Data modeling for the contemporary arts

The CQAM and its partners plan to implement a first data modeling initiative in Wikidata to promote better representation for the contemporary arts.

As part of our effort for the digital development of the cultural sector, the Conseil québécois des arts médiatiques, the Regroupement des arts interdisciplinaires du Québec, the Regroupement des centres d’artistes autogérés du Québec and the Independant Media Arts Alliance plan to work together on a first data modeling initiative in Wikidata for the contemporary arts.

A few words about Wikidata

Wikidata is Wikimedia’s free, open and multilingual database. The Wikimedia movement aims to “bring free educational content to the world”. Wikidata is a project that belongs to its community and cannot be purchased by a private entity. This knowledge base is a repository for structured and linked data that is used in various other Wikimedia projects, the best known of which is Wikipedia. Data stored on Wikidata is published under the Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication 1.0, making it possible to reuse and connect with other open data sets in a linked data ecosystem.

Several organizations, groups and cultural institutions in Quebec and Canada argue in favour of greater use of Wikidata for both technological (use of web standards, gateway to the semantic web, interoperability) and political reasons (openness, international collaboration, accessibility of content and information that is in the public domain or that is financed by public funds).

A documentary residency

We propose the opening of a research and documentation residency focused on data modeling for the contemporary arts on Wikidata. The resident and I will work with interested academic partners to inform and guide the documentation efforts of our community.

First, we will contribute to the wikiProject:VisualArts by creating, in Wikidata, elements that can be used as qualifiers with the property “art genre” when describing works belonging to contemporary arts. The aim here is to create the vocabulary that allows us to document these practices. The new elements created will be identified in the “Types of visual artworks” table. 

In a second step, we will undertake the design and publication of recommended property sets to describe works belonging to current art practices on Wikidata. This is to suggest a “syntax” for their description. This exercise is a new contribution to the visual arts community and will be conducted in the same way as it is for cultural venues and people working in music.

We will then organize a day of workshops with our members and our community. This event will be an opportunity to provide feedback with the resident, present the work accomplished and discuss any adjustments that may be made and future documentation projects that may be opened subsequently. We also plan a practical wiki workshop where participants will be invited to make contributions to Wikidata and Wikipedia using the tools developed during the project, or to form working groups to manage new documentation projects.

A better representation for contemporary arts

The objectives of this effort are multiple. First of all, it aims to equip our community to promote better documentation and therefore a greater visibility for the practices of our artists. The current configuration of the web allows us to draw a direct line between Wikidata documentation strategies and the visibility of our cultural content on the most used search engines. Beyond the notion of referencing on search engines, the documentation of our artistic practices online support the creation of a collective memory and even the reconstruction of links between the different appearances or mentions of a content, on Wikipedia and Wikidata, in the collection of a museum, in a magazine, a book, a podcast, etc. The sum of these multiple connections promotes the discoverability of the content thus linked. The work of the Cinémathèque québécoise with Savoirs communs du cinéma and CAPACOA with Linked Digital Future are examples of structuring initiatives in this field for the film heritage and performing arts communities. With our project, we wish to lay the foundations for a similar reflection for the contemporary arts community through targeted actions. By taking a proactive role in defining data models for the visual arts within an international community of interest, we ensure that they are more inclusive of current arts practices.

The initiative will also promote knowledge about the arts produced by researchers at our academic institutions. In doing so, we finally wish to integrate current arts practices into the “visual arts” categories and make a clear distinction between independent artistic practices and projects carried out by creative industries. Indeed, our groups have a mandate to defend the independent arts. This mandate is based on a systematic definition of our practices supported by the work of researchers and benefits from finding a space for expression in a collaborative and open database. Data modeling for the contemporary arts thus contributes to the recognition of the specificity of these practices and ensures that a trace to this effect is recorded in Wikidata.

We will come back to you in spring 2020 with news of this initiative!


Isabelle L’Heureux