First projects dealing with backlog completed: a look back with the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp and Amsab Institute for Social History

20 Oct 2022

Since 2020, meemoo has been providing intensive support for organisations applying for funding in the context of dealing with the backlog of digital collection data. Now, in 2022, the first projects are drawing to a conclusion, with KMSKA Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp and Amsab Institute for Social History leading the way. So it’s the perfect time to look back and discuss our collaboration.

What does the project support involve?

In 2020, the Flemish Department of Culture, Youth and Media asked us to provide project support to organisations dealing with the backlog of digital collection data. We’re currently doing this for two waves of participants (2020 and 2021), from the application stage to completion.

A brief summary of this support process:

  1. All candidates are given the chance to explain their project proposal and seek advice in a pitch meeting.

  2. If they want, we help these candidate projects to prepare their grant applications.

  3. We then provide support throughout the entire course of the projects which are ultimately approved for funding. Every project is different, so we have to adapt to the participating organisations’ needs.

The projects in a nutshell

Amsab Institute for Social History: Architectural drawings. Movable and immovable heritage mapped out and linked.

This project was set up with Amsab Institute of Social History, Liberas (Liberal Archive), ADVN (Archive for National Movements) and Flanders Heritage Agency to validate and register architectural drawings, preserve the physical collection in a more sustainable way, digitise it, and finally store the digitised images in the long term, making them accessible and linking with metadata.

Interested? Read all about it at CEST, and FARO (all links in Dutch).

KMSKA Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp: Sustainable registration and access to collections using Iconclass.

With this project, the fine arts museums KMSKA, Mu.ZEE, MSK (Museum of Fine Arts Ghent) and M Leuven, together with project partners VKC (Flemish Art Collection) and RKD (Netherlands Institute for Art History), planned to facilitate the internal and external reuse of iconographic information in order to improve the searchability and findability of their collections.

Want to find out more? Dig deeper via KMSKA’s github or the handbook and project info on CEST (all links in Dutch)

Tips from experienced specialists

We came away from our discussions with these two organisations with some really useful information. Below, we highlight ten lessons that Kim Robensyn from Amsab and Nathalie Monteyne and Maaike De Prins from KMSKA learned from their project. What areas should we work on in terms of project support? What can you as an organisation learn from an ongoing project or plans for a future project? What knowledge can the wider cultural heritage sector gain?

Lesson 1

Prepare your project in detail (gain a good understanding of your dataset, needs, deliverables, potential stumbling blocks, required resources…). This will determine the future direction and progress of your project, and help you to work in a more focused way. Digging deeper into your digital collection data in advance can help you to identify potential issues, such as more cleaning-up work than originally anticipated, at an earlier stage.

- Nathalie, KMSKA

Lesson 2

If your project proposal isn’t accepted, try not to consider this preparatory work as a wasted effort; all preliminary research and ideas can sometimes be useful to revisit and implement in other ways or for other projects.

- Kim, Amsab-ISG

Lesson 3

Setting up and running a project with other organisations offers great added value – everyone brings their own expertise and knowledge network with them, helping you to take very informed decisions, even if it’s not always clear how to get everyone pulling in the same direction. That’s why we advise putting together an interdisciplinary project team to all work together.

- Nathalie, KMSKA

Lesson 4

Support is different for each project. We didn’t seek any help in the preparation our own grant application, for example, but we counted on meemoo to check it, which was very welcome as it helped us to put a lot of things in place and work out what we needed to pay attention to.

- Kim, Amsab-ISG

Lesson 5

The preparation before and accountability after a project are quite intensive. Ideally, these stages should also be part of the project and its funding, e.g. personnel costs.

- Kim, Amsab-ISG

Lesson 6

Keep an eye on meemoo training, such as the open cultural data bootcamp. We saved ourselves many hours of work thanks to the introduction to Open Refine!

- Maaike, KMSKA

Lesson 7

Projects never run exactly as they should in theory. Lots of things still need to be investigated and tested during the project, which can’t all be done in advance. So don’t be downhearted if something doesn’t go fully as planned. Our stumbling block was the limitations brought about by copyrights, and the balance we had to find between broad accessibility of digitised content and the legal reality.

- Kim, Amsab-ISG

Lesson 8

We found the presentations of results during the digital collection registration peer group meetings (link in Dutch) particularly interesting, but the presentation of approved projects was less useful for us.

- Kim, Amsab-ISG

Lesson 9

The digital collection registration peer group (link in Dutch) meetings are a great opportunity to make contacts with colleagues. It often turns out that you’re working on similar things as others in the field. We strongly believe that taking part in peer groups can still be really useful even when your own project is over: it helps us to keep inspiring and learning from each other, possibly leading to something being organised in a more structured way.

- Nathalie, KMSKA

Lesson 10

We found it immensely satisfying to contribute to work being done in the Flemish heritage sector and to share our project results via CEST, the ideal toolbox for cultural heritage standards, especially when there is then a response to it. The info that was already available on the platform was a great starting point: standards, guidelines, other organisations’ project information, etc. More work could be done to keep the platform up to date, however, as lots of the external links are outdated or no longer work.

- Maaike, KMSKA

How do we look back on the projects?

I really enjoy bringing different organisations into contact with each other. We notice that links between projects are enriching for both the institutions and the sector, thanks to the shared knowledge and expertise.

- Lise Ruts

Speaking from a privileged position: we get to follow a whole host of valuable projects from very close by, so we can really learn a lot from each other. In conclusion, I’m very proud of the first two completed projects. They’re both high-quality projects that help the sector to make progress.

- Astrid Vergauwe

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