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The Bird Flies in Denver

This post was co-written by myself and Jennifer Geigel Mikulay.

Artworks that are displayed outdoors face different risks than those that are kept inside. The pigeon, for example, is a dangerous bird to bronze sculptures; the acids in guano can actually corrode a bronze patina in a fairly short time. Another risk public artworks face is that we simply stop caring. When we stop noticing the artworks that surround us, their significance and cultural context is lost.

(via Flickr user travelbex)

Enter Wikipedia Saves Public Art (WSPA) which we created as part of our Fall IUPUI Museum Studies class (you might remember our student, Elizabeth Basile, blogged about her personal experience with the project back in December). The logic of this project is to put information about public artworks into Wikipedia so that people won’t forget or stop caring about them. Yes, there’s a lot of guano in Wikipedia, but with its millions of viewers a day and openness to participation, it’s a vital resource for the cultural sector.

Before we started WSPA, there were only a handful of articles in Wikipedia about public art in Indianapolis—not so good for a city that brags about having more monuments than any city other than Washington, DC. Through our efforts, there are now 57 articles (and more each week) about local public artworks on Wikipedia. Since we started WSPA, our articles have been viewed more than 66,000 times. Now we are thinking big about how WSPA can truly become a global project and how to get more people to make articles about public art in their own town.

Recently, we’ve had a lot of help from Lori Byrd Phillips (an IUPUI Museum Studies graduate student) and Sarah Stierch (a soon-to-be George Washington University Graduate student, who runs her own blog, Sarah – Your Favorite Museum Intern. Together, we’ve begun developing “The Process” to help Wikipedians and public art advocates translate information contained in public databases into Wikipedia articles. For example, did you know that volunteers working through Heritage Preservation’s Save Outdoor Sculpture! surveyed Indianapolis in 1992-1994 and found 205 sculptures? Information about all of them is available online through the Smithsonian’s public database.

Thanks to Magnus for making the application that allowed us to make this chart

But a lot has happened in Indy’s world of public art since the early 1990s. That’s why actually going out and visiting the artworks is important—to verify the information contained in the Smithsonian’s database, to make note of any changes, and to use the tools of 2010 to research and share information about those changes. In addition to finding artworks surveyed by the SOS! folks, you can research new artworks that have been installed across the city. We’re grateful to have our laptops, cell phones, and Web-based tools that have allowed us to create these cool things:

Here’s the Flickr map that we are using to plot the location of the more than 500 images we’ve taken of public art in Indianapolis. By mapping them in Flickr we also resolve their GPS coordinates.

Here’s the Google map that we’re using to plot the original 205 SOS! entries from the Smithsonian database. While the Flickr map is a lot easier to use, we are also experimenting with Google Maps because its satellite maps are so much better.

And here are two Gowalla trips we’ve made for Indianapolis:

IUPUI Public Art Collection Highlights Tour.

Top 10 Public Artworks in Indianapolis.

Gowalla is an iPhone-based app that has a lot of potential for helping to geo-locate and photo document public artworks. Look, for example, at the number of people that have checked in and taken a photograph at the Texas Rangers Monument in Austin.

These tools have helped us locate, document, and share information about hundreds of public artworks in just a few weeks. With this information we will continue making Wikipedia articles about public art in Indianapolis. As mobile technology spreads (particularly GPS-based technologies), opportunities to care for public art will also grow.

Wikipedia Saves Public Art. Logo designed in 2009 by Michael Mikulay.

With all of this in mind, we’re excited about travelling to Denver next Tuesday to participate in the one-day workshop, Wikimedia@MW2010. Perhaps we’ll have a chance to discuss how WSPA is an effective tool for documenting collections of public art that are not well known beyond their distinct local context. Also in Denver, we’ll be joining Rob Stein to listen to Max Anderson and Samuel J. Klein (Wikimedia Board of Directors) give the keynote presentations and then work through important issues and ideas raised by other participants. Our experiences with WSPA have given us a few ideas for the cultural sector that we’d like to share in advance of Wikimedia@MW2010:

* In the spirit of the Encyclopédie and in particular the Descriptions des Arts et Métiers, Wikipedia can become the central hub of information about the materials, tools, and techniques artists have used and are currently using in their practices. Likewise, Wikipedia can become the central hub of information for the materials, tools, and techniques art conservators use in their work. An ideal article about a public artwork would include a material and technical description that was linked to corresponding and accurate information within Wikipedia.

* Public art today is often made using “current technology,” which presents an entire new set of issues. For example, Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain in Chicago is comprised of thousands of LEDs. Many technologies used in art quickly become outdated or difficult to update after a few short years. What if we could develop a similar “Conservation Status” for technologies like what exists for endangered animal species like the Bengal Tiger?

* Cultural institutions and public repositories should be encouraged to share their out-of-copyright images of art and put them in Wikimedia Commons.

* Finally, wouldn’t it be cool if the article about Art21 and all of its seasons was as thoroughly detailed and researched as iCarly’s?

What WSPA really needs, though, is for more people to make articles about public art in Wikipedia. Why not try it? If you need some inspiration, check out the “Template”, “Showcase,”, and “Open tasks”. And be sure to use the “talk pages” to leave feedback, questions, or ideas so we can all work together to make the project better.

Everything we know about Wikipedia and the other digital tools discussed above, we’ve learned by using our computers to experiment and engage in dialogue with more experienced contributors. (Wikipedia even gives “newbies” a sandbox to play in!) If you care about cultural heritage, you’ll find many kindred spirits in Wikipedia. That’s why we’d like to see you on Wikipedia, where we can work together and maybe even enjoy some Wiki Love. In an effort to bring some of the energy from Wikimedia@MW2010 directly back to Indianapolis, we’ve invited Liam Wyatt (Vice President, Wikimedia Australia) to give a public lecture at the Herron School of Art and Design on April 19 at 1:30 p.m. in the Basile Auditorium.

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Local, New Media, Technology, Travel

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