact: Creative Industries Culture and heritage; Digital technologies; Knowledge exchange; Museums and policy; Policy influence; Skills and capacity building; Stimulatig debate and shifting perceptions
Lead RO: University of Sunderland

A series of AHRC-funded projects has transformed the practice and policy of international museum and gallery professionals in relation to collecting and exhibiting new media art. This has in turn led to economic benefits for the artists involved, and a richer experience for gallery audiences.

Over a number of years, the University of Sunderland-based project team at Curatorial Resource for Upstart Media Bliss (CRUMB) worked closely with the local-authority-funded Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston.

“The Exhibitions Officer at the Harris has been developing their exhibition, audience and collecting policies in relation to new media art over the course of 10 years,” explains project leader, Professor Beryl Graham. “In tandem with on-going support from CRUMB, this has built a strong national identity for the museum.”

Graham was involved in developing the Digital Aesthetic conference and exhibition at the Harris in 2001 and 2007. In 2010, the Harris’ exhibitions Officer attended the Commissioning & Collecting Variable Media CRUMB/CAS conference at BALTIC, Gateshead, which aimed to develop the collection of new media art in the UK, and was attended by 100 national and international curators.

Participants of the 2015 Curating Art after New Media – Professional Development Course.
Participants of the 2015 Curating Art after New Media – Professional Development Course at South Bank Centre with curators.

The long-term support of CRUMB contributed to changing the direction of the Harris’ collecting policy. In 2000, the first moving image piece entered their collection, and the first new media artwork followed in 2012. In 2013, CAS and The Art Fund awarded £30,000 to the Harris for further collecting. With acquisition fees of £10,000 for the Current project alone, the economic impact was felt by the organisations and artists concerned.

In a subsequent collaboration in 2011 with commissioning agency, folly, Graham was invited to sit on the selection panel for the Current: an experiment in collecting digital art  project. Together with project colleague, Dr Sarah Cook, she co-chaired the connected symposium Collecting Digital Art at the Harris.

“This was an integrated approach born out of the 2010 conference and CRUMB’s research,” Graham says. “Importantly, audience views on which artwork should be collected were taken into account as well as that of expert panels. This reflects my research on the importance of audience in curating new media art.”

The impact of CRUMB’s work continues to expand. Graham and her colleagues are regularly asked to contribute to books, conferences, and consultancies, including the Montabonel Foundation’s Art Institutions of the 21st Century: Curators’ Think Tank in Mexico, to share their knowledge and experience in this new and rapidly growing field of collecting. Graham’s 2014 edited book New Collecting purposely chose practicing curators, including those from V&A and SFMOMA, as chapter authors in order to transfer professional knowledge as well as academic knowledge in the field. In 2012, Graham was interviewed by the Financial Times: How to Spend It magazine, and highlighted the Harris’ policy, along with its economic impact. Her yearly Professional Development short course in London is fully subscribed, has included international curators from USA, China, Bahrain, India and Austria, and 100% of feedback forms from 2015 said that their future practice would be changed as a result.

For more information on the project visit: Curatorial Resource for Upstart Media Bliss (CRUMB).

Gateway to Research Project Links: Collecting Art: new media art and audience, Jun 12 - Feb 13     

Header image: Thomson and Craighead’s 'The distance travelled through our 20 solar system this year and all the barrels of oil remaining', 2011. Installation image from Current exhibition, 2011, at Harris Museum and Art Gallery. Image courtesy of the artists © Harris Museum and Art Gallery.