We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of New South Wales stands.

National art archive collection development and access policy

1. Summary

The Art Gallery of New South Wales developed out of the New South Wales Academy of Art, established in Sydney on 24 April 1871. It was firmly founded on 19th-century ideals of public education and cultural enrichment. The Gallery and its functions are determined by the Art Gallery of New South Wales Act 1980. The principal objects of the Art Gallery of New South Wales Trust, outlined in section 7 of the Act, are to develop and maintain a collection of works of art and to propagate and increase the knowledge and appreciation of art. These objectives are supported by the National Art Archive, formally launched in November 2015, which contains both the Gallery’s institutional archive and its collected archives.

The Gallery’s institutional archive contains records and documents in a variety of formats, which were made as part of routine Gallery business from its beginnings in 1871 to the present day. These records pertain, but are not limited, to its governance, collection management, exhibitions and programs, administration and finance, marketing and sponsorship. The retention and disposal of these records, as well as public access to them, are determined by state legislation and relevant internal policy. Collected archives are those of individual artists, art professionals, arts organisations and commercial art galleries which provide unique material for scholarly research, publications, exhibitions and programs. This policy sets out the principles the National Art Archive utilises when acquiring, caring for, documenting and making accessible its archival collections.

2. Authority

This policy is established by the director and approved by the Board of Trustees pursuant to the Act.

3. Objective

The objectives of this policy are to ensure that the Gallery:
a. manages and safeguards its archives utilising best practice while ensuring their accessibility for present and future generations
b. continues to be a research leader in the fields of art history, museology and art education through its archival collections
c. remains compliant with Government legislation concerning the creation and retention of public records
d. maintains a level of transparency and accountability through the accessibility of its institutional archive
e. develops its collected archives in line with the Gallery’s wider strategic goals.

4. Application

This policy applies to all activities relating to the management and care of the collections held by the National Art Archive. This policy applies to the provisions of access for archives and their utilisation for exhibitions, research activities, publications and programs.

5. Definitions

In this policy:

  • Accession means the process undertaken that formally acknowledges an artwork to be part of the collection.

  • Acquisition means the process of obtaining valid title to an artwork, in accordance with the Art Acquisitions Policy.

  • Acquisitions and Loans Committee means the Board of Trustees sub-committee established to review and confirm the acquisition of artworks and the deaccessioning of artworks from the collection, as well as reviewing and approving requests for outgoing loans and long-term incoming loans from the collection in accordance with the Art Gallery of New South Wales Trust – Acquisitions and Loans Committee Charter.

  • Act means the Art Gallery of New South Wales Act 1980.

  • Archive means the historical or non-current records of an institution, organisation, or individual retained because of their continuing value.

  • Archivist means the professional staff member responsible for the selection, preservation, documentation, organisation and use of archives.

  • Collected archives means the historical records of institutions, organisations and individuals, sometimes known as manuscript collections, in a variety of formats.

  • Collection means works of art in various media that are Gallery property and have been formally accessioned. The collection also includes other material acquired and accessioned by the Gallery for the purpose of research and enhancement of the collection, including the National Art Archive and study collection.

  • National Art Archive collection means the sum of the institutional archive and the collected archives held by the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

  • Study collection comprises works of art designated for the purpose of study or research that support or relate to works of art or artists in the collection. The study collection is a sub-category of the collection and works are accessioned.

  • Commonwealth Cultural Gifts Program means the Commonwealth tax incentive program to encourage people to donate cultural items to public art galleries, museums, libraries and archives in Australia.

  • Deaccession means the permanent removal of a work of art from the collection or the National Art Archive.

  • Disposal means the process by which the Gallery effects the removal of a work from the collection, and may include the transfer of title in works deaccessioned from the collection of the National Art Archive to another party. Methods of disposal outlined in the Act are exchange, gift, sale or disposal.

  • Gallery means the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

  • Institutional archive means the collection of records, in a variety of formats, created by the Art Gallery of New South Wales as part of its routine operations and business from its inception in 1871 to the present day.

  • National Art Archive means the sum of the institutional archive and the collected archives held by the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

  • Papers means the same as ‘collected archives’, above.

  • PAINT means Preserving Art Information Now and Tomorrow, an archives classification scheme and disposal authority.

  • Record means documents or items in any format that were created or received in the conduct of affairs and kept as evidence of such activity.

  • Records manager means a professionally trained person responsible for the delivery of records management services to meet their organisation’s requirements.

  • The State Records Act 1998 means the Act that ensures better management and improved record keeping of Government records and greater protection for cultural heritage.

  • Trustee means a member of the Board of Trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

6. Policy

6.1. Preamble

6.1.1 Since its foundation, the Art Gallery of New South Wales has created records that document its core collecting and exhibiting activities, as well as its wider cultural, administrative and social life. These records now make up the rich institutional archive of the Gallery. The Art Gallery of New South Wales is distinctive in having preserved its entire archive from the founding years to the present. This institutional archive is unequalled in depth and content for chronicling the visual culture of Australia.

6.1.2 Beginning in 1955, with the donation of archival items from Max Klinger, the Art Gallery of New South Wales collected sporadically the personal and professional papers of artists and art organisations. These collections expanded significantly from 1994, with the appointment of a professional archivist, the first such appointment by an Australian public art gallery.

6.1.3 In November 2015, the Gallery’s institutional archive and its collected archives were launched as the National Art Archive. This initiative gave the Gallery’s archival collections greater visibility and highlighted their role in supporting the statutory mission of the Gallery ‘to propagate and increase knowledge and appreciation of art’. The National Art Archive also contributes to the Gallery’s strategic aim of serving the widest possible audience as a centre of excellence for the interpretation and display of Australian and international art, and a forum for scholarship, art education and the exchange of ideas.

6.2. Collecting scope

6.2.1 The collections of the National Art Archive give ‘emphasis to the visual art of Australia and Asian or Pacific countries whose cultural traditions are of special interest to Australia’, as stipulated by the Art Gallery of New South Wales Act 1980. However, these collections seek to present Australian art in a global context by documenting art in Australia, not just Australian art.

The two major collection groups within the National Art Archive – the Gallery’s institutional archive and the collected archives – do this in different ways:

6.2.2 The Gallery’s institutional archive collects records and publications created in the course of Gallery business from 1871 to the present in formats now known and those yet to be invented. These include legal, administrative, operational, programmatic, personnel and financial records with permanent historical value in documenting art acquisitions, programs, decisions and individuals at the Gallery.

6.2.3 The main strands of Gallery records are:

• Governance, including Trust and executive records
• Collection management, including acquisition and conservation records
• Exhibitions and programs, including learning and participation records
• Administration and finance, including marketing, communications and sponsorship records
• The Gallery’s online presence and associated data and communications

6.2.4 The State Records Act 1998 and the Gallery’s Record Keeping Policy detail provisions governing the permanent retention and disposal of state records, as well as the statutory basis for a right of public access to records. This describes common records found across the Gallery in all formats, including paper records, audio-visual, computer generated records and photographic mediums. In maintaining its institutional archive the Gallery is firstly compliant with the provisions of the Act. The Gallery maintains its historical archive on-site and provides public access to it through a still-in-use determination made with the State Archives. Moreover, with approval from State Archives, the Gallery also employs a specific classification scheme and disposal authority (PAINT) for its unique records.

6.2.5 Collected archives support the wider mission of the Art Gallery of New South Wales to advance understanding and enjoyment of the visual arts.

6.2.6 Priority is given to collecting those archives that are closely associated with the Gallery’s permanent collection of art, enriching understanding of the collection with insights from artists, collectors and scholars.

6.2.7 Building upon the Gallery’s pioneering curatorial activity in collecting and displaying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, the Art Gallery of New South Wales was also the first to appoint a dedicated archivist of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collections. The management, development and expansion of these collections is a major focus. This is done by acquiring archival collections where appropriate and by working closely with artists, galleries and regional art centres to provide archival support where needed. All these activities are informed by the Gallery’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Policy and Procedures.

6.2.8 The role of archives is to provide evidence and to give context and depth to research and programming.

6.2.9 The National Art Archive collects archives that have compelling evidential content, from providing provenance for the Gallery’s collection to documenting visual culture beyond contemporary trends. In this context, it may be appropriate to collect the archive of an artist who is not represented in the Gallery’s collection, if the Gallery’s archivists, working closely with curators and conservators, judge that such an archive helps tell a fuller or different story of art in Australia.

The National Art Archive is committed to gender parity, where possible, when collecting artists’ archives. The technical archives of artists, including samples of their paints and other materials, may be collected to provide evidence of studio practice and to assist with the care of collections.

6.2.10 The National Art Archive seeks to collect those archives that are rich and complex in their content, have inherent value as originals, give a comprehensive understanding of an artist’s practice and provide a foundation for research, exhibitions, public programs and outreach. They will largely contain primary materials, such as letters, diaries, sketchbooks, business records, unpublished writings, photographs, works of art, objects, maquettes, video and audio recordings.

6.2.11 The Gallery may not be able to collect some archives if it is deemed that they cannot be stored, arranged and preserved under conditions that ensure their availability for research, in keeping with professional standards.

6.2.12 Expenses related to the arrangement, description and preservation of collections should be minimal or offset through funding sources such as donations or grants.

6.3. The acquisition process

6.3.1 The Gallery’s institutional archive records are transferred to the National Art Archive for permanent retention according to the stipulations of the State Records Act 1998 and the Gallery’s own Record Keeping Policy. The Gallery’s records manager facilitates this transfer and ensures that valuable records are archived and files with no archival value are destroyed according to the Gallery’s disposal authority.

6.3.2 Digital institutional records, which include analog and digital audio-visual records, computer-based records, electronic equipment, digital still images and time-based artworks, are properly preserved so that they survive in authentic and accessible forms over the whole of their existence, in accordance with the relevant state legislation and the Gallery’s own Electronic Record Keeping policy.

6.3.3 Collected archives are normally acquired through bequest, outright gift or gift under the Commonwealth Cultural Gifts Program. Only on the rarest of occasions will the Gallery consider the purchase of an archival collection.

6.3.4 As a general rule, the Gallery will not accept a gift where the donor reserves any power of control or revocation. However, donors may request that certain parts of their archive remain ‘closed’ for a stipulated period on account of legal issues or other sensitivities. This closed period must have a limited time placed on it. Donors are required to sign a deed of gift, evidencing full transfer of title and possession.

6.3.5 An exception to this requirement will be some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander archives, where the Gallery enters into an agreement to manage and have custodianship of an archive, without full title and possession.

6.3.6 Bequeathed archives may be refused if they are deemed to be outside the collecting scope of the National Art Archive.

6.3.7 Proposed archival collections with a value of $25,000 or over must be presented to the Acquisitions and Loans Committee for discussion and pending a decision on endorsement. An acquisition proposal is prepared by the archivist, clearly stating the reasons for accepting the donation, the physical and digital conditions of the archive and the ongoing projected costs of maintaining and giving access to it. Where relevant, the Gallery’s conservators should be involved in assessing the physical condition and stability of the proposed donation. Prior to consideration by the Acquisitions and Loans Committee, archival proposals are approved by the head of the National Art Archive, the deputy director and the director. The decisions of the Acquisitions and Loans Committee will be minuted and ratified by the Board of Trustees at their subsequent meeting.

6.3.8 Collections that contain significant quantities of analog and digital audio-visual material, computer-based material, electronic equipment, digital still images and time-based artworks will require a funding proposal at acquisition to address digital migration, storage and access requirements.

6.4. Collection management and access

6.4.1 The Gallery’s stewardship of collections, both art and archival, is informed by professional knowledge, research and expertise. The Gallery is committed to managing all of its collections in a manner that maintains and furthers its reputation for excellence and integrity by the general public and in the museum, library and archival communities, both nationally and internationally. The Gallery’s Collection Management Policy sets out the principles the Gallery will adopt and factors it will consider when caring for, documenting and making accessible works in its collection and care.

6.4.2 According to best archival practice, archival collections should not be split up or dispersed. The archives of artists frequently contain original works of art. There may be occasions when it is appropriate to transfer individual items from an archive into the Gallery’s curatorial collection. However, if these works of art form an integral part of a wider collection and gain meaning from context, as is evident with conceptual art, performance art and other similar movements, this should be avoided. Transfers should not occur if a donor has stipulated that their entire archive should remain together and housed in the National Art Archive. All transfers, if they occur, should be fully documented.

6.4.3 The National Art Archive will provide access to the Gallery’s institutional archive and to collected archives to the fullest extent possible on a free, fair and equitable basis. Certain materials may be restricted to protect the intellectual property rights of creators, individual privacy rights and the proprietary rights of the Gallery, or according to the State Records Act 1998. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander archives may be restricted, as detailed by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols for Libraries, Archives and Information Services. For protection of its collections, the National Art Archive also reserves the right to restrict access to records that are not arranged, are being processed, or are exceptionally valuable or fragile. Copies will be provided in lieu of original material where appropriate.

6.4.4 Onsite access to the collections will be provided in the reading room of the Art Gallery of New South Wales Research Library during operational hours. Prior notification of archives to be used should be made at least one day in advance and access will be granted upon completion of the application for access to archival collections form and the researcher’s agreement to follow the Archive Conditions of Access. A digital viewing station will provide researchers with the opportunity to access all digital records, including audio and visual material and time-based artworks.

6.4.5 Remote access to archives will be offered in a number of ways. Processed archival collections will have a summary catalogue record on the library’s online public access catalogue (OPAC) through the Gallery’s website and through the Australian National Bibliographic Database. Where possible, a finding aid, fully describing the archival collection for researchers, will be attached.

6.4.6 A selection of archival records, fully digitised, will also be made available through the Gallery’s online collection. The type and range of material made available in this way will be determined by the internal needs of Gallery research and programs, commercial demand for image supply and the Gallery’s routine aim of providing increased access to its collections. Individual requests for online archival records will be determined on a case-by-case basis and may attract costs

6.4.7 Image requests for archival material for online and print publishing as well as some commercial products should be made through the Gallery’s Rights and Image Licensing department. Charges apply for this service. Images of material in the archive may be used for research and study (among other ‘fair dealing’ exceptions) as defined by section 40 of the Copyright Act 1968 (as amended) without applying for specific permission. All other uses of content require Gallery permission and permission of the copyright owner (where applicable).

6.4.8 In addition to physical and digital access, limited reference services by the Gallery’s librarians and archivists are also provided online.

6.5. Deaccessioning

6.5.1 The National Art Archive reserves the right to deaccession or transfer entire or partial collections that have been accessioned. Items may also be culled from collections during processing activities according to accepted archival principles.

6.5.2 Full or partial deaccessioning of a collection may occur if the collection is deemed out of the scope of the National Art Archive’s collection plan, harmful to staff or researchers or to other collections, or incapable of safe and adequate storage. Full or partial deaccessioning of a collection is recommended by the head of the National Art Archive. It is then submitted to the Board of Trustees for consideration and consent.

6.5.3 Material that may be culled during processing includes duplicates, items whose physical condition may be harmful to other collections, material of little research value and works of art that are not primarily of a documentary nature and that are not deemed suitable for the curatorial collections.

6.5.4 Where appropriate, culled or deaccessioned material should be offered to another public institution if the material is within their collecting scope.

6.5.5 Items with a modest market value, such as books, may be sold through the Gallery’s annual book sale or in other ways. Works of art that are culled from archival collections must first be shown to the relevant curator for possible accessioning into the curatorial collection. If deemed unsuitable, they are deaccessioned according to the Gallery’s Deaccession and Disposal Policy.

6.6. Exhibitions, programs and loans

6.6.1 The National Art Archive seeks to be more than a static repository of objects and records. Using its collections in exhibitions and programs, it provides Gallery visitors with multiple ways of enjoying and understanding art. It works with local and international scholars, curators, artists and collectors to support the ambition of the Gallery to provide an outstanding national forum for scholarship and art education.

6.6.2 The National Art Archive regularly organises exhibitions from its collections in the Art Gallery’s Research Library as well as contributing content to the Gallery’s wider exhibition program.

6.6.3 The National Art Archive occasionally publishes articles and books and sponsors symposia, lectures and other public programs to promote its collections and the study of art history.

6.6.4 Outward loans from the National Art Archive are facilitated where possible. These must be submitted to the archivist for initial approval. They are then managed by the Gallery’s registrar, according to the Gallery’s external loan procedures. The final authority to approve an outward loan resides with the director for works valued up to $750,000 and with the full Board of Trustees, pending consideration by the Acquisitions and Loans Committee, for works valued over $750,000.

7. Responsibilities and compliance

7.1 Board of Trustees and Acquisitions and Loans Committee

The Board of Trustees is responsible for approving archive acquisitions, either directly or by delegation to the director subject to cases where ministerial approval is required, such as in the case of deaccessions.

The Acquisitions and Loans Committee is responsible for monitoring and reviewing all aspects of the acquisition and loans processes of the archive and making recommendations to the Board of Trustees in this regard.

7.2 Executive and staff

The director and deputy director are responsible for ensuring that the processes and documentation relating to archives conform to all policies and that Gallery staff understand and comply with the policies.

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Policy

  • Art Acquisitions Policy

  • Collection Management Policy

  • Donations and Bequests Policy

  • Electronic Record Keeping Policy

  • Gifts and Benefits Policy

  • Provenance and Due Diligence Research Policy

  • Record Keeping Policy

8.2 Guidelines, procedures and associated documents

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Policy

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Procedures

  • Acquisitions and Loans Committee Charter

  • Application for Access to Archival Collections

  • Archive Conditions of Access

  • Art Acquisition Procedures

  • Art Acquisition Policy

  • Code of Ethics and Conduct

  • Provenance and Due Diligence Research Procedures

8.2.2 National and international guidelines, procedures and associated documents

8.3 Legislation

8.3.1 Commonwealth of Australia

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984

  • Customs Act 1901

  • Income Tax Assessment Act 1997

  • Personal Properties Securities Act 2009

  • Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986

  • Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Regulation 2018

  • Protection of Cultural Objects on Loan Act 2013

  • Biosecurity Act 2015

8.3.2 New South Wales