Looking Back/Looking Forward:

A Symposium on Electronic Media Preservation


“Without a consideration of the contributions of video pioneers...any history of American television, not to mention recent American social history, will be incomplete, distorted.”

      - Deirdre Boyle, historian and educator, testifying at a 1996 hearing for the Report on the Study of American Television and Video.

Looking Back/Looking Forward is a working symposium for artists, media arts staff, conservators, and technical experts focused on the physical preservation of independent electronic media works, and related issues concerning tools and ephemera. Looking Back/Looking Forward has invited 58 artists, media arts staff, conservators, and technical experts to evaluate our progress as a field, and speculate about needed initiatives and partnerships. Working reports will be posted on the Experimental Television Center’s Video History site, and proceedings will be documented by BAVC.

Looking Back/Looking Forward is an activity of the Center’s Video History Project, an on-going web and research initiative begun in 1994 to reflect the complex evolution of the media arts field, and encourage a collective voice in the crafting of our histories.

The goals of the Video History Project are to provide a dynamic vehicle for the creation and dissemination of an inclusive media history, crafted by those who are shaping it; to help establish bridges for intellectual access to information and to position independent media arts activities within a broader cultural context by cultivating research and public programming of these materials by those in the arts, humanities and sciences; and to encourage alliances among collecting institutions and educational and curatorial programs for the preservation of critically endangered works, instruments and documents.  

Goals are realized in an interrelated set of activities combining research, information hosting and the organizing of conferences and seminars.

In 1998 the Video History: Making Connections conference concerning the links between the early history and contemporary practice was organized by the Center and held at Syracuse University. Bringing together over 250 pioneering practitioners and contemporary artists working in new media and interactive technologies, the conference celebrated our history and established new partnerships with cultural and educational institutions nationally.

Launched in 2000, the Video History Website continues to serve as a both a research collection and dissemination medium.  The site structure depends on 9 interrelated resource databases containing a total of about 3500 records. The resource areas concern People, Tools, Groups, Distribution and Preservation. The Bibliography resource area contains over 1000 entries. In the Chronology area you can generate a timeline of events in media arts history, or view the events within a defined range. The search function allows visitors to search all of the records, encouraging the visitor to discover broad interconnections among people, places and events. Each resource area contains historically significant texts, descriptive information and extensive links. Visit at

The Preservation area includes two commissioned papers -  Video Preservation: The Basics  (2000, revised 2002) written by Sherry Miller Hocking and Mona Jimenez, and Reel to Real: A Case Study of BAVC’s Remastering Facility (2002) written by Luke Hones, and edited by Sherry Miller Hocking and Mona Jimenez. There is also a selection of historically important texts concerning early efforts at media preservation.  The working papers from Looking Back/Looking Forward will be posted in this resource area.

Looking Back/Looking Forward will be documented by Bay Area Video Coalition. BAVC recently announced that with funding from the NEA, they will produce a DVD on videotape preservation. The DVD will include footage of presentations made at Looking Back/Looking Forward as well as other recent symposia organized by IMAP and ArtTable. The DVD will feature interviews with leading conservators, curators, media technicians and artists on issues ranging from the latest techniques to ethical issues and viewer experiences. Due for completion at the end of 2002, the DVD, will be distributed to museums, libraries, history archives, media arts organizations and colleges throughout the country.

Looking Back/Looking Forward is organized by the Experimental Television Center in association with Independent Media Arts Preservation, Bay Area Video Coalition and the Electronic Media Specialty Group of the American Institute for the Conservation of Artistic and Historic Works. Looking Back/Looking Forward is hosted by the Downtown Community Television Center and is made possible with public funds from the Electronic Media and Film Program of the NYS Council on the Arts, and with assistance from MercerMedia and Dave Jones Design. The symposium is organized by collaborators Sherry Miller Hocking, Assistant Director of the Experimental Television Center, and independent consultant Mona Jimenez.

The Video History Project has received support from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Statewide Challenge Grant Program, the New York State Council on the Arts, and New York Foundation for the Arts Technology Planning Grants Program, and from the Everson Museum of Art, the Media Action Grant Program of Media Alliance, and the Institute for Electronic Arts at Alfred University. Corporate support has been provided by Blackhammer, Dave Jones Design and VidiPax as well as individual contributors. Partners have included the New York State Alliance for Arts Education, IMAP, BAVC and the Electronic Media Specialty Group of AIC. The Project is under the direction of Sherry Miller Hocking of the Experimental Television Center; independent preservation consultant Mona Jimenez served as major contributor for conference and web planning and for the symposium. David Jones Design implemented the web design, and David serves as webmaster.

“The American television and video heritage is now at a crossroads. One direction leads toward catastrophic losses of film and videotape, with the likely exception of studio and network programs in corporate archives that can be recycled for new income. Another direction leads toward the managed preservation of extant television and video materials that bear an important relationship to American history and culture regardless of their reuse potential or monetary value.” 

      - Television and Video Preservation 1997: A Study of the Current State of American Television and Video Preservation, Volume 1, page 123