The Australian Creative Resources Archives (ACRA) is a pilot project which will build into a nationally distributed, standardised, high-bandwidth digital archive that makes “waste” materials from Australian cultural production processes available to researchers, the education sector more generally, and to commercial content developers. This “waste” material is often of very high quality and can therefore be of great value to many people and groups in the community, greatly accelerating the production and quality of Australian broadband content. Access to cultural “junk” would, for example, be very valuable to film, television, and radio producers; musicians; historians; advertisers of all sorts; documentary producers; the IT industries in general—in fact, it will be a valuable resource for anybody wishing to study, understand, or capitalise upon Australia’s creative potential.
ACRA will provide research opportunities for researchers from across many fields to define new, internationally recognised technical, operational and, archiving systems; to research the legal, technical; economic, professional, sociological, and cultural implications of broadband content development; to understand principles of design in an environment where design principles will change very quickly; to develop new software; to provide a significant stimulus to Australian broadband content development; to design new intellectual property regimes; and, to develop a self-sustaining, commercially viable network of enterprises. High-profile researchers in every other Australian State, and internationally, have expressed interest in extending and/or mirroring the project in the future.
The pilot infrastructure consists of a suite of Avid Technology hardware for high-speed digitising, grading, cataloguing and distribution of cultural materials, such as video, film, recorded music, images, animation, audio, written and verbal texts, photographs, and so on.
The main objectives of ACRA are:
The broadest operational objectives are set out in three phases and will take five years:
The pilot project will facilitate, support, and enhance five research areas that are currently developing at the UQ Centre for Social Research in Communication (CSRComm), the UQ Faculty of Business, Economics, and Law (BEL), the UQ Distributed Systems Technology Centre (DSTC), the UQ Community Service and Research Centre (CSRC), and QUT Creative Industries Research and Applications Centre (CIRAC).
Multimedia design principles: A key research outcome of ACRA will be new understandings of multimedia design principles and human-computer interfaces. One key area for research will be to understand how people from one industry (for example, music production) communicate with people from another industry (for example, film production). This is a problematic area, somewhat akin to the problems between social sciences: viz, that people from different disciplines tend to have divergent ways of talking about the same “thing”. In the production of cultural artefacts, such commonplace misunderstandings cost much time and money. Because of the convergent nature of the project in terms of media, much better understandings will emerge by necessity.
Database and interface design: ACRA requires as-yet undeveloped categorical systems for describing data as it gets digitised, specifically for use by content producers. Recording simple information about where a specific recording was made, by whom, and so on, is a fairly unproblematic task. But to provide descriptors that respond quickly to creative needs of ACRA’s users, multimedia producers, extensive social research will be very beneficial, if not essential, within and between partner institutions. It is essential that the categories designed for ACRA’s search engine are functional, which is to say that they are drawn from category systems-in-use within and between various segments of the creative industries.
Intellectual property and copyright law (national and international): While much existing copyright research is focused on consumption-side issues (e.g. litigation surrounding file-sharing networks such as Napster and MP3), there is little research focused on production-side issues which such systems make possible. It is envisaged that ACRA will provide a unique platform for researching these issues. The proposed structure of ACRA is an unique mix of public and private rights systems (characteristic of the internet more generally), and will therefore provide numerous and exemplary issues for research into intellectual property regimes of the future, placing Australia at the forefront of important developments.
Electrical engineering and Information Systems: A fully functional ACRA, as it is envisaged, will require innovations in engineering for the very fast storage, distribution, and “watermarking” of ACRA content to track commercial usage. The infrastructure eventually required will go beyond existing technologies. It will require new interfaces, new and very stable storage media, and very robustly designed databases and search engines.
Social scientific and humanities research: ACRA provides a wealth of research opportunities throughout the social sciences and humanities. It presents research opportunities in the areas of design principles (Professor Jeff Jones); inter-group interaction of creatives (Professor Cynthia Gallois); history and sociology of knowledge (Dr David Rooney and Dr Phil Graham); multimodal and sociolinguistic analysis (Dr Phil Graham); community media development (communITy project, CSRC); and social geography (Creative Industries Mapping Linkages Grant, Assoc Prof Greg Hearn). The potential research scope for projects related to ACRA for social sciences and humanities is extensive.
New business models for the new economy: There is no shortage of evidence for the existence of a “new economy” related to information technologies and the creative industries (Jacka, 2001). However, most businesses have failed to make a successful transition to the new economy. ACRA will provide a platform upon which new business models may be explored, developed, and disseminated.
Within each of these key areas of research are other research opportunities which the basic infrastructure would support. They include: information taxonomies; knowledge management; production principles; digitisation standards; cultural history; media studies; intellectual property management; database design; digital infrastructure; economics; e-commerce; network design and management; sociolinguistics (how people describe cultural material in production processes); library studies; hard infrastructure development; and soft infrastructure development, all of which are being carried on in collaborating institutions.
To date, digitisation projects and their associated research agendas in Australia have been concerned with issues surrounding the archiving and retrieval of finished content, such as films, television, radio programs and advertisements. The mission of these projects is directed toward preservation of significant cultural material. ACRA infrastructure will enhance an entirely different research focus directed towards new broadband content production. This is an important aspect of Australia’s involvement in the new economy, as identified by Jacka (2001).
The infrastructure will enhance the research by providing access to hitherto inaccessible, unused products of Australian creative industries within a digital environment. Given the proposed research agendas and practical functioning of ACRA, the infrastructure necessarily enhances and promotes cross-institutional and cross-faculty collaborative, interdisciplinary research, which will not only enhance Australia’s research position in important and new areas of pure and applied research, but will also strengthen Australia’s economic position in the new economy. The infrastructure will provide a research platform that does not exist anywhere else in Australia, but which will become vital to Australia’s rapid development in new areas of research and related economic activity.
ACRA’s research enhancement model relies on four interrelated levels of “hard” and “soft” research infrastructure:
ACRA’s collaborative functionality relies on GrangeNet’s broadband infrastructure. GrangeNet is a $14 million Federal initiative designed to support the deployment and use of “next generation” internet communications services.
ACRA’s raw material also constitutes an essential part of its infrastructure. It will be generated by collaborative contributions from Australian creative industries. Most existing “waste” material will need to be digitised, requiring significant infrastructure (hardware and software) and significant amounts of labour. Collaborating partners will source and provide content during the pilot project; researchers, students, and technical personnel will perform the time-consuming processes of digitisation.
The design of user interfaces, of database categories for materials, of interfaces which will return meaningful and timely results for users of the archive are essential. These will be developed and applied by researchers from collaborating institutions.
The “living” aspect of ACRA – its life blood – will be content creators, including educators, researchers, and students. These people will also be the focus of research at ACRA, while turning the digitised raw material of ACRA into new, finished content. Such research will realise cultural and financial rewards. It will also provide insights into how different groups of experts within the creative industries interact in a “next generation” digital environment.
ACRA: it is not a digital museum, even though it will be a repository for invaluable cultural materials. It will also be a site of living history. But its main strength is that it will be a living archive, a non-depletable resource for producing new broadband content, for perpetuating and invigorating cultural activity, for fostering the creative potentials of the nation, and for providing an entirely unique research platform. It will provide infrastructure for a much-ignored research aspect of the creative industries: production processes. It will also be the basis – directly and indirectly – of a thriving export industry. It will not only be competitive and self-sustaining, but will combine the public and private spheres in the most singularly defining aspect of a nation: its culture.
The main significance of ACRA’s research agenda is that it will support important aspects of Australia’s future broadband content development strategies. Furthermore, it will do so relatively inexpensively, by turning previously wasted materials into a means of production for the rapid development of Australia’s BCD industries. ACRA will also provide a locus of research that is timely, commercially sustainable, and inherently inter- and multi-disciplinary.
ACRA’s research agendas feed directly into economic and cultural development. Further, it does so in ways which differ from traditional models that are based on the assumption that the only path to development is to rely on established industry players to grow and produce at a faster rate. ACRA will undoubtedly help established players in that respect, but that is not its primary strength. It will provide very low entry costs to new players, increase higher education participation rates in the creative industries, multiply the output rate of the content industries more generally, and increase the returns of the current industry players by commercially mobilising wasted resources. As a consequence, Australian industries will develop content far more quickly than relying on outdated models of development.
ACRA’s emphasis on out-takes has four significant advantages. First, it “recycles” very expensively produced “waste” materials (which paradoxically are only “waste” because they are never used or consumed). Second, it provides the potential for an ever-growing pool of resources that can be used by content producers, thus reducing entry costs substantially and expediting content production more generally. Third, it offers major Australian content producers the opportunity to maximise their investments in production because they will have the opportunity to capitalise upon what would formerly have been wasted. Finally, it provides young producers in Australia access to high-quality raw production materials which might normally be well outside their budgetary constraints.
The pool of raw materials that ACRA would generate also provides a potentially lucrative export industry for Australia, apart from that associated with finished content. Such an export market might consist of foreign producers sourcing and buying raw materials for use in productions. It could also expedite other services which are currently very expensive, such as sourcing locations for films, identifying new sources of talent, or providing a central hub for resources that, for example, advertising agencies might use to put a “pitch” together (e.g. for the production of electronic storyboards or demonstration advertisements).
Whilst numerous bodies in Australia have digitisation strategies in place for “finished” cultural products (films, audio recordings, television shows, etc), there does not yet exist any strategies for archiving material that gets edited out of such products. Producers of film, video, television, music, photography, or radio content know that far more material gets left out of cultural products than is presented as a finished product. The ratio of discarded material to finished product ranges from approximately 10 to upwards of 1000, depending on the original production budget, time constraints, the type of cultural material being produced, and so on. To date, practically all of this material has been wasted, not only in Australia, but throughout the creative industries world wide. ACRA is a project that is designed to conduct research into this extremely labour intensive, expensive-to-produce, “junk” in order to expedite Australia’s BCD activities, and to capitalise upon Australia’s creative potential.
There are individual components of the proposed infrastructure spread throughout Australia, but there is no comparable, integrated system dedicated to the development of a creative resources archive and oriented primarily towards research. Communication and the creative industries are the fastest growing areas of education in Australian Universities (Putnis, 2002). Infrastructure supporting research in these areas is minimal, and certainly insufficient. The demand for digitisation processes more generally is enormous, with Screensound Australia, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and Cinemedia all undertaking digitisation strategies oriented towards making finished product available. ACRA does not intend to duplicate any of these national strategies and processes. Rather, the project will support research on the use of a new set of creative resources by examining the unfolding production and consumption dynamics arising from this new form of cultural production. This will include legal, technical, sociological, business, and policy aspects of creative production processes.
In short, the proposed technological infrastructure is essential for this project: it will facilitate the creation of a new mode of cultural production based on new business and legal models; it will form the basis of entirely new directions for research into creative production processes; and it will place Australia at the forefront of global research initiatives in the research areas outlined above.
Like ARPANET (i.e. by definition) ACRA requires at least two nodes to conduct preliminary research. The first archive server will be housed at the CSRC Boilerhouse at UQ Ipswich. Linked by an Avid Medianet system, there will be a second terminal node situated at the QUT’s Creative Industries (CI) Faculty, giving CI researchers and students access to the content of ACRA. Simultaneously, they will have significant input into the processes of digitising and archiving being carried on at UQ.
Cooperating agencies can be divided into four groups:
Participating Universities – In the first phase of the project there are only two collaborating institutions: UQ and QUT. This limited collaboration is for pilot purposes only. High-profile researchers at UNSW, Monash, University of South Australia, ANU, and Curtin University have expressed enthusiasm to be involved in developing ACRA over the longer term. Collaborating universities in the pilot project are contributing cash and in kind resources, and will be involved in developing research, teaching, and commercial outcomes from ACRA.
Industry Partners – Industry Partners will commit cash, in kind resources, and content to ACRA. They will also contribute expertise in areas such as software development, content development, and database design.
Community Partners: The more ACRA is used, the more successful it will be. ACRA will benefit from collaboration with community groups, including artists, people helping the unemployed, cultural and arts groups, local historians, our indigenous communities—every Australian has the potential to add to and benefit from ACRA. In the initial stages, researchers and students working in CSRC will develop community media networks in collaboration with researchers at the UQ CSRC Boilerhouse.
International Partners – The project already has an international dimension. There is a parallel project being developed in Canada. Other international collaborations are likely. GrangeNet is to be connected to the CANARIE broadband infrastructure in Canada.
The equipment will be housed in the CSRC Boilerhouse at UQ Ipswich campus, which will contain community media facilities, including radio and television production equipment. UQ and QUT collaborators will have equal access to ACRA and, because of the GrangeNet connection between UQ and QUT.
The establishment of ACRA requires an intensive process of digitisation involving large amounts of analogue material which must be received, stored, catalogued, digitised, and then returned to providers. Therefore the personnel and space requirements to establish this infrastructure are substantial. The facilities will be staffed, day-to-day, by personnel experienced in production and familiar with the contents and systems of the archives. There will also be archivists involved who are familiar with, and helping to develop, the categorisation systems for ACRA. The day-to-day operation of ACRA will be under the direction of the research team, but will also involve research students, undergraduate students, community members, and in-kind contributors from partner organisations, thus greatly reducing labour costs in the important initial stages of development.
Governance of the project: ACRA is a long-term project, the realisation of which is beyond the expertise and capabilities of any person or any single institution. It is impractical and probably undesirable to envision the project as ultimately being either entirely private or entirely public in terms of ownership. The long-term governance structure of the project should reflect the functional orientation of the archive: namely, that it is an entity which, by definition, mixes public and private interests. Consequently, we are proposing that an appropriately constituted advisory board be appointed to guide and nurture the project over the long-term. The advisory board would be responsible for the long-term direction of ACRA.
Jacka, M. (2001). Broadband media in Australia: Tales from the frontier. Sydney and Brisbane: Australian Film Commission, Creative Industries Research and Applications Centre, Australian Key Centre in Cultural and Media Policy.
Putnis, P. (2002). Media and Communication Courses in Australia. Canberra: Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs.
This document was adapted from "Australian Cultural Archives - LIEF Grant Draft Proposal" prepared by Philip Graham and Greg Hearn.
Copyright © Tom Worthington. 2002