How Small Data is expanding the landscape of support for artists
Whether we are helping an estate steward a legacy, or working with an active studio to ensure digital preservation and useful cataloging systems, artists are our entire raison d'etre. Plain and simple, artists are at the heart of everything we do at Small Data. Over the past three years, we have evolved some novel ways of supporting working artists, and today we are excited to detail and share these with you.
In 2020, we are kicking off our fourth year by offering our first ever online training course for artists, their assistants, and studio managers. This course is providing an affordable entry point to working with our expert team, ensuring that we can remain helpful and accessible to all artists – even those who may never be able to afford to hire a conservator for conservation treatment, or for consulting around their studio’s best practices for digital preservation storage, and cataloging systems. This January’s course will be the first of many such opportunities for artists to learn from our team in an affordable, and accessible format.
Conservation labs are ordinarily closed door, private operations. We have decided to flip the script, and create a more supportive, and affordable way for artists to engage with our team. When an artist comes to us with an artwork in need of maintenance or repair, but they cannot afford the cost of hiring a conservator to do this work for them, we have found an effective model is a brief residency. With this model, the artist brings the work to our lab and spends time conducting the conservation work themselves, taking the lead with our team on call for questions and guidance as needed. Our team’s level of involvement in these residencies ranges anywhere from simply being on-hand for daily check-ins, to having a conservation treatment strategy prepared for the artist’s review and approval in time for their arrival.
We have found that many of the issues that arise with time-based media art in private collections could have been avoided in the first place, by providing sufficient documentation, manuals, specifications and providing support to collectors for when questions arise. We are working with artists, such as Sondra Perry and Cory Arcangel, to help embed conservation documentation and best practices into the packages they are providing to collectors and institutions, to delay the need for conservation as long as possible. This way, collectors know to contact our lab when an issue occurs rather than bothering the artist. Although a select few artists – i.e. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer – enjoy handling the long tail of conservation maintenance and care, our experience and research has shown clearly that most artists don’t. Artists want to be able to focus on making new work, not fixing broken work they made five or ten years ago.
As time-based media art becomes more and more common in the commercial art market, it is all the more crucial that artists and their collectors have access to conservation resources for the sorts of routine maintenance and care that time-based media requires. With these new models that have evolved out of Small Data’s first three years of operation, we hope that conservation will now be at least just a bit more accessible and inclusive for working artists.
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