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Lectures: Mona Jimenez Panel


mona jimenez: independent media & film preservation in the us

Part of: 



This lecture was presented as part of a keynote panel titled "The Development and Future Direction of Alternative Moving Image Archives in the U.S. and Japan" at Nihon University College of Art on November 26, 2016. The discussions focused on the history and the current possibilities of moving image archiving efforts by alternative organizations by comparatively observing methods, differences of infrastructure, and culture between Japan and the U.S. By encouraging discussions with the invited guest Professor Mona Jimenez of New York University and Tochigi Akira, Curator of National Film Center (Tokyo), we aimed to initiate an international platform to gather and discuss current projects and situations that face their work in organizing media archives in Japan.


Independent Media and Film Preservation in the US

Lecture Notes, Mona Jimenez

Delivered November 26, 2016 as part of the panel "The Development and Future Direction of Alternative Moving Image Archives in the U.S. and Japan", at Nihon University College of Art, Ekoda Campus

Please note: The associated video of the talk ( has slides which show the full names of the organizations and initiatives mentioned in the lecture notes below. In addition, some of the slides were skipped during the talk, but the lecture notes below provide additional information on the content of those slides.]

Thank you to CCJ, Ann Adachi, host Professor Okuno, co-presenter Mr. Akira Tochigi, National Film Center, and translator Yuki Nakamura.


I will focus today on a selective history of how conservation and preservation in the US came to be focused not just on feature film and commercial and public television, but also on experimental and avant-garde works, independent documentaries and media art. This was a gradual process that started in the 1960s and 1970s, but independent film and media makers were very important to the recognition of these works as part of the country's cultural heritage. 

I will then turn to a program I am a part of: the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program at New York University, and how we educate a new generation of preservationists to care for a wide range of moving image works. 

By the 1960s in the US, major organizations for the creation, distribution and preservation of film were organized in the US, such as the American Film Institute and the University of South California or UCLA Film and Television Archive. These joined the Museum of Modern Art, which began its film program in 1935. At the same time, important national entities were created, such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Public Television Service, which greatly increased funding of the arts and public media, and eventually, to film and video art. 

This funding coincided with the growth of the artists' space movement, where artists and their allies organized not-for-profit centers as an alternative to the larger, more established cultural organizations, which were seen to serving conventional cultural forms made by an elite and a homogeneous set of artists and producers. A few foundations and some of the leaders of the public arts funding were responsive to calls for centers that were more culturally and ethnically diverse, more gender-balanced, and more open to experimentation, particularly with video, which had just become available in portable form. 

At the same time, a small group of archivists and librarians started meeting to talk about how to care for moving image collections. This group eventually grew into the Association of Moving Image Archivists, which is an important professional organization today, and one that independents have had very strong role in.

It was in the alternative film and media centers, some of which were attached to universities, that discussions first started happening on two fronts. Again, there were efforts to assert that independent and experimental works were part of the nation's heritage, and two, the film and media arts communities began to sound an alarm about the obsolescence, ephemerality and deterioration of their collections. This is in the form of essays in film and media journals and by speaking out at conferences and symposia.

The National Endowment for the Arts responded by funneling more funding to the American Film Institute, which established the National Center for Film and Video Preservation. The center's main effort was to try and establish a National Moving Image Database, which was only marginally successful and ultimately disbanded in the late 1990s. However, arts funding had increased not only at the national level, but through individual state arts councils, which began to fund some film and video preservation, but almost exclusively in New York State and on the west coast of the US in the San Francisco Bay area.

During the 1980s, artists and staff of media arts centers also started publishing articles on video preservation, sharing various strategies to get old tapes to play. Not only had the playback machines for early videotapes become rare, the tapes themselves had become sticky and difficult to play by this time.

In the 1990s, we saw the first symposia on video preservation, organized by a non-for-profit organization called Media Alliance and the NYS Council on the Arts, a public funder, and it was held at a major museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. 

The proceedings of the symposium, along with research on preservation methods and collections needing attention, were published together in what was essentially a "call to arms" for video preservation. The monograph articulated the problem of preservation for this particular community.

A few years after the symposium, the Bay Area Video Coalition, a media arts center in San Francisco, after researching tape deterioration and cleaning carried out by the NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and others, opened a video preservation center aimed at small organizations and artists. The service is still active today.

At the same time, Media Alliance was pressuring the National Center for Film and Video Preservation to recognize the existence of experimental film and media art collections and to include them in the National Moving Image Database. This lead to the first training on cataloging for a handful of media art centers in upstate New York by NAMID.

Another important developments in the 1990s were two studies commissioned by the US Library of Congress, our national library, one on Film Preservation and one on the preservation of television and video. The independent media and film communities organized testimony by filmmakers, artists, arts organizations, film centers and academics on the plans. Thus, the voices of the independent makers were included along with those of the major film studios and commercial TV stations. This was extremely important for subsequent funding and collaborations.

At the same time, the Bay Are Video Coalition again took initiative, this time to bring together those concerned about media art conservation. Again with Media Alliance, they brought together various stakeholders - artists, conservators, curators, technical experts, registrars - to discuss topics such as care and storage of media materials, ethical considerations in conservation, and strategies for media art installations. The focus groups were followed by a symposium (Playback 1996) and then a monograph, which was widely distributed.

These new networks led to the creation of the Electronic Media Interest Group of the American Institute for Conservation, which still exists today. In addition, we saw groups like the Experimental Television Center aggregating documents both about the founding of the media arts and the about preservation methods through their Video History Project web site and a conference, held in1998, of the same name.

Also in the 1990s, a new organization, Independent Media Arts Preservation, was created to centralize information about and advocacy for media art preservation. One of their most important programs was the development of a downloadable template for cataloging of film, video and audio collections which you see here.

At the same time, new media organizations also began collections, notably Rhizome, an online arts organization, that set up the Artbase, a collection of artist web sites. Organizations such as the Berkeley Art Museum and the Guggenheim Museum of Contemporary Art began to articulate the special need of new media forms. For example, the Guggenheim launched something called the Variable Media Initiative, which also included a data template, this time for media art. They also convened meetings which brought concepts of media migration and emulation greater attention.

Also, media art conservators, the Bay Are Video Coalition, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art collaborated on the first symposium on media art installation called TechArcheaology, and the Experimental Television Center continued to work on the dissemination of media preservation strategies through the symposium Looking Back/Looking Forward.  

I would just like to note here that all through these decades there have been many similar efforts in other parts of the world, in Canada, the European Union, particularly groups like the Tate Museum in London, PACKED in Belgium, and the Netherlands Institute of Media Art in the Netherlands, among others. I suspect that in Asia and other parts of the world there may have been others. 

By this time, the Association of Moving Image Archivists was a major force in film and media preservation, had recognized the need for formal education in moving image preservation, and on the art conservation side, discussions were also underway on the need for educational programs in media art conservation. In the early 2000s, three programs were created in the US. One focused strictly on film preservation, The Selznick School for Film Preservation, one was created at UCLA jointly administered by a cinema studies department and an information studies (library) department. We also began our program at New York University, essentially created by a group of cinema studies scholars. Also, just this year, a conservation school announced a concentration in media art conservation which will admit its first student in 2018.

I have emphasized the role of independent film and media organizations to stress that in my opinion, the forces of the large and established institutions will over-shadow those of the experimental and new without advocacy, and that these communities have something unique to contribute to bodies of knowledge about preservation. I will be interested to hear if in Japan you face the same set of circumstances.

So let me now turn to our program. Although we are in major center for film, we are not in LA, in the center of the studio system. Also, the founding faculty - myself, Howard Besser and Antonia Lant - all had a fairly broad definition US film and media heritage. Thus, our curriculum does expose students to the major institutions and their systems, but also works held in small organizations and with artists and independent producers. Also, because at the time we were founded, there were no programs in moving image archiving and preservation, our emphasis has been cross-disciplinary, to prepare students to work in libraries, museums, archives, television stations and corporate settings. 

Here is a list of the types of organizations that our graduates work in.

Here is the curriculum for the first semester, where students are introduced to film, video and digital media formats, their composition, including deterioration factors and general conservation actions and philosophies. In addition, we place moving image archiving within the larger context of cultural heritage preservation, including legal contexts. We have recently added the Digital Literacy course, as almost everything we do now involves software and files.

In the second semester, we focus more deeply on collections, both through the students' first internship of three that are required in the program, and through the Collection Management course where they carry out preservation surveys and write reports that outline risk and preservation/conservation actions. They work intensely on metadata, and learn more about the various institutional structures within which moving image collections are found. 

They are placed in 10 week, full-time internships in the summer between the 2 academic years, where they get more hands-on experience. In the third semester, they learn to transfer videotapes to create digital preservation masters, and work on the theory and practice of digital preservation. In addition, they are placed in their third internship, begin work on a thesis, and take either a core cinema studies or an elective.

The fourth semester is focused on prepping and managing preservation projects in film and video, on creating access through Curating, and on born digital archaeology and forensics, and more complex multimedia and media art installation works. During this semester they also finish the thesis and either a core cinema studies or an elective.

Here are some of our accomplishments, but for more information, I suggest our web site as well as our 10 year anniversary site, which both give much more details. [video ends with this slide]

We are very proud of and learn a lot from our graduates. At the AMA conference every year there is a Hack Day that brings together computer programmers and archivists to work together to solve a problem. For example one project was to figure out how to extract metadata from a preservation file and put it into an organization's database about that item. The Hack Day partners worked together on a piece of software to make that possible.

Also, MIAP faculty, staff, alumni and students are active in research. Here are a few examples. 

Audiovisual Preservation Exchange is where team of educators, professionals and students work side-by-side on an archival or conservation project and learn from each other.

The Orphan Film Symposium is a biennial event where moving image caretakers and enthusiasts come together for panels and screenings. The symposium planning always includes preservation projects, often undertaken with the support of MIAP and our US Library of Congress.

Thank you very much and I look forward to our conversation.