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Overview of MW98: Why you should attend MW98 Learn new skills to enhance your museum site Explore issues and controversies facing Museums and the Web Experts featured at MW98 Commercial products and services to enhance your web site Organizations supporting MW98: Online interchange regarding the virtual museum experience Juried awards to best web sites in 5 categories

Archives & Museum Informatics

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published April 1998
updated Nov. 2010


The Student Interactive Imaging Program:
Developing Marketable Skills Through a Web-enabled Database Project

William Kirby, Executive Director,
Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art, Toronto



The teaching of new technologies in schools presents valuable opportunities for museum / school partnerships - practical content projects with which to enable students to develop marketable technical skills, and cost-effective methods to assist museums in the automation and dissemination of their collections.

The Canadian Visual Arts Information Network (CCCAnet) is an on-line database project, profiling contemporary Canadian visual artists and their work along with related information on the visual arts in Canada. Much of the work involved in building the database and developing the CCCAnet website has been carried out by high school and art college students working through partnerships with The Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art (CCCA).

This presentation will describe the CCCAnet project, the CCCA's Student Interactive Imaging Program, illustrate the student-developed web site, and discuss the economic benefits of developing partnership with schools.

A National Electronic Visual Art Database

The Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art was founded as a not-for-profit, charitable arts organization committed to increasing public awareness of the visual arts in Canada.

With the belief that cultural information in general could have significant added value when it is shared and re-used rather than being re-collected in different forms by various organizations, the CCCA decided to establish a central, electronic source of reliable, up-to-date visual arts information that would reduce duplication and the need to collect and verify the same or similar information more than once.

The CCCA set out to compile a large, up-to-date database of information on Canadian visual artists and their work for distribution over the world wide web. From this central source, it seeks to give the visual arts in Canada a greater overall presence in the world by providing electronic access to quality Canadian visual arts content to the arts community, universities, schools and libraries, and to the general public across Canada and abroad.

Working Directly with Artists

To ensure the quality of the information it is assembling, the CCCA works directly with individual artists, thereby validating the information at its source. An initial request for participation was sent to 100 senior artists across Canada, asking them for 10 slides each, plus supporting information. Sixty artists responded to the first request.

Artists chose which slides to send in to represent their careers and supplied the basic image information - title, date, medium, dimensions, collection - and a description or artist statement (optional). The artists were also asked to send in a detailed CV and any other documentation on their work that they wished to include, such as catalogues and clippings.

The principles of copyright were resolved from the initial contact with the artists. The project and its objectives were outlined in detail, including details about image resolution, size, etc., and the artists were asked to agree to and sign 'conditions of use' forms.

In addition to working directly with artists, the CCCA is working with other visual arts and educational institutions and organizations to bring diverse information together into a continuously growing, comprehensive national visual arts resource and archive. Information from these other sources will keep its own integrity, but clearly will be enhanced by being coordinated within a national context.

Student Interactive Imaging Program

As a charitable organization, the CCCA had extremely limited resources with which to undertake this project. An informal conversation with a high school principal, however, gave us a solution. The Student Interactive Imaging Program was the name given to the collaborative partnership that we developed between the CCCA and Confederation High School in Nepean, Ontario. The high school's creative principal was very active in introducing new teaching methods and opportunities to his school, and had already developed a number of other collaborative partnerships with area businesses. The school was well-equipped with computers and electronic equipment and in all subject areas students were using technology to access, process and publish information. This setup provided an ideal environment in which to begin building the CCCA database.

Our goals in setting up this mutually beneficial partnership were educational as well as economic. We set out to introduce into the school a practical content project through which students could develop their technical skills and use the tools of technology to enhance their capacity to learn in a specialized subject area. We also wanted to give them practical business-related experience by working directly with a 'client'.

Subsequent meetings were held with some teachers and students at the school and it was decided to establish the project right in the school itself. A working area was set up in one of the school's computer labs, with space for the main project computer housing the database, a slide scanner, and two other computers for students to work on the imaging and web site projects. This allowed the students to work on the project when not attending regular classes, encouraged other students to stop by to have a look, and made it possible for other media classes to observe and comment as well.

The process
In the early stages of the program, equipment and techniques were tested and a prototype procedure was developed. While the students were remarkably proficient in the technical and creative aspects of imaging and editing, they needed more direct involvement in dealing with works of art. Rather than being creative in their approach, the challenge for them was to be as accurate as possible in matching the resulting scanned image with the original slide.

To raise the students' awareness of contemporary art, visits to art galleries and artists' studios were arranged. An artist expert in imaging and photo-editing was invited to the school to instruct the students on the 'finer points' of Photoshop and to help in deciding on the questions of image resolutions and file sizes. Students also browsed the web for other art sites, critiquing them and gathering ideas for use in developing the CCCAnet web site. They also sought out links related to contemporary Canadian visual art to be added to the CCCAnet links directory.

Wide range of learning possibilities
The program was subsequently introduced more broadly into the school curriculum. In addition to the students working directly on the imaging project and in developing the CCCAnet website, it soon involved art, media and marketing students working on class assignments such as designing a logo for CCCAnet and presenting the project in various public forums. A number of students were thus engaged in a wide range of learning activities, including:

  • digital imaging with slide and flat-bed scanners, and photo-editing of 35mm slides,
  • database concepts, and data entry of information related to the images and the artists,
  • HTML programming, website design and construction,
  • maintenance of the CCCAnet web site,
  • graphic design,
  • marketing and communications, and
  • contemporary Canadian art and artists.

    SchoolNet Digital Collections Program

    The Student Interactive Imaging Program has been supported in part by SchoolNet Digital Collections, an innovative program of Industry Canada designed to give young people entrepreneurial and technology-based job experience converting collections of cultural material into digital form. This program is part of the Canadian government's Youth Employment Strategy and makes funds available to engage young people to work with business firms, libraries, museums, archives, schools, community associations, public and non-governmental agencies and other organizations to produce digital versions of their holdings, and to make this material accessible on the Information Highway via the SchoolNet Digital Collections web site.

    The SchoolNet Digital Collections Program allowed the CCCA to hire students to continue working on the imaging and web site projects over the summer months.

    SchoolNet is a federal initiative in collaboration with provincial/territorial ministries of education to help connect all 16,500 schools (including all 417 First Nations schools under federal jurisdiction), and 3,400 public libraries across Canada to the Information Highway. SchoolNet's Community Access Project will provide up to 1,000 communities across Canada with access to the information highway through schools, libraries and other related institutions.

    To date, the SchoolNet Digital Collections Program has supported more than 100 projects concerning the fine arts, First Nations and aboriginal peoples, geography, history, literature, the social sciences, women, labour, business, science and technology. These projects are all on-line, and can be visited at www.schoolnet.ca/collections.

    Developing marketable skills

    Hiring students to work on the development of the Canadian Visual Arts Information Network provided a rich, multi-faceted environment that promoted many effective learning principles, and provided practical entry-level job experience that would assist the students in pursuing job opportunities or furthering their education following high school.

    It has been shown that students often become more effectively engaged in learning when they participate in activities that are authentic and which show them the relationship between what they are studying, and what exists in the real world. Students who worked on the design and development of the CCCAnet project not only acquired practical technical knowledge and business-related skills, but for the first time had a meaningful relationship with professional artists and their work, enhancing their involvement in, and understanding of, the visual arts.

    Enhanced learning environment
    The students who worked on the CCCAnet imaging project and developed the CCCAnet web site were engaged in a variety of cooperative roles which also enhanced learning. In the environment provided by this project, students were at different times partners, teammates, individuals and teachers themselves. This diversity of roles provided for greater contextual, real-life learning, and better ensured that the learning was integrated as real world learning should be. This expert / student relationship, which is often difficult to establish in schools, also contributed significantly to the development of the students' understanding of the visual arts.

    Throughout the project students were encouraged to communicate verbally with each other and with the CCCA's project manager, and to interact with others as their work was critiqued by other students and observors. The school had developed several active relationships with various high tech companies in the area, and there were often senior company officials touring the school, observing the project, and interacting with the students.

    Public presentation
    The project was also presented in various public forums, including a high profile 'Young Entrepreneurs Showcase' where the project team members were able to introduce and discuss their accomplishments with business and technology professionals.

    The Showcase was held during National Science and Technology Week and took place at Nortel, a major technology firm that is active in student placement projects. Confederation High School was one of fifteen schools to display some of their high technology projects, many of which involved partnerships or collaboration with firms and organizations in the community. A marketing class from the school made posters and handouts to present the project and various students greeted visitors and presented their projects. The first day was open only to Nortel employees and invited guests, and the second day was open to the general public.

    The CCCAnet World Wide Web Site
    When student work is valued beyond the walls of the school, the students' passion to learn is increased significantly. The knowledge that their work on this project would be 'published' on the world wide web and contribute to the appreciation of Canadian art around the world inspired the students to produce a quality product and contributed further to an enhanced learning experience.

    The learning environment provided by the Canadian Visual Arts Information Network and the Student Interactive Imaging Program has been dynamic and continually evolving, as new works were added to the database and changes to the web site took place. It has represented a learning opportunity that could be revisited many times.

    The CCCAnet web site was launched at a press conference and public demonstration at Confederation High School. The event was organized and conducted by students. Members of the media and guests from the education and business communities were invited. The students involved with the project demonstrated the scanning process and database, and guided guests through the website.

    The CCCAnet web site is comprised of two main elements:

  • The Canadian Visual Arts Database and
  • The Canadian Visual Arts Links Directory.

    The database currently presents over 2,000 images of works by more than 75 professional Canadian visual artists, an average of about 30 images per artist. In addition, it includes a visual arts directory of over 2,400 entries (including more than 1,600 artists; over 600 public galleries and artist-run centres; as well as dealers, art consultants, and other visual art professionals and organizations) and information on more than 200 contemporary art exhibitions and publications. Information and images of artists' work are regularly being added to the database as the material is received and as more artists join the CCCAnet project.

    In the coming months, more of this information will be made available on CCCAnet - detailed biographical information on individual artists, bibliographic references, artists' statements, exhibitions and related visual arts events, and information about art techniques and processes.

    The main objective in designing and developing the web site was to avoid making it appear like a database, but rather to be more like 'reading' about artists and their work, and the people and events that influenced them. While additional browsing and searching tools, such as browsing by image, will also be added as the site develops, the intent will be to maintain an overall user-friendly interface.

    The other main element of the website is an extensive links directory which provides links to more than 350 other sites related to the visual arts in Canada, categorized by province and territory, and under the following headings:

  • Artist Sites, Exhibitions and Projects,
  • Artist Groups, Organizations and Resources,
  • Artist-Run Centres and Virtual Galleries,
  • Public Art Galleries and Art Museums,
  • University Art Galleries and Art Museums,
  • Art Dealers,
  • Art Schools and Art Departments,
  • Art Journals, Art Magazines and E-Zines,
  • Cultural Organizations and Government Agencies,
  • Directories and Indexes, and
  • Copyright Sites.

    It is expected that CCCAnet will provide considerable assistance to artists who are faced with keeping many different institutions informed about themselves with up-to-date information, and to institutions that find it difficult to keep information about artists up-to-date due to shrinking resources. Participating artists will need only to keep the CCCA informed of new information for its database and the CCCA can then provide reliable, timely information to a wide range of interested institutions and individuals.

    CCCAnet will also be of considerable value to curators, teachers and students for teaching purposes and for research on the visual arts in Canada. It will assist publishers in locating images to illustrate books, the media for articles on the visual arts, and visitors from outside Canada in locating Canadian artists and information about them.


    The benefits of the Student Interactive Imaging Program partnerships have been many. It has provided students with a practical project through which to learn marketable technological skills, a new opportunity to experience contemporary Canadian art, and a community education-based method to aid in the building of an important national visual art information resource. It has also made it possible for the CCCA to begin building an important cultural resource with modest finances and resources.

    Success stories
    Working on this project not only equipped the students with new skills, but it gave them added confidence to undertake other projects, further their interests in information technology, and even set to up a student business:

  • The student who designed the CCCAnet logo, letterhead and business card was able to build an impressive portfolio and went on to community college in graphic design;
  • One of the imaging students became editor-in-chief of the school website and leads a team of students in designing, editing and maintaining it;
  • The designer of the CCCAnet website, designed his own site and has set up a web design business; and
  • Two other students gained added confidence to better represent themselves, and subsequently were accepted for placements with area technology firms.

    Opportunities for museums
    The concept of developing partnerships between schools and community businesses and cultural organizations is flexible and economically advantageous for all. Many schools are equipped with electronic equipment - computers, scanners, etc. and have a pool of talented students with a wide range of skills and who are motivated to learn.

    For museums and other cultural institutions such collaborations could provide a valuable, cost-effective method to aid in the automation and dissemination of their collections, provide real opportunities for students to interact intimately with museum collections, and enhance museum and school educational objectives. Creating such authentic learning opportunities enables students to apply their skills while making a valuable contribution to their community, and hopefully will encourage more young people to pursue cultural careers.

    Last modified: March 18, 1998. This file can be found below http://www.archimuse.com/mw98/
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