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Sunday 4 December 2016

Journey from Sherkin Island to the international stage

Why we should be singing the praises of Culture Ark

Published 17/05/2015 | 02:30

CULTURE ARK: ‘Having a digital version is crucial for artists who want to sell and showcase their work abroad,’ say Adrian Legg and Deirdre Ni Luasaigh. Photo: Tony Gavin
CULTURE ARK: ‘Having a digital version is crucial for artists who want to sell and showcase their work abroad,’ say Adrian Legg and Deirdre Ni Luasaigh. Photo: Tony Gavin

The stunning scenery on the remote West Cork island of Sherkin has proved to be a source of inspiration for the many local artists who live there. It was also where husband-and-wife team, Adrian Legg and Deirdre Ni Luasaigh, got the idea for a business they set up on the island almost two years ago.

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The business, Culture Ark, allows artists to back up their art with high quality digital images of their work.

"There are a lot of local artists on Sherkin, including Majella O'Neill Collins, who has sold a painting to George Clooney," said Ms Ni Luasaigh, who has lived on Sherkin Island with her husband for a number of years. "Some of these artists needed to send solid digital images of their work to people in Britain and the United States. We helped them to get digital versions of their images over there. Having a digital version of paintings and art work is crucial for artists who want to sell and showcase their work abroad."

Ms Ni Luasaigh and Mr Legg, who have been married for about a year, met on Sherkin Island around five years ago. Ms Ni Luasaigh is from West Kerry while her husband is from Belfast.

"Neither of us are artists but we're both very interested in the arts," said Ms Ni Luasaigh, who believes her childhood helped her develop a love for art - which in turn influenced her choice of career.

"I grew up in Dunquin which is full of heritage and culture," she said. "We had a great primary school teacher there who wrote a number of books and transcribed some of Peig Sayer's oral history. As a child, I spent many afternoons in the studio of the West Kerry artist, Maria Simonds-Gooding.

"I studied art in secondary school and while I had a love for art, I had no talent for it. However, when I went to college, I discovered the Apple Mac and that I could be creative on a computer. Adrian had the same experience with video."

But has it been a challenge working so closely with her husband? It's the opposite in fact, according to Ms Ni Luasaigh. "We're both very different and we both bring different skills and perspectives to the business which is fantastic," she said. "I bring the pragmatic perspective while Adrian brings the more creative perspective."

Throughout their careers, the couple have specialised in creative technology, including graphics and image reproduction. They travelled to San Francisco for training in the use of capturing technology - a technology Ms Ni Luasaigh describes as "groundbreaking". It is this technology which is used by the couple to provide artists with digital versions of their work which are good enough to be used in books, catalogues and online galleries. The images that can be captured are not just of paintings - but of collages, sculptures, 3D objects, textiles, tapestries, coins, photographs and so on.

"We know from talking to artists that no matter how good the camera or lights they use, they are always disappointed with photographs of their work," said Ms Ní Luasaigh. "Culture Ark's technology gives artists the security of knowing that their work has been captured under perfect conditions and to gallery quality so that they can begin distributing and profiting from it right away. Even when the works are sold to collectors, artists will keep the best-possible copy and a full history of their work."

Culture Ark is the only company which provides this service in Ireland and the artists who use it have the peace of mind of knowing that their work is secure, according to Ms Ni Luasaigh.

"We store the artists' images in an archive and the files are safe and secure," said Ms Ni Luasaigh. "Copyright ownership and rights management of such files is very important for artists. Our digital archive protects their copyright."

The business is currently based in the Digital Hub in Dublin. "From a business point of view, we need to be in Dublin," said Ms Ni Luasaigh. "We still have a west Cork base though."

Although not yet two years old, more than 20 individual artists are customers of Culture Ark, along with a museum and four galleries. The company recently digitised the entire art collection of Cork University Hospital (CUH).

"CUH is the first gallery in Europe to have its whole collection captured in this way," said Ms Ni Luasaigh.

Culture Ark's customers are mainly Irish but the company hopes to export its service to museums across the world.

"We are in the process of developing our software and are hoping to put a digital hallmark into our files," said Ms Ni Luasaigh.

"After speaking and interviewing archivists and collection owners, we learned that something that is vital to archivists is the provenance of items in their collection - in both the physical and digital versions. With digital provenance, when an item is scanned and digitised, one of our features is that we use the public block chain of bitcoin to create a unique ID or hallmark that proves ownership, creates a time-stamp of the object and helps protect the documents integrity - as in no one else has edited or tampered with the original document. This is all very important to copyright holders, and creates digital provenance of an official reproduction. It helps manage the licensing of content too.

"We see our software as a true international offering. We would love to see our software being used to help save cultural heritage across the world. Every historical or cultural item has a story to tell."

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