October 24-26, 2007
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Paper: Dictionary of Australian Artists On-line: Transforming Arts Research

Leonie Hellmers, University of NSW, Australia



The Dictionary of Australian Artists Online, DAAO, aims to generate and disseminate research on Australian art history via the Internet. The ability of the DAAO to collect, create, sort and retrieve data will make it an essential tool in visual arts scholarship, where productivity is often hampered by the difficulty of accessing archival materials, out-of-print books and isolated and deprecated datasets.  The first public version of the DAAO will contain over 7,000 biographies; and have the functionality to conduct complex searches and submit biographies and commentary on-line. The DAAO supports collaborative editorial processes and rigorous double-blind peer review of new research output.

Keywords: Australian, Indigenous, artists, Internet, research infrastructure

Project Description

The Dictionary of Australian Artists On-line, DAAO, is major research infrastructure for the dissemination and generation of research on Australian art history via the Internet. At its core is the framework pioneered by the late Professor Joan Kerr as editor of The Dictionary of Australian Artists: painters, sketchers, photographers and engravers to 1870 (1992). The foundation works, which include Kerr's primary research of 45 years, are now on-line and have been meticulously indexed to reveal distinct patterns about those involved in the creation of Australia's artistic and national identity.

Australian art scholars have long lacked infrastructure of this order of technical complexity to enhance the quality and productivity of their research. The Dictionary of Australian Artists Online fulfils this need, providing a collaborative peer reviewed database of artists’ biographies that will facilitate empirical investigation into the nature of Australian art production across people, place and time.

The DAAO data model enables precise interrogation of a vast body of hitherto disconnected data to discover latent as well as novel patterns, anomalies and intensities in that data. The ability of the DAAO to collect, sort, match and retrieve sub textual and cross-categorical data will make it an essential tool in visual arts scholarship, where productivity is hampered by the difficulty of accessing archival materials, isolated and deprecated datasets.

The DAAO’s open access publishing model distinguishes it from other attempts to build scholarly resources on the Web. It has the following features:

  1. a password-protected Web interface for authors, which allows them to submit private drafts for review and remotely edit/update their entries;
  2. a password-protected Web interface for editors/maintainers, which allows them to check new entries, assign entries to reviewers or board members, track deadlines, publish updates, etc.); and for peer reviewers to referee unpublished entries and accept/reject entries and revisions;
  3. a secure Web server for the editorial board members to approve, reject or suggest revisions;
  4. a tracking system which logs all users, events, footprints and abandoned projects; determines who owes work and when, automatically sends workflow emails, and provides task lists to all system users;
  5. biography versioning, providing the proper basis for scholarly citation; and
  6. an immediate commentary facility for every public entry.

The DAAO's publishing model therefore has the ability to deliver, with low administrative costs, content which meets academic standards via a medium that is universally accessible.

Open Access

The DAAO fosters on-line research and supports researchers by encouraging openness in the production and accessibility of research content. The use of open standards and tools is central to the DAAO's sustainability and will ensure that its research content will be extensible and reusable across and within other digital infrastructure.


The site is developing in response to the expressed needs of academics, students, curators, librarians, historians, art researchers and private researchers. Other audiences have expressed interest in using and contributing to the DAAO including journalists, media producers, collectors and auction houses.

Project Overview

Figure 1
Diagram 1: The growth of the DAAO over time and indicates the scope of tasks increasing with added functionality.

Stage 1 saw the foundation laid for the DAAO, including recruitment of core staff, the establishment of an Advisory Committee and Editorial, Technical and Client Working Groups to support the formulation of development priorities, editorial guidelines, needs analyses and functional specifications. After significant research a schema, data model and functional modules were defined.

Stage 1 was broken into two concurrent development phases: (1) the foundation archive of over 7,000 artist biographies was migrated and indexed; and (2) the workflow system for maintaining and creating new entries was built. Over 40 postgraduate students indexed the foundation works, a feat successfully completed in 2006.

Consequently, the DAAO beta is accessible at http://daao.org.au:3000. DAAO goes fully public in spring 2007. Stage 2 continues development on the project’s infrastructure in three main areas: while new data is added, the integration of previously inaccessible datasets is ongoing; and successful trials are being undertaken to expose interconnectivity with partner data. such as image databases. These partner data services include the National Gallery of Australia’s exhaustive prints database, (http://www.australianprints.gov.au), and the National Library’s on-line resource discovery projects PictureAustralia and People Australia (http://www.nla.gov.au).

The public release version of the DAAO has functionality to conduct complex searches and write commentaries on individual entries. It supports collaborative editorial processes, including on-line submission and a double-blind peer review of new research output. The Editorial Board ensures quality and rigour, and approves biographies for publication. 

Stage 3 will see the DAAO infrastructure: a) continue to generate new research; b) build interoperability to embed the DAAO within Australia’s growing national information infrastructure. This stage will address accessing peer infrastructure such as the Australian Dictionary of Biography Online (http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/), AustLit (http://www.austlit.edu.au) and the National Library of Australia's People Australia Project; and c) develop innovative representations and interpretations of returned data. The DAAO currently reveals relationships between data in text and tabular forms. We intend to exploit the spatial and temporal features of the data, to reveal patterns of influence and associations, in the form of appropriate graphical representations such as maps and timelines.


The project is supported by the Australian Research Council and led by the University of New South Wales. Partners are the University of Sydney, Monash University, the University of Adelaide, the National Library of Australia, the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the State Library of New South Wales and the Queensland Art Gallery.

The Australian Research Council awarded two Linkage Infrastructure Equipment Facilities grants in 2005 and 2007 to establish the DAAO.  Open and free access is a goal of the project; sustaining the DAAO will be a challenge.


AustLit: The Resource for Australian Literature, http://www.austlit.edu.au

Australian Dictionary of Biography Online, http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/

Johnson, V. (1994), Aboriginal Artists of the Western Desert: A Biographical Dictionary, Sydney: Craftsman House.

Kerr, J.; Judd, C. & Holder, J. (1999). Artists and Cartoonists in Black and White. Sydney: S.H Ervin Gallery.

Kerr, J. (ed), (1995). Heritage: The National Women’s Art Book. Sydney: Craftsman House.

Kerr, J. (ed), (1992). The Dictionary of Australian Artists: painters, sketchers, photographers and engravers to 1870. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

People Australia, on-line resource discovery service accessing information about significant Australian people, related biographical and contextual information, National Library of Australia, http://www.nla.gov.au

Prints & Printmaking in Australia & the Australasian Region, National Gallery of Australia, http://www.australianprints.gov.au/

Cite as:

Hellmers, L., Dictionary of Australian Artists On-line: Transforming Arts Research , in International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting (ICHIM07): Proceedings, J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. 2007. Published October 24, 2007 at http://www.archimuse.com/ichim07/papers/hellmers/hellmers.html