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How art institutions can manage their metadata

Virtual assistants need descriptive metadata to work correctly. But many art organizations are poorly positioned with it. To close this gap, a Canadian start-up has developed a tool for art organizations to manage their metadata, writes our author Gregory Saumier-Finch.


Discoverability is changing. We are using screens and virtual assistants, driven by AI, to plan our leisure time. In order to participate in this AI shift, events and artistic productions need descriptive metadata. Without the data, even the best algorithms will fail, and the “long tail” of the internet will disappear. Most arts organizations are poorly placed to benefit from the surge in AI discoverability. While some large arts organizations have technical skills to generate descriptive metadata on their websites, our research shows that there are only a handful. However, for the roughly 2000 non-profit arts organizations in Canada, it is not economically viable for each organization to hire a web developer with the skills needed to publish descriptive metadata. This leaves a majority of arts organizations both unaware (not realizing that their event data is missing) and vulnerable (being mis-represented by 3rd parties who do generate descriptive metadata.) Current status quo of the AI boom has shifted control away from arts organizations and into the hands of 3rd parties who end up controlling the descriptive metadata that appears in search engines and virtual assistants. A quick Google search for “events near me” will show event metadata sourced from meetup sites (meetup.ca), event aggregators (theatrelandltd.com, eventful.com), restaurant aggregators (restomontreal.ca), tourism sites (rove.me), and ticketing platforms (ticketmaster.ca, StubHub.com.) Notably there is almost a complete absence of authoritative metadata sourced from the art organizations that are actually producing or presenting the events. The gap is widening between those companies that have descriptive metadata, such as the commercial film industry, and those that don’t. Cluttered webpages with semi-structured data are carefully and painstakingly curated on web sites by arts organizations. However, there is a trend of diminishing returns, as fewer and fewer people use the websites of arts organizations to learn “what’s happening near me”. We are at a turning point in on-line discoverability where structured and linked open data is becoming the prerequisite for the current generation of findable events. Linked Open Data provides value for both human and machine. If we can close the gap by converting arts organization websites into actionable linked open data, then arts organizations will be well positioned to benefit from the AI boom, and people will be able to ask their virtual assistant “What’s showing near me?” and get an authoritative answer.


Footlight is a tool developed by Culture Creates, a Canadian tech-startup specializing in the cultural sector, and designed for arts organizations (meaning all stakeholders ranging from individuals to supporting arts organizations) to manage their descriptive metadata. Footlight has the following design goals:

  • A zero-setup tool designed for arts organizations with a one-hour learning curve.
  • Entity extraction from websites currently managed by arts organizations, but without having to change the website itself (technical changes to websites are often unrealistic due to lack of technical skills within the arts organization). “Entity extraction” refers to the process by which unstructured or semi-structured data is transformed into structured data.
  • Entity linking with external knowledge graph artsdata.ca and wikidata.org. Federated queries create a rich set of information presented to the user to help disambiguate extracted entities.
  • Email notification and issue tracking to manage daily changes to metadata (descriptions, dates, tickets, links to people, venues, performances and performance works, etc.).
  • A community input mechanism to further enrich and interlink metadata while maintaining authority and traceability when multiple “truths” emerge.
  • An inclusive system (multiple points of view) reflecting the diversity present in the arts sector.
  • A publishing tool to push linked open data to multiple platforms including the arts organization’s own website, external knowledge graphs and traditional databases.

Vision of Artsdata.ca Knowledge Graph

Artsdata.ca is a Canadian performing arts knowledge graph started in 2019 with the help of the government of Canada, several arts organizations and Culture Creates. It has multiple sources of data including existing structured data, manually entered data, as well as data aggregated by trusted third parties. artsdata.ca was started in parallel with Footlight and, at the time of writing this article, is still in its infancy. Footlight uses data from the artsdata.ca knowledge graph extensively. The knowledge in artsdata.ca is the key component that enables Footlight to do entity detection, entity extraction and name resolution. The more complete artsdata.ca, the more cross referencing and error detection performed, the more accurately Footlight can do its work. Data structured, linked and validated through Footlight is also fed back into artsdata.ca. While the governance of artsdata.ca is still to be decided, Culture Creates proposes putting this valuable mass of metadata into an innovative model of collective ownership involving arts organizations across Canada in the form of a platform cooperative. Culture Creates seeks to shift the existing power of closed exclusive data access presently held by multinational tech companies to one that is open and accessible for the arts in Canada. And with access to valuable metadata, the arts will be able to generate and capitalize on new opportunities. It is a proposed digital vision designed to better position the Canadian arts sector to seize opportunities, innovate, develop, amplify and over time transform organizational models.

2018 Pilot Project

In the summer of 2018 the first cohort of Canadian arts organizations was launched with 8 members from several provinces. Footlight was able to extract 90% of the events from participating websites, and structure the descriptive event metadata using schema.org with all the mandatory and recommended properties documented by Google (https://developers.google.com/search/docs/data-types/event). Footlight also added additional properties such as linking a subset of venues, people and organizations to artsdata,ca knowledge graph and wikidata.org. By the end of the first pilot project, Footlight was publishing linked open data to artsdata.ca and to several of the participating arts organizations’ websites. To publish data on arts organizations’ websites, the Footlight “code snippet” was used to inject JSON-LD into the appropriate event web page. In one case, the Footlight “code snippet” was added by the digital marketing manager using Google Tag Manager (without having to touch the website HTML). In another case, the “code snippet” was added to the HTML header by the organization’s website provider. The pilot ended with 100% of the events being published and updated daily on artsdata.ca but only some participants installing the “code snippet” for publishing event data on their respective websites.


The benefits for the participating arts organizations can be divided into 2 areas: the first area is improved organic search engine optimization (SEO), and the second area is increased data circulation. 1. In the first area of benefits, there was an observed improvement in Google Search for those companies using the “code snippet” to publish structured data on their webpages. Search appearance of events in Google was enhanced with new Rich results, Event listings, and Event details (terminology of Google Search Console). Illustrations 1 and 2 below show the impact on Google search for Canadian Stage. Canadian Stage is an arts organization that participated in the pilot project and succeeded in placing the Footlight “code snippet” on their website. Footlight was able to publish event metadata that was picked up by Google to improve Google Search appearance and Google’s Knowledge Graph.

Illustration 1

Illustration 2

2. In the second area of benefits, a 3rd party data client (regional governmental agency) was successful in adding event listings from Footlight as a single source, without having to manually enter multiple events from multiple arts organizations’ websites. A weekly import of data ensured that the data remained up to date.

Lessons learned

Lesson 1

Arts organizations found it difficult to install the Footlight “code snippet”. To address this, Culture Creates will explore ways to further simplify the “code snippet” installation. One hypothesis is that a “chat bot” could help. The “chat bot” would guide users through the steps of installing the code snippet by presenting different options (Google Tag Manager, CMS, contact their web provider) and then depending on the option selected, provide contextual assistance (i.e. compose emails to communicate with web provider), and finally complete the installation with a system test to confirm proper operation.

Lesson 2

Listing sites, such as the city of Laval in Quebec, would like Footlight to be integrated into their existing calendar system. To address this, Culture Creates is working on a project of integration with a local calendar software called Caligram (caligram.org). The API would enable users of the 3rd party calendar system to perform all of Footlights features from within the user interface of the 3rd party calendar system.


At Culture Creates, we understand that for any digital transformation to occur – in any sector – a critical mass of structured data is needed. We developed Footlight technology to structure and create linked open data for the arts. We have chosen a narrow focus on performance listings and descriptive event metadata. Beyond the benefits of improved find-ability and efficiency, when a critical mass of Canadian arts organizations adopt linked open data, not only will the arts sector become the digital authority of its own metadata, it generates a valuable knowledge graph of usable and connected metadata. If we are truly interested in shifting the existing power from multinational tech companies to a more fair and accessible digital environment for stakeholders in the arts in Canada, we must start with a focus on developing solutions and tools that are as easy to use and understand, that remove complexity, and are made available to all stakeholders in the arts. This is paramount in helping the sector retain agency over their individual and collective metadata.

Join a Culture Creates Pilot Project

Culture Creates continues to develop pilot projects with arts organizations, and is currently looking for new cohorts in Canada. If you are a Canadian arts organizations interested in taking part, please contact tammy@culturecreates.com. Interested arts organizations will be asked to form a cohort that includes several members. Each cohort will have to provide and/or seek joint funding, which will be used for on-boarding and supporting the cohort, as well as cover the cost of Footlight. The lack of descriptive metadata is an international concern. Currently, Culture Creates is focused on Canada because the Canadian government has developed policies and earmarked funding to support the digital transformation of its arts and culture sector. However, in the future, we envision expanding to the international community. Want to know more? Contact tammy@culturecreates.com.

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Switzerland needs a constructive data policy

The vision has been clear for some time: we want a cooperative, participatory and open use of the data that is accumulating in ever greater quantities in the economy and society. A flourishing Linked Open Data ecosystem is one of the goals; another is the self-determined exchange of data concerning oneself or in the generation of which one has participated. This requires a data policy that gives the highest priority to inter-organisational cooperation and the empowerment of citizens. However, we are still a long way from achieving this in Switzerland today. If Switzerland wants to actively use its room for manoeuvre in terms of data policy and not let Google, Facebook & Co dictate its strategic decisions, politics, business and administration must hurry up. We urgently need a coherent, future-oriented data policy. But first and foremost, data must become a matter for the boss. Data is the strategic resource of the 21st century and determines our economic, social and cultural life. Data is the basis for economic decisions, administrative processes and scientific knowledge. The evaluation of explosively growing mountains of data – Big Data – is increasingly taking place automatically with the help of so-called artificial intelligences and learning machines. The central question in the digitalised society is therefore who collects the data, who has access to the data and who controls its use.

Data ownership changes power relations

In the last 10 to 15 years, global data monopolies have emerged that possess a hitherto unimaginable amount of information and knowledge. Almost 2.5 billion people help them to do so. We are all employed by Google, Facebook & Co as data typists and increase their immense treasure trove of data with every click. As users, we are allowed to use the really practical apps and pay for them with our data. However, their evaluation and further use is beyond our control and we do not participate in the huge profits of the global data giants. Only slowly is it dawning on us that the data power of these corporations is not a temporary phenomenon, but poses fundamental and long-term problems for the power relations in our society. Because data is the basis for knowledge, and knowledge is power.

Data is the basis for knowledge, and knowledge is power.

Thanks to the cooperation of all of us, the global internet platforms also have an immense and rapidly growing mountain of data about Switzerland and its inhabitants. This far dwarfs the amount of data held by the administration and other public and private sector organisations. Thanks to this amount of data, Google, Facebook, Amazon & Co already know much more about our consumer behaviour, our mobility or our social relationships than our public institutions and ourselves. For the time being, this knowledge is primarily used for personalised advertising. But the aforementioned platforms are already beginning to penetrate new areas of application such as finance, insurance, health or education. It is only a matter of time before they extend their data tentacles into public administration and politics. Switzerland is fundamentally challenged by this development. The data that public administrations and companies in the public and private sectors collect and collate is a high-quality and extremely valuable resource. But its practical importance is diminishing very rapidly. What is the significance of the Confederation’s geodata if almost all of them are no longer available?

It is only a matter of time before they extend their data tentacles into public administration and politics.

Will the inhabitants and residents of Switzerland be able to find their way around using Google Maps? What is the point of an electronic patient file if millions of people in Switzerland first entrust their health problems to Facebook, Whatsapp or Alexa? And what is the point of elaborately collected economic data if Amazon, Mastercard and Booking.com already know the consumer behaviour and financial circumstances of the Swiss population down to the smallest detail?

Platforms use apps to bind users to themselves

So what can Switzerland, what can its institutions, companies and inhabitants do against the overwhelming data power of the global internet corporations? Has the battle not already been lost? A look at the current data situation in Switzerland is not very encouraging. The aforementioned global platforms enjoy enormous popularity among users and occupy their attention for up to several hours every day, during which they continuously generate data. The applications of Swiss companies and administrations, on the other hand, tie their users to them for a few minutes per week or month at most. The volume of data generated by them is correspondingly low. In addition, Swiss companies and administrations hoard their painstakingly collected data crumbs in closed silos, rarely use them for new insights into their customers and the development of new offers, and certainly do not want to share them with other companies or administrations. The individuals concerned usually do not have access to the data they generate, and the Swiss

Data and its use must become a priority strategic issue in politics, business and administration.

For years, the public has been waiting in vain for systematic open access to all the administration’s non-personal data financed with taxpayers’ money. Few attractive applications, closed data silos, no further use, no user participation, little open data and no cooperation among those responsible for data – this sums up the current, rather dismal data situation of Swiss companies and administrations. In fact, it’s an easy game for the global platforms, which are miles ahead of Switzerland in all these points and are extending their lead every day. So what to do? There are numerous answers to this question, but one point stands above all others: data and its use must become a priority strategic issue in politics, business and administration. Data is neither a technical nor a legal issue that can be delegated to IT specialists or lawyers. Data is a matter for the boss, also in politics. Analogous to energy, transport or health policy, a data policy will be needed in the future. With the availability and use of data, nothing less than the future of the country is at stake. The task of data policy is to guarantee the basic supply of data to Switzerland and its inhabitants and thus digital self-determination at all levels in the long term and sustainably. The data power of the global internet corporations must be countered by the cooperative, participatory and open use of data that is under the control of Swiss companies and administrations.

Switzerland needs a revised data protection law

Numerous legislative tasks await parliament and government in the context of data policy. Existing laws must be adapted and supplemented in such a way that the comprehensive provision and use of our data can take place on a flawless legal basis. This includes adapting the Swiss Data Protection Act as quickly as possible to the de facto status of the European General Data Protection Regulation and, in particular, anchoring the right to data portability in this law. On the basis of robust data protection, data policy also includes a uniform legal framework for the publication and use of non-personal data and services of the federal administration in the sense of Open Government Data. The experience of recent years has shown that a non-binding strategy is not sufficient to make the administration’s treasure trove of data systematically accessible to the public. Therefore, the Swiss Federal Audit Office recommended in its cross-sectional audit on the strategy implementation Open Government Data to “create an effective framework for OGD”. A parliamentary motion to this effect was formulated by the Parldigi Digital Sustainability Parliamentary Group back in 2015, but – out of consideration for Federal Councillor Alain Berset’s reservations at the time – was not submitted. Given the urgency of data policy measures, the deadline for these concerns has expired. Switzerland needs an OGD law as soon as possible that, analogous to the GDPR, corresponds to the European standard in this area.

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