2021 Artist Files SIG Annual Meeting – Minutes

April 26, 2021, 1-2 pm ET

Thirty-two attendees, including the SIG’s two Co-coordinators, joined the 2021 virtual annual meeting. Co-coordinators Rebecca Friedman and Sara Ellis introduced themselves and provided the meeting agenda, as follows:


  1. Introductions
  2. Artist Files Directory update
  3. Themes that emerged from the Miro board last spring + Wikidata
  4. Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) initiatives
  5. Visit from Rebecca Price, incoming Vice-President to the ARLIS/NA Board
  6. Looking ahead:
    • What do attendees hope to get out of this group?
    • What would you like the SIG leadership to know and/or do in the coming year?

Meeting minutes and group discussion were recorded:

Artist Files Directory

The Artist Files Directory is a major project that the SIG would like to move forward. 

It was initially hosted by the Getty, but the platform became inaccessible over time. Sam Duncan (2017-2020 SIG Coordinator) revived it using WordPress. More recently, Sam has put a lot of work in on a new platform that is not yet widely available: Django, using Python/GitHub.

The SIG was advised at one point to reach out to the Digital Art History Directory (DAHD) group re: their instance of their directory on the forthcoming Humanities Commons hub. The Humanities Commons might not support what we need from this platform due to its technological limitations. 

If we keep the platform in Django, which is currently only on a local test server, we will need long-term, ongoing support. Rebecca shared some screenshots of the test pages. (The SIG put in an application for funding for continued development of the WordPress site at one point.)

There was some question about artist-level access, but this is not permissible with the directory currently: it is meant to be high-level descriptions of collections, as per Alexandra Riegl (2017-2018 SIG Coordinator).

Themes from the Miro board

The SIG has not met in-person since the 2019 Conference in Salt Lake City. In 2020, the SIG hosted a virtual meeting using the Miro platform for a one-week idea-sharing initiative. Themes that emerged include:

  • Digital Ephemera
  • Web Archiving – formal collaboration with NYARC/ARLIS Web Archiving SIG?
  • What other tools should the SIG explore?
  • Challenges of participating in web archiving efforts
  • Some organizations can’t adhere to all of the guidelines (Institutional restrictions? Different in-house cataloguing practices?)
  • Digitization efforts
  • Guidelines for resource sharing – some documentation is available and could inform (ALA, ACRL, etc.)

Further discussion ensued:

Anne E.: Wikidata may be a solution to some problems around cataloguing artist files, sharing institutional holdings/files on WorldCat, especially for print ephemera not in WorldCat. This can help make them discoverable in another way. She will be speaking about her artist file project at the Collection Development SIG meeting today at 3 pm.

Malia V.H.: The University of Hawaii Library won’t catalog archival material. There is a large artist file collection in the Jean Charlot Collection (painter, illustrator), of artists and writers he knew and worked with, so these names have been added to ArchivesSpace.

Anne E.: Same at the Smithsonian, so hopefully the Wikibase will help with the next phase. 

DEI Initiatives

  • E.g. Has anyone looked specifically for BIPOC names that may be in artist file collections?
  • Are efforts being made to add more diverse voices to these collections?
    Are there special digitization efforts focused on diversity? Other??  (discussion)  
  • Perhaps something manageable could be created and shared around how to reach out to artists of color, work with indigenous communities, etc.

There is potential for the SIG to meet late spring/early summer to discuss the topic more deeply.

Sherman C.: Raised point about working with NACO (LC/PCC name authority records) and concern about inclusion of gender, identity.

Sarah O.: The National Gallery has a collection from over the last 5 years of ephemera, artist files collected by Thurlow Evans Tibbs, Jr. (gallerist, collector) – Working on a Black artists’ encyclopedia project; the  Evans-Tibbs collection information is being added to Wikidata (working to improve visibility). The Wikidata/PCC project is a way to make this content differently visible.

Anne E.: Mentioned Anna Tomlinson at her institution (Vertical File/Special Collections librarian), who is also working in interesting areas.

Jane D.M.: The Vancouver Art Gallery is working with Indigenous artists’ files and stopped using LoC subject heading ‘Indians of North America,’ looking more closely at how artists self-identify (i.e., don’t assume or infer), looking at Black Canadian, Asian Canadian artists, and so on. See: https://www.vanartgallery.bc.ca/library-and-archives. Has 50,000 vols./5000 artist files. Records are not on OCLC; the Gallery uses a smaller system and thus has more flexibility.

Amy F.: The Art Gallery of Ontario has undertaken outreach measures to make the artist file collection more inclusive, working with EMILIA-AMALIA Feminist Working Group over last ~4 years to look at artist files and getting artists to self-identify how they wish to be represented, through an intersectional feminist lens (this is the 3rd iteration of the artist file fair, which invites artists to engage with file collection and complete an artist questionnaire) See: https://ago.ca/research/library-and-archives/artist-files-collection. (The SIG recently published an ‘Artist Files in Action’ blog post on this project).

Mary S.: The Frick is working with the same Wikidata/PCC project/pilot (mentioned above) and reviewing artist file names/holdings and looking to see if there is representation in the collection while looking to backfill gaps. There are over 40,000 names to reconcile (from mostly print ephemera). To backfill collection; lots of o.p. material to pursue. Will be speaking about this at Wednesday’s Collection Development SIG meeting.

Information sharing opportunities would be helpful. Could the SIG serve as a hub for discussing initiatives, be a clearinghouse for projects, moving beyond the local?

Sara E.: Mentioned a DEI initiative in her Chapter (Northwest). Artist talk from Seattle-based Elisheba Johnson of Wa Na Wari. Happy to see the video posted in the revitalized Learning Portal (now the ARLIS Channel on MSU’s Kaltura platform), which is an opportunity to make local events more widely known. Could the SIG plan to develop/record/share initiatives on the Kaltura hub going forward?

Visit from Rebecca Price

Rebecca, incoming Vice President on the ARLIS/NA Board, visited ~1:30pm to introduce herself to the SIG and say a few words.

Rebecca reminded the SIG that there will be a call late summer/fall for annual funding requests. There are also online forms for smaller requests throughout the year. This could help support any SIG initiatives.

What do attendees hope to get out of this group?

  • What would you like the SIG leadership to know/do in the coming year?  

Beth G.: More and more institutions are using digital files, how are others handling that material and working with both physical and born digital files? (Her institution has 4000 artist files going back to the early 1960s. Artists are including digital files now.)

Rebecca F.: Besides web archiving, what are other folks doing? 

Alice W:. How can we set web archiving collection parameters/goals that are realistic for long term planning? She has a small web archiving project that she would love to grow.

Alexandra R.: highlighted a chapter in a new publication:
Reigle, Alexandra E. and Underschultz, Simon. 2021. “Ephemeral Survival: Managing Physical and Digital Artist File Collections.” in The New Art Museum Library, edited by Nelson, Amelia and Timmons, Traci E., 43– 55. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. (This can be added to the bibliography on the SIG website).

Jane D.M.: The Vancouver Art Gallery is working with legacy files/collection (with focus on Vancouver/BC). Only creating new files for those who exhibit at the gallery and to meet the requirement for the Artists in Canada union files overseen by the National Gallery of Canada Library. Older files are not getting updated and there is a tighter focus overall than previously. Capacity/staffing are ongoing challenges. 

Many others are facing this as well within their own institutions, and local contexts.

Kathleen A. (Dallas Museum of Art) & Amy R. (National Gallery of Canada): Conversation in the chat about reviving and updating guidelines for sending out artist information forms. Moving from PDFs to online for improved access. (Something the SIG could revisit for broader discussion and idea-sharing?)


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