The AGH’s digitization lab is increasing access to artworks
Art Gallery of Hamilton’s new exhibit shows the process behind digitizing art
Art has early origins and continues to be relevant today. It’s important to collect and record art as a way of documenting history. However, what happens when art is documented but not immediately put up for display? They become a part of a collection of pieces hidden from the world.
The Art Gallery of Hamilton aims to address this issue with its Collections Digitization Project which began in Spring 2022 and will conclude in Spring 2024. The project aims to digitize many of the works kept in the vaults at AGH.
Andrea Howard, digitization collections assistant, emphasized that as the AGH is a publicly funded resource, it’s important to provide the public access to pieces which aren’t always on display. Moreover, the project team is prioritizing putting on underrepresented artists, such as Black, Indigenous and Persons of Colour and women artists.
“It is a really necessary project because we have well over 10,000 objects in our collection. The physical space that we have here at the museum means that we can only display 5 per cent of those works at a given time. That means the bulk of our works are in a vault and they're hidden from the public,” said Howard.
The project is funded by the Museums Assistance Program, specifically the Digital Access to Heritage, which is a program of the Department of Canadian Heritage. The funds were important for hiring people for the project, obtaining necessary licenses and receiving commissions and equipment.
The project has many aspects, one of which is focused on showcasing the process of digitizing art works. This exhibition will begin on Feb. 11, 2023 and will include installations and a behind the scenes look at the digitization process. Howard’s hope is to connect with the general population and show the public how much work goes into digitization.
“A part of this project has become an exhibition, that is going to be launching on [Feb. 11]. That exhibition is in part a digitization lab [and] part installation where we exhibit works and show some kind of hidden digitization labor that occurs in art museums,” said Howard.
Howard believes the Hamilton community will find the exhibit to be engaging. She’s worked closely with the AGH docents, who have shared positive feedback for the exhibit.
One of their more recent programs at AGH called Fridays at Four gives those curious a virtual look at the AGH’s permanent collection. Given the docents extensive knowledge on the collections within the museum, Howard is aware their feedback is vital. They’ve expressed how happy they are to see more pieces being digitalized and how they are being shared with visitors.
“I know from my experience with the docent . . . that they’re really excited about the growing number of images they are seeing and having access to. I know we have been getting a lot of engagement on social media with our images and I’m excited to see where it jumps off from there,” said Howard.
Currently, the AGH is working on three dimensional printing as part of the digitization project. The goal of this is to have art pieces 3D printed as a way to engage visitors in a new way. It will also allow for pieces to be preserved and protected, which is valuable in the storage of artworks.
“Our hope is to not only create 3D renderings that will live online, but also from those 3D renderings have some of our works 3D printed. That’ll be a really great way for the programming department to pass around our objects to feel,” said Howard.
The AGH hopes that people will come together to learn about the complex tools used to preserve artwork. They hope the project itself will be able to highlight work that isn’t always displayed and allow for work to be presented in a new format. The exhibit is one of the first ways in which visitors can see the direct process that goes behind digitizing works.