Statue of Gustav II Adolph in Stockholm. Photo by: Lars (Lon) Olsson. License: CC BY-SA.
When we first looked at organising Wiki Loves Public Art (WLPA) in Sweden, together with Europeana, we figured that it wouldn’t be much different from how we’d run Wiki Loves Monuments in previous years. We would just need to get lists of all public artworks in Sweden and as there is a government agency called The National Public Art Council Sweden (Statens konstråd) so surely all we’d need to do is contact them…
We soon found out that the situation was quite different. Although Statens konstråd does have lists of public artworks it is limited to fairly recent art and only that art which the agency itself has purchased. The vast majority of the artworks are however the responsibility of the individual municipalities along with the agencies and companies charged with the maintenance of public buildings such as train stations. There also isn’t a standardised format for how to record the artworks nor in fact a requirement to record it at all. Fortunately Public Sector Information (PSI) legislation in Sweden is such that we can request this data from each of the public bodies holding the information.
Sjöormsfontänen by Axel Ebbe. Photo by: Hedning. License: CC BY-SA.
We could therefore identify a clear need for a centralised source of standardised information if we were going to run Wiki Loves Public Art 2014 the way we had originally envisioned running it in 2013. However the need for, and usefulness of, such a database goes beyond the WLPA contest. Schools could use an open database to identify local art or art elsewhere in Sweden by a local artist. Researcher could use it to look at trends in public art. Reporters could use it as an investigative tool when looking at local government spending. Adjoining municipalities could pool their resources when negotiating services such as restoration and maintenance of artworks. These are however just a few of the usages we quickly thought of. The true benefit of an open database however is that it can be used by anyone for any idea they might have.
After receiving a grant from Sweden’s Innovation Agency (Vinnova) we therefore set out to build a database which could hold all of the information we were going to collect. We also added an API to allow developers easy access to the data and to enable them to build other applications with it. We are also working on connecting the database to Wikipedia (and Wikidata). This is similar to how the lists work in Wiki Loves Monuments in that it gives a natural place for viewing the information and putting it in a larger context. It also allows the information to be further improved; coordinates added, descriptions created, typos fixed. The project has also had the added benefit of making any municipality we contact aware of open data and the PSI legislation. Many of them have communicated that they’ve had internal discussions regarding best practices for handling requests for open data – spreading awareness of the importance of open data within the organisations. Several municipalities were also delighted to find out that there is an interest in the artworks they maintain. They have sometimes used this as an opportunity to update their own records or has expressed an interest in sharing the user generated information which will be added to the artworks. By the time the preparations for Wiki Loves Public Art 2014 get started we expect to have a decent proportion of all public art in Sweden in the database. The generated lists should be able to serve our needs as a basis for the competition.
So if your country is in a similar situation where the relevant information is fragmented between many parties then perhaps this is the solution also for you. All code developed for this project is open sourced, making your life much easier. So the main thing you would need are volunteers to request the information and to then pre-process it into a usable form (don’t underestimate the time needed for either of these two steps!). You might even be able to find external funding for a similar project in your country! Of course we’d be happy to share the lessons we have learnt, so if you are interested just get in touch!
GLAM-technician / Developer, Wikimedia Sverige
For more information and updates see the project page on our wiki.
Municipalities of Sweden coloured based on their status in the Database. See image page for key. Image by: Lokal_Profil. License: CC BY-SA.
A quick glimpse of some of the database features:
From an early point we knew that we needed a way of clearly marking which content came from an official source and which had been user generated. The solution was to build the database in two layers giving you three choices in how to view the information:
- Strict view, with official information only;
- Normal view which makes no distinction between user generated and official information;
- Enhanced view which is similar to the Strict view but displays user generated information for the fields where official data is missing.
Combined with this is a mechanism which exports all of the changes to the official information from a given source. This allows an interested municipality to import some, or all, of the corrections or enhanced information. If these are then incorporated by them the changes are upgraded to official status.
The database is also designed to keep a record of the copyright status of the artwork as well as whether it is in- or outdoors. The result of this is that we can build lists which detect whether images of the artwork are allowed on Wikimedia Commons and also whether these should be marked with a Freedom of Panorama template. Just what we need for running Wiki Loves Public Art in 2014!