October 24-26, 2007
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Paper: Creating The Environment For Collaboration - Victoria's Cultural Network Project

Elycia Wallis, Museum Victoria, Australia


Cultural organizations, such as museums and galleries, are increasingly utilizing the capacities of broadband to deliver rich media content over the Web, in their venues or via mobile devices. In the project reported here, a high speed broadband network connects six arts agencies in Melbourne, Australia and this is used to deliver rich media content via a Web site and public access points in venues. The installation of the broadband network has been the catalyst for wider collaboration to be undertaken. This paper describes Victoria’s Cultural Network (VCN), an initiative that has seen a number of organizations start to communicate and cooperate in a way that they have not done before.

Keywords: broadband, Australia, multi-institution, rich media, collaboration


Broadband penetration throughout Australian households has increased markedly in the past five years – 0.9 subscribers per 100 inhabitants in 2001 up to 19.2 in 2006 (OECD, 2007). Cultural organizations, such as museums and galleries, are increasingly utilizing the capacities of broadband to deliver rich media content over the Web, in their venues or via mobile devices. In the project reported here, a high speed broadband network is used to deliver such rich media content via a Web site and public access points in venues, but the project goes much further than that. The installation of this broadband network between six arts agencies in Melbourne (Victoria, Australia) has been the catalyst for wider collaboration to be undertaken by these agencies. This paper describes Victoria’s Cultural Network (VCN), an initiative that has seen a number of organizations start to communicate and cooperate in a way that they have not done before.

Victoria’s Cultural Network is an optical fibre network between Museum Victoria, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, the National Gallery of Victoria, the State Library of Victoria, the Victorian Arts Centre Trust, and Federation Square. At a network level, broadband permits participants to share high volumes of data without incurring data charges. This allows content to be shared, and operational efficiencies to be gained (Hallett & Whitworth, 2006). In addition to the network itself, the VCN project has funded the development of collaborative content projects, based largely around rich media resources that can be highlighted using broadband delivery. The type of content produced includes digital stories, video interviews with curators, exhibition related content and video-rich Web sites highlighting creative process such as the making of music and artworks. Providing a Web site that gives access to all this content has thrown up some difficulties, such as needing standardisation of approaches in terms of content and context; determining shared digital formats, content and technology management; combined with the plain hard work of getting six institutions and their overarching government agency to agree and collaborate effectively.

Broadband opens up possibilities of providing rich media content in the form of interactivity, audio and moving images. However, most institutions have few digital objects accessioned into their heritage collections. This raises the issue of how to provide meaningful broadband experiences from, what are often, static objects. Curatorial knowledge about, and acceptance of, the possibilities of delivering collection information in a format other than the traditional image and text combination has also posed an interesting challenge for content developers. Again, it is the need for cross-agency collaboration in interpreting collections in new ways that has been one of the most satisfying outcomes of the VCN project.

Project Background Summary

Scope and institutional participants

The Victoria’s Cultural Network project operates in the Australian state of Victoria. A high bandwidth optical fibre network has been installed between 6 principal participants located within a few kilometres of each other in central Melbourne. These are:

  • Australian Centre for the Moving Image
  • Federation Square
  • Museum Victoria
  • National Gallery of Victoria
  • State Library of Victoria
  • The Victorian Arts Centre Trust

The broadband network will be expanded to 5 metropolitan and regional organizations in late 2007. Connections have, or will be, established with the Australian Academic Research Network (AARNet) and the Victorian State government’s gateway, VGEX, which will provide access through to Victoria’s 1700 schools (Hallett & Whitworth, 2006).

Funding Organization, Identified Individual Participants, Funding And Duration

The Victoria’s Cultural Network project is funded by the State Government of Victoria, Australia through Arts Victoria. A project budget of $2.8 million Australian dollars was provided for the project over 4 years from 2003-2007. Funding beyond 2007 has been provided in the 2007-2008 Victorian State Budget as part of the Imagination Unlimited program (http://www.arts.vic.gov.au/arts/news/news/budget0708.htm). 

Information about the Victoria’s Cultural Network project can be obtained from Ms Eleanor Whitworth, Acting Senior Arts Officer, Arts Victoria, email eleanor.whitworth@dpc.vic.gov.au or from the author.

Problem Statement

During the first two years of the Victoria’s Cultural Network project, then called the Cultural Broadband Network, the emphasis was placed on creating the physical fibre optic cable infrastructure that links the 6 principal participants. Along the way, some milestones were achieved, such as configuring the network so that two of the agencies could share a single business system for Human Resources and payroll. However, the mere presence of an operational network did not provide a public face to the network, and did not give any way to show off the rich media content that was being produced using funding from the project. A public face to the network was required.

Project Objectives

A number of public access points, to be located at each of the agencies was proposed, along with a Web site that would sit outside each of the organizations’ individual Web sites. These would provide access to rich media content, primarily video, which had been gathered or produced by the participating organizations.

The public access points will take the form of kiosks or pods – that will be physically located in the public spaces of the participant organizations. Visitors can sit in a lounge or at a kiosk and use a touchscreen to navigate through a display system. Content, in the form of images, text or videos, will be shown on a large format display screen. Delivery of rich media content into the public access points will utilize the network infrastructure, allowing data transfer at 10Mbps. Content for the public access points is drawn from a central content management system that all participants can share and add to, but that is managed by one of the agencies on behalf of all of them. This common backend system is also used to drive a Web site. It is assumed that access to the Web site would require the user to have a broadband connection of at least 2Mbps to download and view the video content.

The principal objective for this part of the project, then, was to design and build a content management system that could accommodate rich media and associated metadata from a number of organizations. Furthermore, content needed to be collected from the participants and, in some cases, produced.


A content producer was engaged to gather up rich media content from each agency, and to develop a broad thematic structure for the Web site and public access points. The content producer’s task quickly blew out to include commissioning and producing new content, writing narratives and encouraging participation and collaboration in the project.

Participants were invited to provide content that would be well suited to a broadband delivery platform and that was not available on their current organizational Web sites. This led to a range of content being offered: some organizations chose to produce documentary videos, “behind the scenes” videos of collections, or standalone Web sites of that could be linked in to the VCN; others offered content previously used for temporary exhibitions since closed; another chose to deliver training to other organizations and individuals in the area of digital storytelling. Of particular note in this regard has been the production of personal digital stories based on various broad themes – country football being one, experiences of indigenous Australians being another. However, the emphasis was firmly on finding content that was deemed ‘broadband’. This was, inevitably, interpreted as ‘video’. The result of this was an extremely heterogeneous mix of themes, issues and topics amongst the content provided – in lots of video files. Making sense of this, thematically, so that users could find a way into the mix has been a key job of the content producer. 

The thematic presentation of content in the VCN system has led to the development of a thematic architecture, which will be extensible over time. It also led to the introduction of the concept of media files being viewed in an interpretive framework of a story or narrative. The aim was to provide a guide to the user, rather than simply present a grab-bag of digital media assets. Embedding media into a narrative context has also provided a way to present images, text and audio files alongside video for a more rounded treatment of particular themes.

Content/Asset Management System

All of the content, including narratives and media files, are stored in a central, backend system that is managed by one of the participating organizations (Museum Victoria). The database uses proprietary content management system software, with templates constructed to manage data input. The backend data schema was originally written to accommodate just the individual media files, and was based on Dublin Core. This has now been significantly modified to accommodate requirements for dealing with copyright, attribution, tagging specifically for a potential education audience, and embedding the content into the thematic structure. 

Other modules have also been added. A Story module is used to pull together media files into a narrative and to display these files in a particular order in the front end Web site. An Organizations module has been added. Organizations who are providing media content must be registered in the system and have also provided information about themselves and their collections. The types of information collected include contact details, information for visitors, and a general description of the size and contents of the collection. This feeds into a Collections module, where organizations have the option of providing more data about specific parts of their collections. Inspiration for the organization and collections modules was taken from a number of similar Web sites around the world, particularly Collections Australia Network in Australia (http://www.collectionsaustralia.net/ ), the 24 Hour Museum in the UK (http://www.24hourmuseum.org.uk/ ), the Virtual Museum in Canada (http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/ ) and Cornucopia in the UK (http://www.cornucopia.org.uk/ ).


The most significant milestones are yet to come, when the Web site and public access points are finally launched in late 2007.


The principal participants in the Victoria’s Cultural Network project are all cultural agencies, but who have not necessarily collaborated before. The project has allowed all of them to start to understand the approaches and perspectives of the others. Despite their common underpinnings as publicly funded State agencies which, together, hold the majority of Victoria’s heritage collections they each operate in subtly different environments. The museums, the library, the art gallery and the digital media specialist all regard their collections in particular ways. However, the VCN project has allowed each organization to re-think their approaches to presenting collections in a digital format and each to move towards storytelling and away from simply presenting collection objects online. Storytelling, says Blyth (2005) is the start of the way forward for cultural organizations to engage with the possibilities of broadband and the new visitors this will bring. The next challenge, and one that the Victoria’s Cultural Network will face as it moves into the next phase of its development, is to open up participation, debate and dialogue between the creative providers and their audience.


The author wishes to thank Eleanor Whitworth and Martin Hallett from Arts Victoria, Jonny Brownbill and Tim Hart from Museum Victoria, Michelle Moo, content producer for VCN and Michael Parry from ACMI for each of their parts – seen and unseen – in the development of this paper.


Blyth, T. (2005). Curating for broadband. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2005:Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 31, 2005 at http://www.archimuse.com/mw2005/papers/blyth/blyth.html Last consulted 30 July 2007.

Hallett, M. & E. Whitworth (2006). Presentation to CCA digital summit re: Victoria’s Cultural Network. Available at http://www.collectionscouncil.com.au/speaker+presentations+and+papers.aspx? DMXModule=688&EntryId=474&Command=Core_Download  Last consulted 30 July 2007.

 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2007). OECD Broadband Statistics to December 2006. Available at: http://www.oecd.org/sti/ict/broadband  Last consulted 30 July 2007.


Cite as:

Wallis, E., Creating The Environment For Collaboration - Victoria's Cultural Network Project , 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/wallis/wallis.html