NGO “Shevchenkivsky Hai”
Period of implementation: April 2016 – May 2017
Executive director: Yevhen Chervony
Context: Issues Addressed by the Project
The project, as implies the title, seeks two major objectives: cultural heritage digitalisation and updating. With this goal in mind, we have chosen to concentrate on the museum collections of several cities or towns (Lviv, Melitopol, Kamyanets-Podilskyi and Kremenets), because our organisation is active in the museum business sector, and the museums themselves represent some key players in the area of cultural heritage conservation. The project has provided for inclusion of an activity aimed at involving the two target groups: museum experts engaged in handling, maintaining, studying and representing the museum collections and the general internet audience as cultural heritage stakeholders. For the general internet audience it means being provided with an opportunity of grasping the amount of the available cultural heritage stock and its interconnectedness with it, and of forming the value-based criteria through museum collection institutionalisation, as well as an opportunity to develop the democratisation processes by way of granting an access to the cultural valuables using the digital media and by formation of the publicity principles without an attachment to the physical stay place, via the internet.
Within the project implementation process, we have discovered the need for modifying its implementation strategy, which was conceived at its initial stage, although its topical agenda and the target groups have remained intact. Originally, we intended to hold broader public workshops for the interested employees; however, as we have found out the face to face training and consultations implying an individual approach proved more efficient. At the project start, the museums invited used to decline invitations to participate, as they lacked confidence as to the success of any would-be changes, as well as because of other fears or concerns. Yet, as some pilot database versions appeared, along with examples of changes integrated by other entities, ever more museums seemed to be willing to become part of the digitalisation efforts. The first organisations involved in the digitalisation cooperation framework were the ones who had had knowledge of us and tended to trust us. The Ukrainian Ministry of Culture and the Ukrainian Museum Business Development Centre have formed a standard for an exhibit description and data exchange, thus indirectly encouraging the museum experts to pro-active moves related to the museum business digital component development.
Difficulties were also appearing in our way to involve our partners in the digitalisation exercise. The professional museum milieu is haunted by a number of fears and stereotypes, which are not easy to overcome at all. Firstly, it is a fear that digitalisation is just a matter for some illicit actions related to the collection; although digitalisation does not provide for taking any exhibits out, independent work in the museum depository or anything of the kind. Secondly, the fear was there to present the available collection itself on the internet, because, allegedly, all the stocks will become common knowledge and there will be no shortage of those who would intend to rob the museum, or else it will demotivate the potential visitors from going to the museum. However, the collaboration terms and conditions did not provide for demonstration of all the exhibits, but only those chosen by the museum itself. This is exactly why the particularly valuable and expensive exhibits might not have been presented to the broader public, or, the other way around, they might have been intrigued by the most exciting exhibits to cause their willingness to pay a visit to the museum and to contemplate the original thing. The antithesis to the statement on robbery was served by the fact that, in fact, availability of a digital copy provides evidence that the exhibit is owned by the institution and, based on its image, it is easier to recover it and return to the museum. A digital copy serves as a proof in a potential search for or sale of any misappropriated exhibits. The third fear was exactly provision to a third party (which was represented by an NGO) of an access to the museum deposits, because we could see “what we should not see” or else play the role of a watchdog agency and disclose the fact of a poor exhibit safety situation. This is where the institution managers and deposit custodians saw a threat to themselves, although it was not our goal, when planning the project; on the contrary, we had sought to assist them in demonstration of their best show-pieces and, when the employees themselves did the exhibit selection work, no threats appeared. All the above things have posed the greatest challenge to our organisation, which is not referred to the state-owned, legislative or executive sector, but operates as a non-profit-making organization.
A change in format of the project implementation, which implied a departure from the formation of a single cultural heritage database on a joint platform towards the formation of specific institutions’ individual websites, which institutions are capable of sharing information and displaying data in a format needed, has provided several opportunities for the digitalisation process optimisation and further development. A decision was made instead of developing an in-house software product to utilise a ready-made tested and flexible product to be developed in the future and maintained by the professional community, while the involved entities themselves will not be responsible for its further maintenance or support. Within the framework of the Currently Central Digitalised Cultural Heritage project, the Providence collection management system has been adopted to meet the needs of the Ukrainian museum environment. The first step was represented by creating a Ukrainian linguistic version for an easier use in the Ukrainian sector. The next step was to formulate the criteria relevant to show-piece description according to the national and international standards, which would enable a prompt information exchange process with the cultural heritage custodian entities and for an internal collection management. In summary, the museum in this respect performs two functions at a time: promotion and access provision, while building simultaneously its own database of the available exhibits. The digital collection management tools will be in the future transferred to be owned by the museums themselves. It will provide them with an opportunity to keep on working on the cultural heritage digitalisation and to replenish and update information all by themselves without our organisation’s involvement.
Our organisation Shevchenko’s Grove has acted as a consultant and served as an intermediary between the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture with its formal requirement and the museum itself, which was in need of a specific operational decision on the issues pertinent to the digitalised collection management and presentation. This kind of situation clearly demonstrates the role played by such projects as ours, whereby the non-government sector fills in the gap between the institutional competences and the formal government agency postulates, the government and the state being the general titleholder of the cultural patrimony. It will allow us to keep on providing our consulting services to the interested museums or other heritage sector entities also in the future.
Organisational and Partner Network Development
Already now we can observe the positive effects produced by the digitalisation efforts. The interested professionals, upon reviewing their colleagues’ collections, try to contact them for joint exhibition and research arrangements. A great number of digitalised and accessible online exhibits help to promote the museum itself and the collection it holds. Placing the data on the Europeana world cultural heritage segregator will be instrumental in engaging both foreign colleagues and visitors in interaction. Adding their digitalised collections on the Europeana will fill the gap of absent Ukrainian cultural heritage segment and will assist in integration into the general European context, because as of today just 3 Ukrainian institutions are represented there.
Our pilot projects (artgallery.lviv.ua, kremenets.com.ua, lvivskansen.org and melitopol-museum.zp.ua) have led to motivating also other museums to commence the digitalisation process. It is our ambition that after a full-fledged setting and launch of all the pilot projects an organisational network will be developed to begin the digitalisation work. The general meeting of the CHOICE project members used to discuss a possible involvement of other partners from outside the museum sector in creation of the intangible cultural heritage register. It enables putting in place the existing working principles related to handling the cultural patrimony in the area of digital technologies, upgrading the issue and developing an ontological structure and a skeleton construct pertinent to data administration.
By and large, the CHOICE project has allowed our organisation to develop its contact network and to establish itself as a reliable partner. The digitalised materials will be used in museum and cultural heritage presentations, as interactive platforms at exhibitions, as well as informative interactive monitors intended for tourists.
Digitalisation is a global trend in the cultural heritage sphere and it expands the available leverage of administration, preservation, insight and promotion. We as an entity have gained a valuable experience within the project framework and shall keep on sharing information to meet our common goal: providing an access to the cultural heritage and its updating as a significant manifestation of the human genesis. Today it is particularly important to comprehend that a country’s cultural heritage may not belong to one nation or state alone, but makes part of the global culture produced by the entire humanity.