Executive Summary

Chief Executive Officer's Report

Michael Loebenstein, CEO, in the NFSA's video preservation studio (Photography: Melissa Adams/Fairfax Syndication. Image Reference - 969802299)

Reflecting on the 2015–16 financial year, there are two words that best summarise the past
12 months: ‘focus’ and ‘advocacy’.

Despite an economic and political climate marked by a decrease in government investment in collecting institutions, and by further  reductions to our appropriation, it was a successful year. Guided by our Strategic Plan 2015–2018, we launched a number of key strategic initiatives. These were designed to engender public debate about the value of our heritage, to redevelop our approach to community engagement, and to increase our leadership capacity in the sector.

 

A mid-year increase in the efficiency dividend necessitated another reduction in our staff numbers. However, we managed to minimise its impact on our core programs to collect, preserve and share a national audiovisual collection that reflects all aspects of Australian life. I am confident we are on a trajectory to becoming the relevant, connected, and publicly acknowledged national ‘centre for excellence’ for audiovisual heritage preservation and access that we envision.

The year commenced with the formal launch of our pre-eminent film restoration program, NFSA Restores. This resulted in the return to the big screen of six feature length films – classics, as well as rediscoveries – via digital restorations of the highest quality.

It has become increasingly easy to scan films, often from inferior print elements, and to play them back as files on today’s digital devices. However, this does not do justice to the creators’ original intentions, or the visual and aural properties of the original film work. For NFSA Restores, our curators and technicians work with directors, producers and cinematographers to achieve the best possible digital cinema file from the best surviving original elements. This gives us access and digital preservation elements that will serve us well into the future.

A program like this requires funding, as well as public awareness, to increase its impact. The one-and-only Margaret Pomeranz, Ambassador ‘extraordinary and plenipotentiary’ for the NFSA, worked tirelessly in
2015–2016 to increase both funding and awareness. Her efforts not only secured us a place on prime-time commercial television but also ensured the successful fundraising of over $25,000 via our first crowdfunding campaign. We couldn’t wish for a better advocate, or more public support.

Another program – the Deadline 2025 discussion paper – also proved that successful advocacy is a result of clear focus. For a while, international experts and international peak bodies (of which the NFSA is a proud participant) have warned of the fragility of magnetic tape-based heritage. The clock is ticking for our memories that are stored on audio tape and videotape, which will deteriorate over the next 10 years. If we do not address this with large-scale digitisation, we are facing a massive extinction event, particularly for television and radio history. In partnership with other Commonwealth agencies, we took the lead to develop a national framework to beat the clock: our action plan to meet Deadline 2025 will be presented in October 2016.

This initiative, and other activities, demonstrate that preserving and sharing our national heritage is a collective responsibility. Our Strategic Plan is driven by a commitment to partnerships and collaboration, and I am pleased to report on milestones towards a ‘networked’ NFSA. In April our Melbourne operations moved into a shared office space, ACMI X, with our long-term partner, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). ACMI X is already lauded as a prime example of a collaborative creative industry space. Under a new memorandum of understanding, signed by our Chairs in June, we will jointly embark on more innovative and exciting ways to re-invent access to, and re-use, our collection material in one of Australia’s premier museums.This push for innovation in our operations – for re-imagination and transformation of what audiovisual archiving means to today’s citizens and users – requires strong leadership. It also requires a constant evolution of our skills and capabilities while maintaining the strong foundations of our technical and curatorial knowledge.

Internally, we embarked on an ambitious leadership development program which commenced in winter 2015 with our senior managers, and will continue in 2016–2017 with line managers and team leaders. We also embarked on a process of radically overhauling the way we undertake our technical collection functions. This restructure commenced in autumn 2016 with consultation with staff and external experts. It will deliver end-to-end production workflow focused on digitisation, increased throughput, and multiple access outcomes for a range of platforms and programs.

The case studies and snapshots you will find in this report outline some of our achievements this year. They provide more background on our film restoration and preservation program, NFSA Restores; our advocacy for large-scale digitisation of magnetic tape material; and our launch of the innovative Indigenous Remote Fellowship Program.

All of these initiatives are undertaken within the means of our existing budget. As always, I am indebted to my team at the NFSA, capably led by my deputies, Denise Cardew-Hall and Meg Labrum. I thank my Leadership Team, our workers and the Workplace Consultative Committee for their good work and their commitment. I also thank them for their professionalism and calm during another restructure and the departure of more than 20 staff who retired or accepted voluntary redundancies.

My thanks also go to the Department of Communications and the Arts, and to all of our peers, partners, collaborators, clients, users and friends. The ongoing exchange of ideas, and your feedback and support, helps the NFSA to keep pace with environmental changes, and to grow and strive for excellence. Lastly, my heartfelt thanks go to our Chair, Gabrielle Trainor, and the Board of the NFSA. Their wisdom, trust and guidance play an integral role in delivering the vision of the NFSA.

 

Michael Loebenstein
Chief Executive Officer, NFSA