In the second half of 2020, the MSSA will begin the pilot stage of one of their most ambitious digital projects, which will offer more than 5,000 documentary pieces in various formats on a specialized platform. Through this project, funded by Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Cultural y las Artes Convocatoria 2019, FONDART (National Fund for the Cultural Development and the Arts, 2019 Call), the history of the museum will soon be available online.
Since its inception in 2014, the Archive of the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende has had a vocation of openness and unrestricted access for the public to the information it holds, which includes over 10,000 documentary pieces dated from 1971. The atypical history of the museum lives in a collection made up of letters, photographs, press clippings, catalogues, publications, and administrative documentation, linked to the donations of works that the museum received from artists from over 24 countries.
Under the FONDART project «Digital access, research networks, and online resources: a contemporary approach to the valorization of the MSSA Archive», the museum obtained resources for the development of a comprehensive project that includes the implementation of the specialized platform, digitization of historical
catalogs, the creation of a registry of researchers, and the creation and dissemination of digital curatorships with narratives supported by documentation.
The project engine is the open-source platform ColectiveAccess (CA), a specialized tool created in New York and aimed at supporting museums, archives, and special collections. It contains a management and presentation software on the web whose core is a relational database, which facilitates cataloging and searching, among other possibilities.
«The Museum Archive and Art Collection are intertwined and dialogue with each other, and it is important for the museum to maintain that connection», says María José Lemaitre, Archive Coordinator. Furthermore, «when we started looking for software that would support the task of connecting these two collections, CA came up. Being a free and open code, we entered into a knowledge community that seeks permanent and supportive development», she adds.
One platform for everything
The project began as the Archive became more sophisticated and evolved around the need for users to be able to review documents remotely, as well as the urgency of keeping control over those who reviewed those documents. The Archive, divided into three documentary collections belonging to the three periods of the museum: Museo de la Solidaridad (1971-1973), Museo Internacional de Resistencia Salvador Allende (1975-1990) and MSSA (1991-today), receives over 50 specialized consultations per year and throughout the years it has contributed directly or indirectly to more than 200 research works.
In 2017, Isabel Cáceres MSSA Archivist visited the Archive of the Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires (MAMBA) and heard about CA for the first time. Shortly thereafter, she met the current advisor for the MSSA for its implementation, the Librarian and Archivist Melina Cavalo from Fundación Espigas, an institution that
has the largest record of Argentine and Latin American art. Since its foundation in 1993, its documentation center has grown to almost 300,000 resources and is currently the largest in Latin America. Espigas is one of the few institutions that use this software in the region. Having no other reference among museums in Chile, the MSSA got ready to innovate. Having received the funds in mid-2019, MSSA Archive professional team began consulting with Melina Cavalo along with Antonio Pardo and José Antonio Hohmann, both Development Engineers with the support of the museum’s Communications area.
Working with CA
The platform considers researchers as digital users and active subjects concerning the collection, not as passive observers. «This concept is much more linked to networks and the digital, and its application is much more complex when you are in a field where you have physical contact with the material», says Sebastián Valenzuela-Valdivia, who is in charge of access and dissemination of the Archive. He adds, «Through a user account, the researcher will be able to generate his own collections of documents, with personal folders that can be reviewed and intervened».
Following other research experiences in collaborative environments, the platform makes it easier for the user to share document links with other users, which will expand the possibilities of collaboration through «a much more rhizomatic and massive browsing and linking experience than other current software allowed», says Sebastián. To cement the relationship with a research community and follow up on the research, national and international researchers in art, culture, and politicians are being contacted, all of whom have consulted the Archive in recent years.
Regarding its potential in terms of internal Archive management, it allows for greater control and standardization of document processing throughout their entire life cycle. «This is essential for an archive, and our current technology requires these processes to be carried out separately», says Isabel Cáceres. «CA, on the other hand, can embed different processes on a single platform. Apart from being able to manage the different collections and the different types of objects within it, it allows us to leverage the data that exists of an object and its trajectory in a faster and more efficient way. The data recovery is much richer», she says.
Digital sharing and collaboration
Very few Chilean institutions have used CA, and one of them is the Cineteca de la Universidad de Chile. Considering this, one of the aspirations of the Archive team is to share the experience, ideally in a meeting in late 2020. «We would like it to be not only a moment to show how the system has worked for us, but also to talk about our experience in the elaboration of an Archive Policy, something that, despite how basic it seems, does not exist in other institutions», says the Archive Coordinator.
Observing the situation triggered by the current pandemic, by which millions of workers in the world are locked in their homes doing their work online, we can perceive locally the pressure or the impulse that this will drive in terms of the technological development in Latin America, especially at the level of public institutions. «It is interesting to see that current events show us that we have been working in the right direction», says Isabel Cáceres.
«As important as having funds to develop programs that make the museum more inclusive and open, it is important to think that there must be funds for the development of the museum in the digital sphere, stimulating new research and new appropriations», says María José Lemaitre.
The MSSA team and its advisers continue to telework developing the new platform. They hope that the pilot can start operating in the second semester of 2020. For now, they give us a preview of the Providence description module they have been working on.