Unsustainable Digital Cultural Collections

Jo Ana Morfin (jo.morfin@gmail.com), UNAM, Mexico

This paper analyzes how in the context of Mexican museums, the lack of policies, frameworks and strategic planning has led to the creation of unsustainable cultural digital collections. It focuses on the challenges in rescuing the digital collection “Bienal Internacional de Poesía Visual y Experimental” [Biennale of Visual and Experimental Poetry], held at the Mediateque of the Museo Universitario del Chopo.

The Mexican artists Araceli Zúñiga y César Espinosa organized the International Biennales of Visual and Experimental Poetry between 1985 and 2009. These events brought together practitioners from all over the world whose work is placed at the intersections of the fields of contemporary visual writing, copy art, concrete music, mail art and performance.

Throughout the years, Zúñiga and Espinosa became interested in creating a “memory” of these events. Therefore, they started to gather videos, mail art works, photography, artistic electrography, from each event. The collection was stored at their house and classified and organized by the artists themselves. Through the years, the collection became a key source for researching and tracing the development of alternative and experimental art practices in Mexico.

Given the significance of this collection and with the aim of preserving and providing greater access to its contents, Zúñiga and Espinosa agreed with the Museo Universitario del Chopo in digitizing the materials and donating a digital version to be included in the collection of the museum. Over 2,000 artworks were digitized. In 2015 the museum received a grant to put these contents online. However, during the development of the project we realized that most of the digital objects were unstable. Given this situation, the project focused on rescuing this digital collection from the oblivion.

The project brought to light several concerns, such as the lack of a digital preservation planning, the deficient use of metadata standards, the shortage of expertise, and more importantly, the lack of institutional policies to create sustainable digital collections. The museum´s team did not follow clear guidelines, standards and best practices for the creation of digital objects and their subsequence management. Thus affecting the ability to read, access and understand the digital materials.

This poster describes the rescuing process and the guidelines we create in order to prevent the creation of unsustainable digital collections within cultural memory institutions.