Economics of Physical Preservation Panel

     Kate Horsfield, Video Data Bank), Lisa Steele (V Tape), Kim Tomczak (V Tape), and John Thomson (Electronic Arts Intermix)

                                      Kate Horsfield, Kid Tomczak, Lisa Steele and John Thomson


KATE HORSFIELD:  All of us who are sitting up here right now have been asked to address the economic issues of preservation. There was only a one-line sentence, so I’m sure this is going to be a very broad range of takes on this topic. It is of course, a central topic. I’m going to briefly describe the Video Data Bank, and talk about what our collection is like--the scale of it and what formats we have. This is to give you a picture, actually a profile, of one organization and the problems we’re dealing with in terms of preservation.


The Video Data Bank was started by a man named Phil Morton. It was started as an adjunct collection to the video department at the School of the Art Institute in 1972, so early on it began as a collection. The first focus of the collection was to keep a record of student produced works that were coming out of the video department, and a record of the visiting speakers who came through the school. The collection started on three-quarter inch--it never actually started on half-inch open reel. When I came on the premises in 1976, it was a collection of about one hundred tapes, mostly internal, and exclusively for internal use; 90% of it was student work and the other 10% were people like Anais Nin and people who’d been invited to the school to speak. When my partner Lynn Blumenthal and I were hired in 1976, it had been moved from the video department to the library of the school, because the dean had recognized the importance of the collection.  The video department was sort of allowing students to work over titles and a lot of things were getting lost. Some incredibly important documents did get lost.  A four hour presentation by Anais Nin is gone; the first recorded trip of Joseph Beuys to Chicago in 1973 or 1974, where he gave a six hour lecture. They were diligent about recording things, but they were very poor about understanding the importance of what had actually been recorded.

Twenty-six or twenty-eight years later, we now have a collection of roughly five thousand tapes in all formats, going all the way back from half-inch open reel up to mini DV, which seems to be the prevailing format of use by artists these days. So it’s grown; it is a huge collection. There are days when I walk in there in the morning and think: I can’t take another second of this! What has happened is we started out with very good intentions about production, and now that ratio has shifted dramatically; it literally shifts by the day, by the week. I’d have to say that, while we’re mostly known as a distributor, the value shift in the required tasks really means that in order to stay in distribution, we have to concentrate on preservation.  When we first started our preservation program, it came because we had inherited about 50% of the original collection of Castelli-Sonnabend Gallery, the first assembled collection that I know of in New York City in the early seventies. They went out of business with video, for all of the obvious reasons; you could list them on two hands. It wasn’t making any money; it was too much work; all the tapes needed an immense amount of cataloging and maintenance. None of this was being done properly and finally they became overwhelmed and said, “We’re out of here.” So Electronic Arts got part of the collection and we got the other part of the collection. In a way this was the beginning of our preservation program because these tapes were on half-inch open reel.

Simultaneously, my partner Lynn and I had started on a project which was recording interviews with artists in 1974. We started with people who’d never been recorded on video before, like Lee Krasner, Agnes Martin, Joseph Beuys, and so we have an incredible collection of interviews with artists, that numbers about 375. It is an ongoing collection and we do it routinely; we make anywhere from fifteen to twenty tapes a year. So that collection is also incredibly important and needs enormous amounts of preservation. In that case, we have the source tapes (sometimes that can be four to one), and we have an aging collection of master edits on three-quarter inch. I won’t go into details, but I’ll try to give an overview of what I think we’re all up against.

At this point in time, we have managed to archive 175 titles. In 1997, we had Allen Lewis  from the Library of Congress come out and make recommendations for us about how to handle our collection, and how to make a professional archival collection. From his report we have been very diligent about making archival sets. We make one BetaCam SP preservation master; we make what we call a safety; we have a one pass VHS that is made simultaneously. That is one archival set, and actually some of these sets are stored off the premises. We are very proud that we have managed to archive 175 titles, and they are all in really good shape. We still have 700 half-inch open reel tapes, partly because of my enthusiasm over acquiring the entire collection of the Video Freex. This was work, made from the late sixties through about 1973 or 1974, that represents about 600 tapes that we’re in the process of archiving but do not have the money to restore.

Because we started too early, we have 1600 three-quarter inch tapes and as everybody knows, three-quarter inch was a workhorse format but is now obsolete. We have 65 one-inch tapes that were the first results of our preservation process in the eighties. One-inch is now obsolete. When you add this all up, at the moment we are sitting on 2,365 tapes that need some form of preservation. We’re just talking about transferring or migrating from one format to BetaCam SP. We’ve always worked with BAVC, who have what I consider reasonable prices.  Kacey told me that it was about one fifty per one hour title; I estimated in my calculations that it was roughly two hundred, because something always seems to come up. It is interesting if you calculate this out. We have 2,365 titles and if we spent two hundred dollars per title that would cost 473,000 dollars to archive all the work. This, of course, is impossible.

When you look at our overall project budget, we dedicated roughly 5% of our earned income towards preservation, which is about three or four thousand dollars per year. This is ongoing preservation; it has nothing to do with funded projects, which is another category altogether. So at best, if nothing else is happening, if we’re not getting money from the National Endowment from the Arts or some other source, we proceed with archiving fifteen titles a year at a rough cost of between three and four thousand dollars. If we operate at fifteen titles per year, to get through our incredible list of 2,365 titles, is going to take 157 years for us to get our collection archived! I’m only saying that because it is really funny, but when I walk into my office every morning, it’s not funny to me. I think for all of us old timers who’ve been around forever, we want to go into the woods feeling that we’ve accomplished something. On the other hand, every day it gets more and more complex. The multi-formats — we don’t really know how long BetaCam SP is going to be considered to be the preservation format. Then we have this whole slew of new problems with high-8, video 8 and DV. There are days when I just want to get into my car and drive west and forget the whole thing—it is too much. But of course, I’m not really going to do that. But I wanted to point that out to you because if you add up the numbers of all the collections of all that we represent here in this world, it’s really an amazing story. It is an incredible public record. From the experiments that Woody and Steina were doing, to the work that the VideoFreex were doing, between those two polarities we have an incredible view of the world that does not exist anywhere except on videotape. A lot of it still exists on half-inch open reel.

When Mona and I were sitting around talking, I said, “If you tell me where I could get one of those machines that BAVC has, I will try to do what I think all of us have always tried to do, which is to do self-empowerment.” In other words, I can not sit around and wait for the grant money to roll in. Being an organization that exists partially off public and foundation funding, I can’t say every single year, “We’re going to go for preservation money.” I have to shift back and forth between general operations: I have to worry about our streaming server and keeping up with the advancements in the field, and I also have a preservation program. Every year it is a tremendously hard task to decide what kind of grants we’re actually going to write, and what we think we can accomplish. With the decrease in funding in the United States that first started in 1994 and now seems to continue in an even more rapid vein, post 9/11, you know, all of this gets to be relatively scary. I can’t say, “I really am committed to the idea of preservation, and here’s what we’re going to do: every single grant for the next five years is going to be written for preservation.” I have other concerns. We have to maintain a balancing act in the center of the whole thing, and that slows us down enormously. I think the solution is self-empowerment, to some degree or another. That’s where this whole thing with Mona came up about, “How do I get one of those machines?” because if I could get that… One of the really good things about our location in Chicago is that I have an endless amount of fabulous graduate students. I hate to call them cheap labor, but they are cheap labor and a lot of them are very, very good. I can get somebody cleaning in the background for a relatively small amount of money, like eleven or twelve dollars an hour, which today is very cheap labor. It is in my interest to figure out how to do it. As much as I love BAVC, I don’t have two hundred dollars to spend for title and that’s just the reality of the situation.

So we’ve got these 700 tapes that need to be archived but also need to be catalogued. But I want to continue with the idea of empowerment, because somebody brought up the tape check machine. For at least seven years, Scott Jenke and I have had a conversation about every four months. I say to him, “You tell me where I could go on the web and find a used three-quarter inch tape check machine.” He was never particularly forthcoming with this, but finally he said to me, “I’ll set up a deal for you so that you can buy one with time payments.” And I said, “We can’t use time payments. We’re at the Art Institute of Chicago, and they forbid this.” So he said, “Alright, I’ll figure out something internal.” A year ago, we bought one and I agree that the evaluator is just a waste of money. In fact, we have internally set up a three-quarter inch remastering workstation in our office. It is primitive compared to BAVC, but the thing is I can keep it going. I can leave my office feeling like we’re getting somewhere. I can see those tapes go through that machine — and yes, they have to go through sometimes ten or fifteen times— but we’re getting good results. There’s somebody doing it on a relatively regular basis, which keeps my anxiety level down. (I don’t know exactly how to handle the half-inch open reel.) In the meantime, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to set up this preservation workstation, and we can start on the 1600 three-quarter inch tapes we have in our collection. That makes me feel really good.


We also have been working with IMAP, with Jim Hubbard in particular, who was kind enough to come out last summer to help us coordinate our database with their database. We did something really interesting with that. I hired a woman who keyed all of the IMAP — what do you call them? — field descriptions. And she put a description in it so that if somebody on my staff doesn’t understand what five-thirty is, they have a little pull-down menu. It keeps it uniform. Beyond the money of remastering, the next big thing is the communication and the cataloguing that needs to happen. All of us could talk about sub-masters or dub masters and language, stuff like that. This problem is also getting to be extremely important because of the generational shift. I look around this room and I see a lot of people I’ve seen around for fifteen years or so. Then I go in my office in Chicago, and 90% of the people who work in my office are in their early thirties, some in their twenties. We have this issue of how we are going to take this stuff out of our brains and get it into a database, and how we evaluate the quality of tapes. You know, I was telling Heather a story. I said, “You know, you should create like a CD that shows what a successful tape that’s been remastered looks like.”  In my office I’d have to say 60% of my staff, if you lined them up in front of a seventies tape, they don’t know what a glitch is, what streaks were inherently built into the making of the tape, what can be fixed, and what a good outcome is. They don’t get it. I’ve had people mark on tape boxes, “Tape to check,” you know, “Check the tape, the quality of the submaster.” Then I look at it, and I’m like: Oh, no, this is awful, this has to be replaced immediately! We have an issue of people not knowing what a good seventies tape is, or what a good archival tape actually look like.   I think between cataloguing and taking this stuff out of our heads and putting it into a central space, helping communicate to a younger generation what is good and what is not good about the preservation process are two things that hopefully, we can all talk about strategically, because it’s happening very quickly. It’s getting out of control!  I don’t know about you, but I’m intending to get in my car some time in the next couple of years and check out. Before I do that, I think that I have some things that I need to accomplish. I need to know that younger members of my staff — and hopefully, new members to our field — can be brought in and can be trained. That they will show as much dedication as we all have, and that this information can be communicated down, both in terms of quality and in terms of data that needs to be collected, and the importance of different kinds of data.

Those are the two things I wanted to talk about. I’m hoping somebody else here will talk about the curatorial process, in terms of preservation. For all of us who write grants, I’ll admit this publicly (it’s a terrible thing to admit!) but I know what it takes to get through a panel, having been on a million of them myself. If I want to get my most favorite obscure videotapes preserved, I know that the panel’s not going to know who these people actually are and I am going to have to mix it in with something that they actually know really well and that have some sympathy for. That is the reality, you know? The generational shift is one thing, but we also have a system of values that are connected to the preservation process. It’s very important for me to work on the Video Freex work, because they documented all the major events of the late sixties — the Chicago Seven trial, Woodstock, the first women’s lib march, things like this — which I think are historically incredibly important and should be passed on. When I wrote that grant, I was very careful to package it in the midst of some other things, because I thought a lot of people are going to think this is really radical, or there’s going to be something in here that nobody really wants to look at. I’m hoping somebody else will talk about that at length, because I think that’s also an issue. How do you convince people that you don’t just stick with the ten big names? Why do we have to have a history of video that’s limited institutionally? It should be broad, because the breadth, the reflection of the power of the Portapac and where it could go is in the breadth of the field--not just in the vertical integration of what has lasted or who has become famous. I think that the curatorial practice related to this, hopefully, is something that we can also address here, too. Now we will go to Kim Tomczak and Lisa Steele, the co-directors of V Tape in Toronto


KIM TOMCZAK:  I’m just going to give you a general background to what V Tape is, where it came from. We’re an artist-run center, a nonprofit like the Video Data Bank. We were set up primarily as a distributor in 1982. It came from five artists who worked cooperatively in 1980 to form a cooperative system, and then grew in 1982, when Lisa Steele and I traveled around to Europe and to America and studied other models of distribution. We decided to make a more open model of distribution, one that wasn’t so curatorial, but was a more inclusive model. Twenty years later, we’ve ended up with 4200 titles by about 900 artists, on every format that you can image, that has been produced since the late sixties to last week. We have a couple of pillars that form the way that we work.




One of the pillars that we operate by is when we take on an artist, we take on all their work, and not just the ones that we think are sellable or not sellable. We take on their entire oeuvre. The other pillar that we stand by is that we say all of our titles are in active distribution, regardless of the format they were produced on. That puts the demands on us to produce a playable dub on order. We do not deaccession work. Even if it doesn’t sell or rent, we maintain it, and we have a custodial role. That is how we see ourselves. We maintain a clean, healthy, friendly environment for the work, and we make the work publicly accessible. We have an office, with several viewing stations, and all works can be observed at the office by the public.


LISA STEELE:  We are about to go online with a bibliographic resource, which we’ve been collecting for the last fifteen years, that we’ve put into a specialized database. We see the work (the research and resource building) V Tape adds to public knowledge and public accessibility of video art by also making bibliographic resources available. So that it too becomes a source of pedagogy and study. It is an important part of what we do. This is just about to go online. We have about a thousand individual citations, and we’ll be adding to that.


TOMCZAK: …In about a month, on our website, which is, you will see a bibliographic section as well as the tape description section. So it’s this wonderful searchable database of articles on artists. You can search by author, by title, by artist, whatever. It will give you the source of around a thousand articles, to start with.

The role of making each title available upon demand has created the necessity for us to also have a restoration and a duplication center within the office. Unfortunately, we do not have BAVC in Canada. It’s an incredible resource for wherever BAVC is, but we don’t have that and it’s a shame. Our production centers strictly do production. They never see the role to extend into preservation, duplication or saving.


This tape is not a particularly great example of a preserved tape. We wanted to show you this to just give you the point I’m going to lead into now. Unfortunately, we lost Colin Campbell in October of last year. He was the chair and president of our board since its inception; and also, he’s certainly one of Canada’s most important video artists, having produced work from the very beginning video art. This is from 1972, and was produced on half-inch open reel. When Colin passed away, his tapes were entrusted to V Tape, but that is all; I mean, we simply have them now. Since we’re talking about economics, I think that one issue that we need to think about as custodians and as the kind of older generation of people interested in this particular medium, is that we will need to work with our artists who are aging now. We will need to start to estate plan with them. One thing I think we could approach artists to do would be to assign part of their estate to the preservation of their work. It doesn’t solve entire problems. Colin was an incredibly prolific video maker, and so we have now hundreds of his tapes in our office, with absolutely no economic resources to do anything with them at the moment.


STEELE:  This isn’t completely accurate. In assigning and giving us the work, he also gave us all the proceeds from the work, so that any revenues that are generated from the work go back to it. But obviously, it will potentially take more than that.


TOMCZAK:  So I think that’s the issue that we really have to come to terms with now. I know we all hear baby boomers are blamed for everything right now, but the baby boomer video artists are now aging, and we are going to be faced with this incredible resource of material. I don’t know if the term works here, but like the orphaned collections. They don’t really belong to NBC or the CBC or the BBC. You know, no one really owns these things; they are really orphaned. We need to figure out — hopefully, with the artists and with institutions, with museums, with collecting institutions — how we can begin to address these things. I know Lisa wanted to talk about a particular project.


STEELE:  One of the things Kim was talking about earlier was how we built up the resource center in-house, to actually do the preservation. Kim is primarily the person who does half-inch open reel restoration--a tape at a time--after hours. After everybody goes home, he stays and does that, and that will work for a while, I guess. But it’s also on demand. It’s partly on demand from, quote/unquote, what BAVC calls “clients.” So we have people who send us work that is not artwork. It is primarily on demand from institutions. I want to briefly discuss the importance of the institutions, the museums and galleries, and the curators who put together selections of work that include works which need to be restored. Then the fund raising that has to go into that kind of thing — which interests me a lot at this point, and I do mostly the financial and fundraising part for V Tape. I think it’s an area we have to work more strongly with. Primarily, we have government funding of various levels and kinds. In Canada we do not have as much private funding or foundation, but it does exist, somewhat. This is the kind of thing that I think we could get a lot more people involved in, in terms of donations, specific bequests and actual monies being given to artist centers to bring works back into circulation that are tied specifically to their exhibition. While I understand the point of going into a big room filled with stuff and starting with A and going to Zed, it doesn’t make any sense if it’s not going to be looked at. It does make sense because it should be preserved; but the real kind of selling point, I think, of preservation is the exhibition of the work. The reintegration of works. Some of these works were produced in 1980. We have works that   are not ancient, ancient; they’re works from the early 80’s, that need to be restored now because they were made on early three-quarter inch, and they look really bad right now. It’s not the ancient works; it’s actually the sort of middle-aged work which needs it now. We were in Paris and found this book from the Pompidou. I don’t know if anybody had a chance to see it. The show had just closed and we didn’t actually see the show. It was Jochem Gertz’s show that they put together at the Pompidou. He’s a performance artist, primarily, and his work was all restored specifically for this exhibition. He’s not a video artist, but it involved restoration. They had to reclaim fifty works, and there is actually a section in this book which talks about that process. His works involved video in ways that did not just set up a camera recording of somebody performing out there; there was a lot of interactivity. It is almost a twenty-five year history of his work. It seems to me there is much of the sort of specific nature of the ways in which video —particularly interactive video and the peculiarities of video installation, video performance that’s continuing on today —makes challenges, not just to kind of do bulk restoration, but to actually recapture. That is what they talk about in this catalogue, which is interesting. How can you recapture that? You can always just copy a tape — which is hard enough and expensive enough — but actually recapturing the spirit of the way in which the work is used seems to me important. I think sometimes the look of a tape, the quality is really what it looked like. It didn’t look a lot different than this, even at the beginning.


KACEY KOEBERER:  I am Kacey Koeberer, and I manage the client side of BAVC, so I’m the one people talk to. I do the initial estimating of how much the project will cost. I’m going to break down the numbers for you, as far as how our facility works. As much as I would like to present a blueprint for everyone to build their own mastering facility, all I have to work from is what we’ve done. But I want to start off by talking a bit about BAVC.


We have a huge facility, 14,000 square foot facility. We’re open seven days and offer various services: educational workshops about everything from how to shoot video to how to edit. We train people in the Bay Area on web design and video work, to find them jobs within the local community. We also offer postproduction services for independent artists and users, so we have edit suites that people can access for subsidized rates. Then we have specialty services, particularly preservation and … duplication …

Preservation is close to our hearts, but it’s not something that we do every day; it’s a small part of BAVC. We would like to make it larger, but resources are tight …

We do share use and expense of most of our equipment … Myself, Heather, Jon and everyone at BAVC wears many hats. We don’t focus exclusively on preservation. Most of the equipment is shared. There are of course a few things we use exclusively for preservation: our half-inch open reel decks, our cleaning machine. Everything else, our Beta SP decks, our digital BetaCam decks - we share all of that equipment with our postproduction services, with our educational workshops. So it’s really a tight fit to try and squeeze everything in.

Just a little bit about the initial investment and how we got started. We got an NEA matching grant for a hundred thousand dollars around 1995. So we matched this amount with grants from the Andy Warhol Foundation, and California Arts Council, and NAMID which is the cataloguing project out of AFI. We also got a hundred and fifty thousand dollar grant from the NEA in 1996, under their Heritage and Preservation Program, which allowed us to set up the digital side of our services. The initial expense of setting up the project was both the half-inch open reel decks that we still use. We are even in an exchange program with Intermedia Arts in Minnesota. We transferred a hundred of their tapes in exchange for the machines. At SFPAL, the San Francisco Performing Arts Library, they were cleaning our their storage, and found a CD deck and donated that to us. And then we purchased the Recortec cleaning machine for fifteen hundred dollars. The rest of that money was put mainly into research, development and purchasing the peripheral equipment necessary to perform the transfers.

I wanted to give a breakdown of our expenses in 2001; this is what it ends up looking like. We mastered in 2001, 470 half-inch open reel, 550 three-quarter inch tapes, and 280 VHS tapes, which brought us an income of about 66,000 dollars. In order to do all of that, we had to purchase a new DvCam deck, mainly for the tapes that The Kitchen was sending us; they wanted DvCam copies, so we bought a deck for that. We purchased a VHS cleaning machine for another archive that had a lot of material on VHS, and we purchased a Beta SP deck that is often used in our preservation program. Just our equipment and repair is astronomical. These decks are really hard to fix, and the engineer is very specialized, and he’s pricey; basically our equipment repair broke down to 4500. We must also account for a percentage of expenses that it takes to run the BAVC facility. The cost of labor is crazy, too. It is expensive to have technicians that really know this material, and we spend a lot of money on technical and administrative support.

Every year we try to have events that expose people to the whole preservation plight, so we hold preservation events and workshops, and that costs money. We also try to stay up on what’s going on in the archival field, so we go to AMIA and things like this, which costs our department money. Our contributed income, we get a yearly grant — thank God — from the NEA that is just for general program support, for 60,000 dollars. We also have other private contributions of about twenty-five. When we combine our earned and grants and contributed income, it just about equals our operating costs. We are covering our direct expenses; we’re breaking even, but there are many additional indirect expenses. All those things it costs to run a facility — electricity, rent, all of that stuff .

There is a list of prices of all the equipment that we have in our facility that we use on a daily basis to perform our transfers. I’m sure everyone could haggle with me on these prices. You can get the equipment for cheaper; you can broker deals. We were talking with Bill yesterday about how he’s going to a bunch of auctions to get equipment for a lot cheaper. This equipment is accessible not always at these prices. But these are list prices for the equipment that we use and it adds up to a lot.

I believe why this BAVC model works is we are a fully operational postproduction facility so we share resources. We’re kept state-of-the-art by the nature of our business, because we have to be. That allows us access for our preservation services to use all of those resources. We’ve also had an incredibly successful fund raising effort. As a whole, throughout its history BAVC has had powerful fundraisers: Sally Jo Pfeiffer, and now we’re being led by Tamara Gould. We have been met with a good amount of success in that area. We are committed to independent media art; it’s what we’re all about, and we care about this material. I don’t know. Can it be duplicated? Definitely, these partnerships growing between commercial technology centers and media arts groups is a great model—what Maria and Bill are doing at Standby. Traditionally media arts centers are challenged by a lack of technical expertise and access to machinery.

How do we improve the model? We are proud of what we have done so far at BAVC, but we know we have a lot of room to grow; we depend on your input and your participation in our programs to give us feedback on ways we can better serve you. We would love to remaster your entire collection; we just need help in figuring out how this can happen. We do want to be a force--not only as a service provider of this preservation work--but also an advocacy organization for preservation work in general. We’re trying to increase capacity in tech training, and we’re training more technicians to learn everything that Jon knows. We’re trying to increase our formats that we can transfer, and hope to go into a little bit of audio preservation, one inch, Beta SP.  We’re producing a preservation DVD that you are all going to be on now. We’re trying to develop a curriculum and workshops around preservation. We have a symposium this summer, where our workshops department will host three different sessions designed to educate people in the Bay Area about preservation and using archival material in their productions. The first class is all about the history of experimental video; the second class is all about how independent producers can incorporate archival footage into their pieces and that’s being led by Rick Prelinger; the third class is going to be the basics of remastering. Also, we do project based co-grant writing with independent archives, artists, organizations; that is an area we’d like to develop, partnering with people at the very beginning of their preservation efforts, and hopefully lend our grant writing expertise and technical know-how to the inception of their preservation project. Of course, it has always been a big dream to develop a scholarship programs for artists’ work and collections, to sponsor a particular project, maybe once a quarter, and cover the funds to have it remastered. That is what we’re up to.


JOHN THOMSON:  Hi and thank you; I’m John Thomson, from Electronic Arts Intermix. First I’ll briefly just introduce Electronic Arts Intermix. It is a very similar organization to V Tape and Video Data Bank. We were set up in 1971, so it’s now in its thirty-first year. I can concur with the speakers before me about the evolution of EAI. We were a distributor and still are, but we have become in a way an archive as well, just through time by sometimes having the only existent tapes of certain artists. I think we have well over 2,000 titles in distribution, but we have many more tapes that are in storage on half-inch reels and old three-quarter masters boxed away.


[HERE THOMSON SHOWS “Organic Honey’s Vertical Roll” BY JOAN JONAS]


This was a performance, at Castelli’s, in 1973. The point of showing the tape was not only just to enjoy a brief moment of it, but to also bring up the issue of the relationship between distribution and preservation is to expand the available titles. In a sense, a distributor is not like a museum or a typical collection, where you have a set number of titles and you want them migrated or you want them preserved. We are completely tied to distributing the works and having these works shown throughout the world. That is a prime motivation, a prime argument that we have in sourcing funding — which isn’t really my role. It is the most essential thing about a distributor becoming a preserver of an artist’s work or just a single title, and it’s a role that I totally concur with Kate. It can be a burdensome role in a lot of ways, because it actually involves, away from the technical practicalities of the transfer, the cleaning, an enormous amount of research into which is the correct tape, what versions you have. Tapes can be labeled incorrectly, as we’ve already heard. It could just have written on it, “Do not use,” you know. That might end up being the best existing quality of the work, because the original master edit might no longer be the best anymore. Those questions of what is the best, how it should look, all involve an enormous amount of research that I think needs time and expertise. It could also involve someone who is a graduate student, who could work on basic collation of information, databases that are all really essential in the whole process of preservation.

To go back into the cost situation, what costs are involved when you, as a distributor, are looking at preservation? There are all of the staff costs, the overhead, the telephone, the e-mail, which you’re taking on board. These are hard to divorce from, I guess, your everyday running costs in distributing work. You might have a tape that you think is the master tape, but who else is restoring that work? If the artist is no longer living, you know, what is their estate doing? What tapes do they have in storage? What tapes do their children have, their widow or their widower or whatever the situation may be. The more research into those kinds of things, the more possibilities there are of actually ending up with a better looking, better quality tape. Then of course there are the costs of cleaning, transfer, stabilization, which we’ve gone over.

Precise cost is dependent on the complexity of sourcing these materials; the transport of tapes to you; the time involved in talking to institutions (throughout the world, possibly) about what they have and what they’re doing. I’ll give you an example. At the moment I am working with Sarah VanDerBeek, who is the daughter of Stan VanDerBeek, and we are talking about the preservation of Stan’s video work. She has given me some three-quarter tapes and I have many three-quarter tapes and half-inch reels of his work. For some titles I have twelve U-matics. That is a huge job, to look at all those tapes one after the other, and make decisions about what the work did look like or what the artist’s intention was. Sarah and I have just begun to look at some of these tapes and it’s not only time consuming, but after a while, it’s also difficult in terms of being able to make a decision about your value judgment of quality.

The particular point I’ll make is slightly different from what was already said, because you’ve kind of stolen what I was going to say--which is great. But just in terms of thinking about funding, the needs of research are so important. Of course, the practical transfer, cleaning, is essential; but money can be saved in that area, if there is money and time for research.


BILL SEERY:  I’m from Mercer Media, 135 West 26th Street, (between Sixth and Seventh). What we primarily have been known for is our audio work. For over fifteen years, we’ve been doing sound mixing, sound design, music work, mainly for experimental and social issue documentary film and video work. But for the last ten years, we’ve been providing audio and multimedia services, and with convergence and everything else coming, pursuing that line. Our latest project is attempting to set up an archival and restoration service based on the BAVC model. There is a list of some of what we’ve accumulated so far in terms of equipment. What we are looking to do now is gain the expertise and the technical assistance of not only our friends here, but the community as a whole, to help us put this together and make it into a viable, workable facility. We’ve moved into a new space, about 3,000 square feet, so we have plenty of room. We appreciate any feedback and contact, any ideas about where we should take this, what we should be doing, and how we can best serve the community on the East Coast. Or all over the country, but you know, we don’t want to step on BAVC’s toes too much!


Looking Back/Looking Forward: A Symposium on Electronic Media Preservation

May 31 – June 1, 2002

The Economics of Physical Preservation    1