From as early as 1968, visual resources curators had been meeting during the annual conferences of the College Art Association (CAA). During these meetings, the curators discussed issues of particular interest to that segment of CAA members whose work involved the management of art slide collections. Given the success of these meetings, during the next several years attempts were made to formalize the relationship of these curators with the larger College Art Association. For several years, the group remained, however, essentially an ad hoc committee.
By the late 1970s, both regional and international activity had begun. The Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art (CIHA) recognized the visual resources subgroup as an important part of that international association. Visual resources sessions were provided during CIHA’s conference in Bologna in 1979 and continued for almost 20 years. On a regional level, the Southeastern College Art Conference (SECAC) and the Mid-America College Art Association (MACAA) included visual resources sessions at their annual conferences. Visual resources curators within the MACAA group, led by Nancy DeLaurier of the University of Missouri, Kansas City, met during MACAA’s annual conferences. In 1972, this group began to meet independently, creating workshops and sessions on various aspects of visual resources maintenance. For the workshops, members developed several kits for the benefit of attending visual resources managers. These kits included information on slide room management, standards, and other practical aspects of the profession. This group also created the Slides and Photographs Newsletter, which contained news and information on issues of concern to members. This newsletter was supported by CAA and later by MACAA and eventually became known as the International Bulletin for Photographic Documentation of the Visual Arts.
In 1980, after almost a decade of informal association, visual resources curators active in CAA and the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA) began the process of forming an independent organization, which was formalized in the fall of 1982. Temporary officers were Christine Sundt, Chairperson; Nancy Schuller, Vice Chairperson; and Nancy DeLaurier, Secretary/Treasurer. Bylaws were drawn up and the first official meeting was held during the annual CAA meeting in Philadelphia in February 1983. Members were those curators who subscribed to the Bulletin. Officers were elected. They comprised Christine Sundt, President; Suzanne Babineau-Simenauer, Vice President; Helen McGinnis, Secretary; Nancy Schuller, Treasurer; and Nancy DeLaurier, Past-President.
The 1990s brought the development and rapid explosion of the Internet and the subsequent expansion of the visual resources field to include managing digital media. During this time, it became clear that the VRA no longer served just its membership, but instead played a new and significant role serving the public and contributing research to the broader field of library and information science and educational technology. The organization led in the effort to develop public understanding of issues on copyright and intellectual property rights, protocols for dissemination of digital materials, standards of cataloging, and the importance of providing a broad public access to cultural information in the digital age. As an organization, VRA was asked to participate in a series of public forums on copyright that were organized by the National Initiative for a Networked Cultural Heritage (NINCH) (see www.ninch.org/copyright/). These Copyright Town Hall Meetings were held in a variety of venues (e.g., at universities and in conjunction with conferences) and were open to the public for lively discussion and debate. The meetings were held in locations across the country between 1997 and 2003. In other developments during the 1990s, VRA annual conferences began attracting a growing number of non-members interested in learning about visual resources; vraweb.org evolved into an important source of information for students, professionals, free-lance photographers, even IPR rights managers; VRA members began to educate the larger community on issues such as copyright, image management, technical digital image issues, data standards, cataloging standards, and other emerging issues of importance; the Cataloging Cultural Objects Project (CCO) gained national recognition as a new project on standardizing the cataloging of visual information; CCO’s workshops, website, and outreach efforts began educating a broad audience. The VRA Education Committee began to sponsor conference workshops on important topics of broad interest—and those workshops and sessions were offered at the VRA annual conference and also at other professional conferences. The _Digital Scene_, a former feature of vraweb.org, began to disseminate information on collaborative projects, new standards in imaging and metadata, digital preservation issues, consortial projects, training opportunities, and reports from the field. In 2004, the VRA, in conjunction with the Art Libraries Society of North America, began offering the Summer Educational Institute for Visual Resources and Image Management (SEI) to provide in-depth educational opportunities to new professionals in the field.
These initiatives and projects illustrate how VRA has become more than a simple and efficient member services (501(c)6) organization. VRA’s educational, literary, and scientific components are now important assets and major resources for the general public and the field-at-large. With these developments rapidly expanding the VRA, it became clear that a separate 501(c)3 VRA foundation would oversee our educational, literary, and scientific efforts most efficiently. Consequently, VRA conceived and incorporated a new organization, the Visual Resources Association Foundation (VRAF). As a complement to VRA, the Foundation strives to strengthen the visual resources field by increasing public and professional awareness of visual information management, while advocating for the value of images and visual media in the teaching and learning environment. VRAF supports a range of educational activities in multiple formats and venues, for example, instructional tools, regional workshops, online learning, and advocacy materials, to build bridges across the information management and educational communities. VRAF has assumed stewardship of the very successful SEI program. The Foundation’s research interests advance scholarship in the field, improve outreach to the larger community on significant issues, such as intellectual property rights and the development of best practices protocols for the dissemination of digital images, and further public access to visual resources information.
Today VRA is a firmly established Association that celebrated 30 years of incorporation in 2012. Our international membership includes information specialists; digital image specialists; archivists; art, architecture, film, video, metadata, and digital librarians; museum professionals; architectural firms; galleries; publishers; vendors; rights and reproductions officials; photographers; art historians; artists; scientists; and academic technologists.
To inform the membership and to further research and education in the visual resources profession, VRA supports many initiatives. The annual VRA conference, held in a different city each year, provides a dynamic forum where members and others converge to network and address contemporary trends in the field of image and media management. VRA chapters provide a strong support group for professionals, some of whom might otherwise feel isolated, as well as the opportunities for regional meetings that capitalize on local resources. The VRA Bulletin, the Association’s journal of professional practice and flagship publication, is now published electronically and features articles on important professional issues. VRA hosts an active members-only listserv (VRA-L) and a dynamic website (vraweb.org). The Association’s website, vraweb.org, is an extensive online presence, with both public and members-only sections. The public site offers access to information about opportunities such as our awards program; employment and internship openings; our mentorship program; and special interest groups. There are also many resources available on the site relating to cataloging, metadata, and data management; intellectual property rights and copyright; professional development opportunities such as the Summer Educational Institute; and more.