QAGOMA’s campaign to ‘Unlock the Collection’ publicly launched in early 2021, with the goal of raising $5 million to increase digital access to the Collection and position the Gallery as leader in digital content creation. In late 2022, the QAGOMA Foundation successfully achieved this fundraising target, thanks to the generous support of more than 660 donors who have helped the Gallery open the doors to our storerooms and accomplish significant progress in making the entire Collection available to audiences.
The transformative ‘Unlock the Collection’ project encompasses several activities, with digitising the Collection to contemporary standards being the largest undertaking, including the goal of exceeding 95% digitisation in 2024. Philanthropic support from QAGOMA’s giving community has made a significant impact in this area, enabling over 5200 artworks to be digitised to date. With work continuing, the project is on track to exceed this digitisation target next year.
A new Collection Online platform launched in November 2021 after extensive development and beta-testing by the Gallery community, has also been realised to make artworks, images and content more easily discoverable and accessible to audiences everywhere. QAGOMA’s Collection Online now consists of over 100 000 pages, including more than 20 000 object pages, with weekly releases of new content and monthly releases of additional features, including digital stories, behind-the-scenes content, artist videos and high-resolution imagery. Since its launch, visitor access to the Collection has increased fivefold.
Since August 2022, eight Digital Stories have been published on the Collection Online platform, capturing everything from exhibitions, with a focus on the Gallery’s flagship series, ‘The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT) to intensive conservation activities, with many more in development.
In addition to providing greater access to the Collection online, the Digital Transformation team are also developing applications for visitors to make finding artwork information on-site as easy as taking a photo on their device A pilot version of artSEEker — QAGOMA’s art recognition app — was launched on 22 April to coincide with the opening of the 2023 Creative Generation Excellence Awards in Visual Art at GOMA. The app can recognise artworks directly through the camera of a mobile phone, without the need for a wall label or QR code, linking through to additional information, supporting content and interactive elements. Following the official launch, the app will be scaled to recognise all Collection based exhibitions and Collection objects, offering visitors an exciting new level of engagement and opportunities for access on site.
Donors to the ‘Unlock the Collection’ campaign have also supported the employment of 12 staff positions across key project areas, with a focus on providing paid internships and fostering graduate and early-career opportunities in a major arts institution. The campaign has also supported three Digital Residencies. 2021 Digital Resident, Queensland University of Technology’s Associate Professor of Digital Pedagogies Dr Kate Thompson’s research revealed how digital experiences can best engage virtual and onsite visitors. 2022 Digital Resident, prominent creative technologist and artist Jessie Hughes, researched the role of emerging technologies, including Web3, NFTs and the Metaverse, to determine their potential to impact major collecting institutions like QAGOMA. The 2023 Digital Residency will commence later this year.
The campaign also funded two significant First Nations research programs: one focused on the untitled ceremonial figure attributed to Fred Embrey (Kabi Kabi people) and its contribution and role to culture, which, with deep consultation with Fred Embrey’s family, will digitally capture the full presence of this rare and remarkable work, and share personal community-based stories that link the significance of the object to its place, its maker and its people; and the other to enable the digitisation of QAGOMA’s Hermannsburg collection and associated research material, including production of video interviews with community and descendants. QAGOMA holds one of Australia’s strongest collections of works from the Hermannsburg School, including some 230 items comprised of watercolour paintings, synthetic polymer paintings and pottery objects. Through this project, photogrammetry techniques will be utilised to represent the pottery in 3D and make them viewable from 360 degrees. These works will be captured and digitised, sharing this significant holding of contemporary Indigenous Australian pottery with the world through a dedicated digital story.
Thanks to the ‘Unlock the Collection’ campaign, QAGOMA is setting the industry standard for Collection accessibility and digital development through these digitisation projects. By collaborating with Queensland Government agencies to push mixed-reality and extended reality art projects and move QAGOMA’s key digital content into other Queensland spaces, and by establishing its Digital Reference Group, QAGOMA is engaging key members of Queensland’s digital and tech community to advise on future projects, advocate for the Gallery’s digital programs and help foster new digital partnerships.
This work has resulted in members of the Digital Transformation team being invited to speak at industry conferences and events, including DrupalSouth 2022, Networx and Fotoware and being appointed to mentoring roles within the sector and in wider industry through initiatives such as the Australia Council and ACMI’s CEO Digital Mentoring Program.
In June 2022, the QAGOMA Foundation hosted a panel discussion ‘A New Frontier for AI and the Arts’, engaging representatives from Brisbane’s technology in a discussion exploring the convergence of artificial intelligence (AI) and cultural practice, and shared research and outcomes of the ‘Unlock the Collection’ project.
In just over three years the ‘Unlock the Collection’ campaign raised more than $5 million and engaged audiences, donors and industry professionals with the Gallery’s digital transformation project. QAGOMA warmly acknowledges Trustee and Foundation Committee member Paul Taylor for his leadership as Chair of the project’s fundraising reference group and thanks all members of this group for their outstanding efforts to realise this major initiative.
While the ‘Unlock the Collection’ campaign has concluded, the project continues, with funds supporting the resources required to achieve the goal of making the entirety of the QAGOMA Collection available to audiences and to creating even more engaging digital resources that bring to life the extraordinary stories within it. We sincerely appreciate the Gallery’s giving community’s support of this vital project and will continue to publish updates on milestones and achievements, which are transforming the way visitors experience our galleries and exhibitions on-site and online.