New priorities for our cultural programme
Arcadia’s goal is to record endangered cultural heritage and preserve it for future generations. Much has changed since we first started supporting documentation work in 2002. We have seen technology evolve from microfilm and compact discs to open-access, online digital repositories. But our mission has stayed the same: we fund projects that record endangered heritage material and make it freely available in perpetuity. That way, even if the original material is lost, the knowledge it contained will endure in the care of a memory institution (such as a library or museum). Our Open Access policy ensures that it can be shared.
Just as changing technology requires constant adaptation, wider developments in the culture heritage sector—and in the world—require us to review what and who we support, and how we support them. These priorities will guide our future grantmaking:
We will prioritize heritage that is information dense and documentation methods that produce the most useful digital surrogate. For example, the knowledge contained in a manuscript is well represented in the high-quality images that many of our projects produce, while a 3D scan of an object may record less cultural knowledge. We will generally require our projects to produce multilingual metadata, which adds additional information to the linguistic record and will make future machine translation more accurate.
We will take an active role to ensure the sustainability of digital resources. Digital archiving is challenging because technology is always changing. As well as keeping the data safe, we must also ensure that it is kept readable and accessible, even as file formats and protocols become obsolete. We will help grantees develop mechanisms to keep renewing their archival technology; and we will encourage grantees to consider the usability of digital resources so that, through use, the data can be partially preserved in multiple places. This might mean supporting co-curation, crowdsourcing and linked open data.
We are reckoning with our responsibilities towards diversity, equity and inclusion. Most of our documentation work has been in the Global South, where resources for heritage documentation are acutely needed. Our projects have always had local partners, but, like other international funders based in Europe and North America, we recognize that we can do better. We aim for projects to give more agency to local communities, and we particularly want young people to have the opportunity to choose how to engage with their own communities’ endangered heritage. We will reduce barriers to access to our projects’ digital resources in the Global South by requiring that resources are multilingual and easily accessible on mobile devices. This will help non-English speakers and communities without fast internet to access and use materials. We expect that some of our future data-holding partners will be consortia of memory institutions in the Global South. We have committed to the CARE principles, which seek to give Indigenous communities more of a say in how heritage data is collected and used.
We will prefer regional hubs and transnational networks. This project structure pools resources and risks, and allows for more collaborative decision-making that can transcend cultural nationalism. We are also exploring how we can link up existing heritage datasets. Joining institutional knowledge, such as museum catalogues, with knowledge held outside of institutions could allow inaccessible knowledge and potentially physical heritage materials to be returned to communities.
We will invest more in our cultural regranting programmes, which make grants to projects selected through annual competitions. The open application process enables us to support a wide range of small-scale projects, that are often developed locally by communities. We aim to increase funding available to documentation projects through our existing Endangered Languages Documentation Programme, Endangered Archives Programme, Modern Endangered Archives Program, Endangered Material Knowledge Programme and Endangered Wooden Architecture Programme. We are working with our regranting partners to make the application process more accessible with the aim of promoting more community-driven projects. We will also develop new regranting programmes that can approach heritage in different ways to our existing programmes.