Some of the more than 400 cubic feet of boxes, books, and other ephemera left behind when the Department of Film and Video closed in the early 2000s.
In September, we began working on an exciting new archival initiative at Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA). In 2011, the museum received an AW Mellon grant to preserve and create access points for its time-based media artworks. The project has many components and one of them is the formation of the Department of Film and Video archive. The Department of Film and Video, which was active at CMOA beginning in 1970, was responsible for acquiring the majority of the time-based media artworks in the museum’s collection. By preserving its records, we are working to recover the valuable context in which the artworks were acquired and maintaining the department’s incredible legacy.
When the Department of Film and Video closed, it left behind an entire office of materials—everything from memos to installation photographs to projection equipment manuals. We have more than 400 cubic feet of boxes, books, and other ephemera. Just imagine about 400 banker boxes or the space inside a large walk-in closet. It is a huge body of records and its size is only matched by the value of its contents. The Department of Film and Video was one of the first of its kind in the country and it helped usher in a whole new era for moving image programming at museums and film venues across the country.
Carnegie Museum of Art film and video program notes from the 1970s. Image: Film and Video Department archive at Carnegie Museum of Art.
Earlier this year, the museum began working on the second phase of an A. W. Mellon grant-funded project to preserve, and make accessible, its time-based media collection holdings and related archival materials. Time-based media is a broad term referring to film, video, audio, digital, computer-based, or installation art with a specified duration and a dependency on changing technology. As media and equipment become obsolete, the artwork is increasingly at risk. Worldwide, conservators, preservationists, and archivists are working to protect these assets. The Time-Based Media Project at Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA) is part of this field-wide trend.
A great deal of work was accomplished in the first phase of the project, which started in 2011. We completed a thorough inventory of the collection, integrated new installation and acquisition documentation protocols into our existing procedures, and digitized key unique holdings for preservation and access. The project team also organized a three-day public symposium, A Collection of Misfits: Time-Based Media in the Museum, to address the challenges surrounding the preservation and presentation of time-based media artworks in a museum context.