Sunday, February 13, 2011

Virtual Museum of Zambian Art - first orientation

The zamart business as of 16 Feb 2011 is on a seperate blog: ZamArt Blog

The text below serves to sound out interest in the establishment of a virtual museum of Zambian art. You are invited to post comments and suggestions.



by Gijsbert Witkamp*

version: 13 Feb 2011

1.     Purpose of text

The text below serves to gauge interest within Zambia and beyond for the establishment of the or a Virtual Museum of Zambian Art. By “art” I mean in the first place and initially modern visual art in Zambia. For reasons of convenience I’ll refer to the proposed museum as www.zamartmuseum.
        Substantial interest in Zambia is essential for such a project to succeed. Primary parties are the artists themselves and their organisations; NGO’s and charities supporting art development in Zambia; museums active in modern art collecting, preserving and exhibiting; educational institutions or facilities having art departments or courses; patrons of the arts and private collectors; gallery owners; students, writers and journalists of Zambian art – in short all those who have a deep and sincere interest in the development of Zambian art.
        Substantial interest beyond Zambia could take the form of support to establish the project. The nature of such support shall depend on Zambian interest in the project, and capabilities to initiate, manage and sustain it.

2.     Purpose of project

The purpose of the project is to develop and establish a virtual museum of Zambian modern art. A virtual museum is a museum constructed as a website. The functions / objectives of such a website are outlined below.
        It is relevant, in this regard, to note that there is no physical museum of (visual) art in Zambia to date. Equally relevant is that we have only one Zambian website dedicated to Zambian art, the www.arthostorg/insaka, last updated 26th July 2004. This site is/was affiliated with the Visual Arts Council of Zambia and has/had its office at Rockson Studio, Lusaka.

3.     What is www.zamartmuseum to do?

Physical museums, in theory, have a number of basic functions (such as preservation, conservation, documentation, presentation, exhibition, education and research). In practice a museum may concentrate on some of the above functions (rather than all of them) and possibly have others attached to it.
        The core function of a virtual museum is the gathering and storage of information and the provision of a channel to access such information. The type of information depends on the type of museum. Nowadays physical museums have developed and are developing virtual museums that allow the site visitor to, for example, make a museum tour or access a collection. (Try Google for this and you’ll see where we are going). Virtual museums may also incorporate interactive (educational) programmes and have special facilities for communication (social networks) about museum related topics.

What would we expect www.zamartmuseum to do? The site, in any case, should:

a.    Document:
a.1.   Art work (in Zambia or out of Zambia by artists having worked in Zambia)
a.2.   Artists (working or having worked in Zambia)
a.3.   Art organisations and institutions

b.    Be a platform for publications:
b.1.   On Zambian art, art events and art history
b.2.   Have bibliography and references of published and unpublished material

c.    Inform and educate:
c.1.   Have selected information readily accessible to site visitors
c.2.   Have virtual exhibitions as by slide shows
c.3.   Have interactive educational programmes

d.    Announcements:
d.1.   Exhibitions
d.2.   Other events / news

e.    Facilitate contacts:
e.1.   Provide addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, websites, Blogs, and social networks of art interested parties.

f.    Facilitate sales:
f.1.     Of art by an online art shop
f.2.     By referring interested parties to individual artists, art organisations and galleries
f.3.     By advertising (art, art materials, publications, art related services)

g.    Facilitate and stimulate debate:
g.1.   The site should be associated to a social network and/or Blog for public debate, exchange of views or information on current events and topics.

h.    Develop a strong income generating section:
h.1.   The site might “rent out” dedicated pages to individual artists and art interested parties.
h.2.   Charge a fee for services provided under (6).
h.3.   Produce and distribute cd’s with informative and educational material.
h.4.   Produce and distribute cd’s and perhaps dvd’s for professional documentation of art objects and art processes.

4.     Pro’s, Contra’s and Conditions

There are a number of clear advantages in setting up a www.zamartmuseum:
1.       It to some degree makes up for the current lack of a Zambian national art museum or gallery by making art information available.
2.       The cost of managing the site is only a fraction of the cost of running a physical museum.
3.       Global promotion of Zambian art, independent of location of the viewer.
4.       Flexibility: easy to add on, change or to remove.
5.       Once established site maintenance is relatively cheap.
6.       Development and site servicing can be done from any place having adequate connection.
7.       Possibility of interactive programmes and communication.
8.       Possibility of extending art education in schools.
9.       Unprecedented possibilities of participation and involvement by interested parties by provision of an internet platform.

Disadvantages are or might be:
1.       Slow transmission obstructs full use of facility.
1.1.   This a crucial issue. It may be necessary to have a “light” version especially of the imagery.
2.       Constant need to update site content. Danger of lax site management.

1.       You need the right people to do the job.
2.       Adequate internal and external support.
3.       Inbuilt drive to make the project self sustaining.

5.     Some practical notes and ideas

Status of organisation:
The project can be managed as a private enterprise, by a dedicated organisation established for that purpose (NGO type) or as a (autonomous) unit of a relevant, existing organisation.

Executive team must have advanced IT/website design skills; art historian competences, excellent writing, management and income generating capacities. If the organisation is to have a Board key players must be represented in it.

If the project idea catches on the best would be to put a small founding committee into place of key supporting / contributing parties or individuals.
This typically is a project that can start on a low budget to build up to a point where convincingly external support can be applied for and raised.

Initial needs:
1.       Equipment: Excellent camera and scanner; website software, image processing software, 1 laptop, 1 desktop, 1 external hard drive, 2 printers.
2.       Office furniture
3.       Transport / vehicle
4.       Technical competences


*      The author of this text and initiator of this project has worked in Zambia as an artist; artist’s organiser; anthropological researcher of art ; museum and crafts project manager; international development expert; and consultant for NGO’s in museum and crafts development, marketing and income generation.