Today is UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage and so, particularly relevant to share the following great news: our Director of Operations, Grace Lile, has been awarded the 2010 Archival Achievement Award by the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York. Grace is is an archivist with 20 years experience working with film and video collections, and expertise in digital asset management, preservation-oriented production, and documentary film. You can read more about Grace on our website’s Staff page and you can also read her many contributions to this blog.
Below is a speech given by Chris Lacinak, the founder and president of Audiovisual Preservation Solutions and a consultant who has worked extensively with WITNESS, honoring Grace at the awards ceremony last Wednesday, October, 20, 2010:
I would like to start by sharing an excerpt from a presentation that Grace gave here at Columbia’s Center for Human Rights Documentation and Research. The presentation was part of a meeting titled Human Rights Archives and Documentation: Meeting the Needs of Research, Teaching, Advocacy and Social Justice, and Grace spoke so eloquently to the role of audiovisual media in advocacy and archives:
Images speak to us in their own language. As documentary evidence, they sometimes attain iconic status, the unparalleled power to symbolize, evoke or impress upon memory events which are complex, remote, perhaps otherwise unknown or forgotten. [T]hey say more to us than mere words, because of their to power to seize attention, to stir memory, to arouse empathy, outrage, or the desire to act, to break through complacency or denial, and to be universally and immediately accessible across barriers of language, literacy, or culture.
What most people know about WITNESS is that it is a human rights advocacy organization that uses video to document abuses. I’d like to speak to lesser known aspects of WITNESS which make Grace’s work that much more unique and challenging, and her accomplishments that much more worthy of recognition and celebration. (Chris’ speech continues below the video.)
Excerpts of remarks by Chris Lacinak; Jenni Wolfson, WITNESS’ Managing Director; and Grace Lile at the awards ceremony, October 20, 2010
First, there was no precedent when Grace walked into WITNESS for her first day of work. She did not find a handbook on her desk titled Video Archiving for Advocacy Organizations 101. As a point of reference, Degree programs for Moving Image archiving were just starting in 2003 and these were primarily focused on film instead of video, and certainly not focused on archiving digital video.
Second, archiving and preservation is not part of the mission of most advocacy organizations. The focus is on getting the message out, and it thrives on immediacy. The work that Grace has done to build and maintain the archive makes WITNESS unique and distinct from other similar organizations, and the value of their archive has been widely recognized.
Third, video advocacy takes video production, and video production environments are traditionally not archiving and preservation friendly. These are generally time-sensitive environments where documentation and organization takes a backseat to getting the final product out the door.
I could go on and on about the challenges that Grace has overcome which prove that she is superhuman, but I will speak to only one more overarching challenge that also provides some insights into WITNESS. WITNESS has traditionally partnered with people throughout the world who have a story to tell about human rights abuses. These are not professional videographers or documentarians, and so WITNESS coordinates with groups to travel, train and equip people throughout the World with whatever cameras they can get their hands on, and in whatever environments these abuses are taking place. In most cases there is little to no infrastructure such as electricity and internet. In many places, safety is a primary concern and video recording presents serious risks. Once the content is captured it is brought back to Brooklyn where they work with the partner to edit and distribute the content in multiple languages, on multiple platforms, and multiple media types internationally. In short, for WITNESS to fulfill its core mission of advocacy the challenges of engaging globally in complex relationships involving poor infrastructure, security concerns, amateur videographers, documentation, effective storytelling, and more can not be emphasized enough.
Add to all of the aforementioned challenges facts such as, In 2003:
- Digital video preservation wasn’t considered to be realistic;
- Trusted Digital Repositories, DSpace and FEDORA were in their infancy;
- YouTube and every popular platform used today didn’t exist;
- Neither did Camera phones, FLIP Cameras and other file-based video recorders;
- Publicly available cloud storage was just a concept.
Now, take all of this into consideration and realize that not only has Grace kept up with managing all of these challenges and factors, but she has been a leader, innovator, and advocate for progress – for both archives and human rights. Some of her highlights include:
- Development of a comprehensive metadata schema, data dictionary and database for managing analog and digital media;
- Development of preservation oriented production workflows;
- Digitization of large quantities of analog media, and developing born-digital file acquisition capabilities;
- Simultaneously making important content publicly accessible and greatly improving internal access to content in support of WITNESS’s daily operations;
- Presenting within organizations such as SAA and AMIA, addressing the most pressing issues confronting the field today, including format obsolescence, authenticity, security, interoperability, usability, and long-term access;
- Essentially assembling the handbook that was missing on day one when she started back in 2003. She has created a foundation and framework for the archive which positions it as a central support to the organization, and enables others to participate, learn, and help the archive thrive.
Grace’s work serves as a model for moving image archives, not only for advocacy organizations and non-profits, but for all moving image and sound archives everywhere.
I’d like to just briefly speak to Grace’s character before closing, and I will start by pointing out that Grace and WITNESS actually share many characteristics.
The nature of both WITNESS and Grace is to remain behind the scenes, choosing to place the spotlight on those which they support – Witness focusing the attention on their campaigns and partners, and Grace focusing the attention on her team. Bypassing the headlines they think critically and dig deeper to hear and represent the voice of the minority. They are both brimming with talent, and simultaneously humble. They are righteous, serious and focused but firmly grounded and with a great sense of humor. Their passion is apparent and contagious, bringing the best out in others. For all of these reasons, and because their position is so often behind-the-scenes, it is fitting that we cast a spotlight on them this year to recognize and celebrate the truly amazing work that Grace has accomplished within WITNESS.
I would like to sincerely thank and congratulate Grace for both her past and future work. I have no doubt that Grace’s talent combined with her fearless, persistent, and relentless dedication will continue to provide us with great contributions for many years to come.