The Tate’s Archives & Access project, a large-scale digitisation and outreach programme funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Tate, has attracted over three-quarters of a million visits from around the world since online publication began in 2014. Over 52,000 pieces from collections in the Tate Archive are now online.
Annotate, the crowd sourcing initiative which invites the public to decipher letters by artists, has so far generated the transcription of over 8,000 documents since launching in September 2015. Tate was the first art gallery to collaborate with Zooniverse, led by the University of Oxford, to undertake such a project. One transcriber translated an unattributed German poem in the archive of Klaus E Hinrichsen, who fled to Britain in the 1930s to escape Nazi persecution, resulting in the poem’s first known publication in English. The Archives & Access project also allows the public to create Albums in which to collate notes and original content which can be shared via Tate’s website, while a film strand, Animating the Archives, comprises a series of shorts which examine the artists, themes, movements and cultural issues found in Tate’s archival resources.
The digital publication of items from 75 archive collections provides a global audience with unprecedented access to treasures from Tate Archive, a national resource containing a wealth of material created by artists, art world figures and art organisations throughout Britain; from letters between Vanessa Bell & Duncan Grant and sketches by L. S. Lowry – to less well-known figures, such as Felicia Browne, tragically killed in the Spanish civil war and English surrealist, Ithell Colquhoun, both of whose archives reveal hidden histories of art from a female perspective. Other areas of Tate Archive’s vast collection of more 1 million items has also been mined, notably the archives of artists such as Ronald Moody, born in Jamaica, Aubrey Williams, born in Guyana, and fascinating sketchbooks of a second generation black British artist, Donald Rodney, all of whom made distinctive contributions to cultural life in the UK.
Through programmes of publication and outreach the Archives & Access project has shown how the free provision of digitised archival resources and dedicated programming transforms the ways in which archives are understood, received, and accessed. The scalable approach modelled by Archives & Access is also helping other major archival digitisation projects around the UK, and is shaping Tate Archive’s future digitisation ambitions with further collections currently being scoped and prepared for online publication. This commitment to publish archival items online will contribute to the cultural repositioning of archives in a digital age, so that they are contextual, accessible, and serve to support the most diverse research-led and recreational interests.