A Guide to Researching with the DAAO
By TESS ALLAS AND LAURA FISHER
Methods of Data Collection:
Questionnaire forms were distributed to all known artists in our catchment areas. These forms asked a range of questions about their life and practice, the answers to which became the primary data upon which biographies were based. The content of the questionnaire also corresponded to the metadata categories that accompany biographies on the DAAO, and from which the statistical information discussed later in this report is gleaned.
At times further clarification of artists’ responses to the questionnaires was necessary and email contact would be established. One of the great benefits of email correspondence (unlike phone interviews) is that information given can be catalogued for future research.
Phone conversations were especially important in cases where artists did not respond to certain questions in the data form that related to a conventional artist’s career path (for instance, what kind of artistic training they had had), but could provide other information to enrich a biography that they did not realize was relevant or appropriate. Phone conversations often helped to make the project meaningful to artists, particularly older generation artists who had little or no experience with the web.
FACE TO FACE INTERVIEWS:
In some instances face to face interviews were conducted with artists, particularly where members of the team had pre-existing relationships with the artists. This method however was a double-edged sword as some artists made themselves available immediately upon request while in other cases the friendship between artist and researcher was a hindrance as the requests for interviews were often interpreted as an opportunity for a social gathering.
Several workshops were conducted by the Storylines Team over the three-year course of the research project. These were held in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. In some cases these workshops provided the team with artist contacts, while in others the workshop’s only value seemed to be in promoting the DAAO and the Storylines project with the hope of future contact being established with artists by word of mouth. The most effective of all the workshops was in Tasmania because that state’s Aboriginal Arts Officer was proactive in facilitating and promoting our workshops to artists in her network. Having internet access while conducting the workshop so that participants could see examples of published biographies was invaluable in gathering support for the project.
LOCAL/REGIONAL/STATE ARTS OFFICERS:
The Storylines team tried to correspond with arts officers in each state to seek their assistance in making contact with artists under their jurisdiction. Responses were varied. Some arts officers established lines of communication between artists and the Storylines team, providing useful information about artists and/or helped to facilitate workshops, while others provided little assistance.
STATE GALLERIES, MUSEUMS AND UNIVERSITY COLLECTIONS:
The Storylines team made frequent use of State Gallery and Museum websites to cross-reference artists’ claims of having been acquired by those institutions, and to source other information about artists’ careers and practice. While some of these websites have detailed and up to date information available, others had little useful content, and thus contact was also made with Indigenous art curators at these institutions on a regular basis to ask specific questions. Some universities and galleries provided physical and electronic access to their archives.
Where possible city based Aboriginal arts organisations (and some mainstream centres) across the nation provided access to their databases and other resources that helped the Storylines Team make direct contact with artists. Regionally based organisations distributed the questionnaire forms and assisted with the gathering of biographical information from all the artists associated with their organisation.
In some cases commercial galleries who represented Indigenous artists worked with the Storylines team to upload biographies that they already had on file onto the DAAO. In some instances the galleries simply facilitated contact between researcher and artist.
In some instances where outside writers and researchers were recognised as having great knowledge of a particular artist, Storylines commissioned them to write a biography for inclusion on the DAAO.
Major exhibition catalogues were constantly utilised for both current and historical information. Some catalogues provided contact information, others had substantial exhibiting histories and bibliographies on individual artists. Particularly useful were catalogues and websites pertaining to specifically Indigenous art prizes and awards.
At times government departments produce publications that contain biographical and contact information on artists within their demographic, as well as information about existing arts organisations and cooperatives so these are also useful.