I’ve just been poking around at the Big Art Mob website which was launched by Channel 4 earlier this year and picked up a Royal Television Society Innovation Award earlier this month. It aims to “create the UK’s first comprehensive survey of Public Art” using user-submitted camera phone pictures and a Google maps API.

Though part of the project seems to involve soliciting for feedback for what ‘public art’ is, and means, Big Art Mob also looks to endorse adopt a legal definition of ‘public art’:

The Copyright, Designs and Patents act 1988 defines Public Art as sculptures, buildings, models for buildings and “works of artistic craftsmanship” which are permanently situated in a public place or in premises open to the public.

This means you cannot walk into a gallery, for example, even a public gallery, and photograph a painting to send to Big Art Mob. Likewise you cannot go to a privately owned place, say a stately home, and photograph and send pictures of art there without permission.

This is a convenient way to try to avoid possible copyright infringement, or other legal difficulties surrounding the images that users submit. In keeping with the ‘public spirit’ of the project, the terms and conditions state that images contributed will be made available to others under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

It looks like a great project, and as well as being one of the first broadcaster endorsements of mobile blogging (as many people have pointed out), its looks as if it could generate a significant collection of CC licensed images displayed on the Big Art Map. However it would be even better if their images were fully open, and if the project made raw dumps of site location data and associated tags available for others to re-use!

The potential of open heritage resources – and an anecdote

Some of us at the OKF have been brainstorming about local heritage projects like this for a while. One line of thought is that linking user-generated material (including material from Flickr, Wikipedia, and so on) to material from local museums, libraries and archives could encourage the growth of a ‘public information ecology’ for local heritage. Naturally we think open licensing would help such an ecology to flourish – and would let developers to experiment with different kinds of interfaces to enable users explore, modify, extract and reuse material they are interested in. ‘Public art’ such as architecture, sculpture, and other landmarks is ideal subject matter for this!

I started thinking about the potential of open local heritage resources after my father and I spotted a stained glass window we both liked in a country church. He sent a picture of it to me (from his mobile phone), and later I tried to find out who might have done it. I was amazed at how much enthusiast-generated information was out there. For example, Stained Glass Window Records contains over 20,000 records from one hobbyist! After finding the organisation who invoiced the church for the glass I was able to narrow down the possible artists by comparing my picture with other images available on personal websites – until I spotted a striking resemblance with another window from the same period. I was furnished with a rough biography by cross-referencing Maltese genealogy and newspaper records.

This kind of impromptu amateur research has only fairly recently become possible. Many freely available resources out there are still not open. Imagine what kinds of applications would be possible if more hobbyists and institutions allowed the fruits of their labour to be re-combined and built upon!

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Dr. Jonathan Gray is Lecturer in Critical Infrastructure Studies at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London, where he is currently writing a book on data worlds. He is also Cofounder of the Public Data Lab; and Research Associate at the Digital Methods Initiative (University of Amsterdam) and the médialab (Sciences Po, Paris). More about his work can be found at jonathangray.org and he tweets at @jwyg.

5 thoughts on “Big Art Mob, public art and open heritage resources”

  1. It’s interesting to note that the amazing work for love not money that is Stained Glass Window Records has had only 10,852 visitors in the best part of two years (so marginal, even by blogging standards). This indicates an important role that Public Service Broadcasters like Channel 4 can play going forward into the fully digital age, helping aggregate and focus this kind of astonishing amateur (in the truest and best possible sense of: ‘lover of, someone passionate about’), amateur effort and energy, and bringing it to a bigger public.

    On Big Art Mob, for example, individual artists use the C4 commissioned infrastructure of the Mob site to record and promote their work e.g. Laura Williams at http://www.bigartmob.com/view/1599/ is leveraging Big Art Mob to the benefit of her wonderful Aluna project (http://www.alunatime.org/)

  2. Hi Jonathan, Alfie here from moblog:tech, we did the Big Art Mob build for CH4.

    Although the site is not API driven, every piece of content generates RSS somewhere. This is not clear on the current build, but we are moving onto a dramatically new build this coming week. This new build is exceptionally focussed on pushing content via RSS, in a way we hope will provide an easy way for folk to do cool things with it. All site content is as you say CC Non Comm. Attribution Sharealike licensed, so folk can do whatever they like with the content as long as they use the same license.

    I will look into how we might provide raw data from the mapping stuff, what would be an ideal format for you? I’d be happy to show you the new site btw, just drop me a mail if you’d like a wee look.


  3. That’s quite amazing how you were able to track down a hobbiest who had over 20000 records! Truly, there are people who are dedicated to preserving history and sharing that work with others.

    You are right – just imagine the possibilities if even greater collaboration could occur.

  4. Thanks for this blog and introducing me to the Big Art Mob website. What a great site paced full of amazing images. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license is so positive for the distribution and development of modern art; allowing others to to copy, distribute, display, share and make diritives of the work. Afterall, most artists are influanced by other artists, without this the modern artworld would not be progressive.

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