During the first week in May, the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA) held their 42nd Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. over a span of five days. This year’s Conference addressed the topic of “Art+Politics,” which identified creative intersections of three central themes: fostering creativity; preserving and protecting; and power and agency. One of the special speakers, Susan Stamberg, special correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR), addressed the large crowd during Convocation at the Library of Congress (LOC) on the concept of “Art Will Save the World.” In addition to keynote speakers and stimulating debate, the Conference incorporated useful workshops that included, but were not limited to, the following: book arts, provenance research, timely presentations, publisher exhibitions, and museum tours to the LOC, Dumbarton Oaks, National Gallery of Art (NGA), and the National Archives (NA) among others, highlighting the city’s extensive historical resources.
On May 2nd, I attended a session entitled, “Capitol Projects: Three Washington Image Collections Go Digital.” The panel included the speakers, Melissa Beck Lemke (Image Specialist for Italian Art, Department of Image Collection, NGA); Shalimar Fojas White (Manager, Image Collections and Field Archives, The Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections); and Brett Carnell (Acting Head, Technical Services, Prints and Photographs Division, LOC). The various discussions within the session presented thought provoking arguments that were of great significance to a variety of challenges currently surrounding certain aspects of digital content management. Collectively, presenters gave their own perspectives on the notion of ‘going digital.’ However, the most unique and insightful discussion was given by Melissa Beck Lemke (NGA) and her presentation on the Samuel H. Kress Photographic Collection, which conveyed the pressing need for innovative research and demonstrated the potential losses to valuable content if the field fails to adapt to modern technologies as quickly as possible.
Mrs. Lemke explained the challenges her group faced during the complete re-housing and digital preservation of over 5,000 historic negatives from the personal collection of Samuel Kress, a wealthy philanthropist with an extreme passion for specific schools of art. His combination of negatives, developed photographs, lantern slides, and other pictorial related materials distinctively documented the history of each object. Towards the end of his life, Kress donated his vast collection to several museums whose own photographers oversaw the various conservation efforts involving his Italian Renaissance paintings. In 2008, the NGA received a grant from the Kress Foundation to preserve the deteriorating negatives as professionally as possible. Presently, this rare image series is one of the most comprehensive collections of Italian Renaissance art in the entire world, thus enabling researchers from anywhere to access the holdings.
Personally, one of the best features of the conference was an opportunity to actually network with different vendors, scholars, and professionals in the exhibit hall. As a first time attendee, an archivist with a Fine Arts background, I felt very much at home browsing through art related images surrounded by art librarians, visual resource professionals, and scholars. The conference was definitely a worthwhile experience to my own development as aspiring information professional. It illustrated the communal challenges, enriching experiences, and potential rewards that professionals face every day whether in an archive, museum, or library.