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Photo by Sima Kirshner, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Photo by Sima Kirshner, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Creating content on Wikimedia Commons usually involves developing new and creative ways to increase the number of public domain and freely-licensed high-quality images available for use in Wikipedia articles. However, Wikimedia Commons can also be a great educational resource for art students.

Einat Amir, a video and performance artist and lecturer at the Postgraduate Fine Arts Program at Hamidrasha, the Faculty of Arts Beit Berl College Israel, worked with her students on a special exhibition based on materials from Wikimedia Commons—Unchain My Art.

“I learned about Wikimedia Commons when I started editing the Hebrew Wikipedia,” says Amir. “I was overwhelmed by the richness of the website! You can find historical images, documents and files from all over the world. What makes it even more fascinating is the diverse categorization of images. One can look for one thing and stumble upon another of equal interest.”

This free media file repository is a tool that many professors and students have yet to become familiar with. The loads of images, videos, and sound files in this repository could provide the reference materials that inspire new artwork. As an added benefit, art students inherently learn about the principles of free knowledge and freely-licensed materials.

These concepts challenge the common perception in the art world that copyrights are mandatory. Art students are educated about fair use and copyright infringement law with cases of historical precedent, such as the Cariou v. Prince copyright infringement case regarding appropriated art.

Amir’s course had two sections: the theoretical part where her students learned about different uses of digital archives in contemporary art.

Wikimedia Israel volunteers taught the students about the Wikimedia movement, Wikimedia Commons, and copyright issues. The students created their own accounts on the website and learned how to download photos, give proper credit, and how to upload and categorize new media.

They have also explored creative ways of using media files: each of them was asked to choose 10 pictures that they like for any reason. Then they were asked to do a 15-minute presentation to discuss possible relationships between their selected pictures.

The next phase of the course combined all the pictures selected by the students, shuffled and divided them into new, invented categories (for class use only). Each of these new categories was assigned to a group of students who were instructed to create a new artwork that combines all the different items in their category. Each group of students created their own unique artwork using creativity, inventiveness, and their unique combination of talents.

Amir has also encouraged her students to gain experience verbally articulating their creative decisions: “As an artist, you always need to explain your work to teachers, colleagues, curators, to your audience. The process of selecting and using media from Wikimedia Commons was a good practice exercise to help the students explain every stage of their creative process with their peers.”

By the end of the semester a physical exhibition was held at the art school’s gallery while a virtual one was held on Wikimedia Commons, available for worldwide public viewing. As far as we know, this is the first art exhibition for Wikimedia Commons to showcase.

“Curating Unchain My Art as a virtual exhibition was a very special experience. Each artwork is presented by its sources of inspiration with an explanation of the artistic process that brought it to life.” says Amir, “It was important to me that the students not only use the images they found on Wikimedia Commons, but also contribute to it by uploading their artwork to the place of their inspiration, with the hope that other people will be inspired by their work and the creative cycle continues,” says Amir.

Students that participated in the exhibition include:Alina Deckel, Gad Kozitz, Hadar Reuven, Hani Khatib, Navah Uzan, Gilat Elkaslasi and Moran Victoria Sabag, Ronit Citri, Shulamit Bialy, Sima Kirshner and Vardit Goldner.

We hope that this exhibition will be the first of many educational art initiatives to gain inspiration from the media files available on Wikimedia Commons.

Einat Amir, HaMidrasha
Michal Lester, Wikimedia Israel

In brief

  • Wiki Loves Monuments begins: The sixth edition of the world’s largest photographic competition has begun. This blog will run a long-form announcement next week; those looking to join the event can find instructions over at Commons.
  • Tech News: A new edition has been published. Of note: images now no longer load unless a user sees them, which “is to save mobile data and make the pages load faster,” and the name of the “save page” button is changing.
  • New RAW: The French Wikipedia’s 20 August RAW has details on CollectArt, an effort to get museum visitors to upload their photos to Wikimedia Commons, and a collaboration between Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec and Wikisourcers to upload and proofread a book a day.
  • Books and Bytes published: The bimonthly newsletter from the Wikipedia Library, the program that helps connect editors with the sources they need to write articles, is out. The team has five new research partnerships, and editors from around the world can sign up for these accounts now; there are also six open Wikipedia Visiting Scholar positions.
  • Wikimedia in Education out: The September Wikimedia in Education contains the heartwarming story of Armenian children teaching their parents how to edit. Said one parent, “I was worrying that my son spent hours in front of the laptop. But now, seeing the important work he is doing by creating and sharing free knowledge, I’m more understanding. I’m so proud of him!”
  • Signpost looks at India: The 18 August edition of the Signpost focused on India, with one story highlighting the recent country-wide conference there; over 450 people from 20 language groups attended. The second main story dove into licensing developments: as the Signpost‘s Tony1 writes, “Last week brought a rare piece of good news in the world’s uncertain progress towards the widespread free licensing of information on the Internet …  the government of one of India’s largest and most populous states—Tamil Nadu—has issued an instruction to Tamil University and ‘all other government departments and institutions to release all their publications, archives and collections under Creative Commons by Share-Alike license’.” A separate special report examined Antarctic women scientists.
  • Changes to chapter and thematic organization criteria: Details and a robust discussion can be found on the Wikimedia-l mailing list.
  • Silesian Wikipedia reaches 5000 articles: On 6 July, the Silesian Wikipedia reached 5000 articles. The milestone article was about the American state of Utah. The Silesian language (or a dialect, depending on the source) is spoken by more than 500,000 people and is used mostly in the Silesia region of Poland. “Creating Wikipedia is is not just about keeping this ethnolect alive, but about making it flourish,” says Lajsikonik, one of the most active editors of the Silesian Wikipedia. “Writing an encyclopedia is an ambitious task, especially when you create it in a language that not so long ago used to be a language of the common people. Advancing in the social ladder required learning German or Polish. But now there is a growing group of well-educated Silesian people who have not forgotten the language which was spoken at their homes. They want to cultivate their culture in many different ways.” Editing Wikipedia is one of them. The Silesian Wikipedia is the largest encyclopedia created in that language. (note via Natalia Szafran-Kozakowska, Wikimedia Poland)

Ed Erhart, Editorial Associate
Wikimedia Foundation

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