A dialogue on Open Access with Indian Artists: Looking back on the 2019 Access to Arts Conference

File:Access to Arts Conference(15).jpg by Benipal hardarshan / CC BY-SA
In July 2019, over 80 Artists from North India gathered in Chandigarh, India to discuss Commons and the free licenses that come under it. Here is what became of it.

The Access to Arts conference was a Summit about the Open Access Movement with the artists of North India at Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi Gallery in Chandigarh district. Organized by the Open Heritage Foundation with the Wikimedia Commons community, under project Heritage GLAM in collaboration with Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi, and Punjab Arts Council, the conference featured tracks on Wikimedia Commons – an online repository of free-use images, sounds, and other media, the licenses of Creative Commons which is a platform dedicated to building a globally-accessible public commons of knowledge and culture, and the global open access partnerships. 

The summit featured a special talk about Indian and US Copyright law and how artists can release their works under Creative Commons licenses providing an open access to their work. There was an open dialogue with contemporary artists and art lovers, which presented them with an opportunity to broaden their horizons about the Open Movement in India and the role that the Wikimedia Community plays in it.


The idea of Access to Arts Conference developed during one of the meetings with Punjab Lalit Kala Akademy, in a discussion started around the Creative Commons and Wikimedia Commons supporting free licenses that allow artists to share the work with certain permissions while keeping their copyrights. As things currently stand, the general public of India along the artist community and GLAM professionals often struggle to navigate or understand about open access, open licenses, and the Commons. In conclusion, it was decided that a summit needs to be organized where we can gather an artist community and have an open dialogue on open access and Commons licenses and hear their perspectives about free licenses. 

What Happened in the Conference?

Through this event, we seeked to establish awareness about copyrights and Creative Commons licenses, which is a simple, standardized legally robust way to grant permissions to easily share and re-distribute cultural works and data.  

The event had an open discussion and session about copyrights and open source access to works via Creative Commons licenses connecting audiences to open knowledge, ideas, and creativity on a global scale. 

The discussion focused on the questions about the compatibility and flexibility of the licenses to bring proper attribution to authors and bringing them a power to control what kind of access and permissions they grant to the public without giving up their copyrights. There was a session on Commons by Yann Forget in which focused on the following areas:

Yann Forget at the Access to Arts Conference CC-BY-SA by Wikilover90

What is the role of Wikimedia Commons as a universal platform through which artists can integrate and interlink their collections and benefit from the community and reach of the Wikipedia and the Wikimedia platforms?

How can we seamlessly integrate artwork with the Wikimedia platforms in a dynamic, efficient, and sustainable manner that expands the horizons of the artists but also protects their rights without affecting their livelihoods?

What are the different variations of Creative Commons licenses and the subsequent granted permissions?

The global Wikimedia community of hundreds of thousands of volunteers actively uses collections uploaded to Wikimedia Commons to illustrate Wikipedia articles on topics of all kinds. Across its three hundred language plus versions, Wikipedia amasses fifteen billion page views per month. Even a fraction of that attention directed to collection of artists or the cultural institution can significantly increase the reach of that institution’s mission. 

Because of these open licenses, anyone, anywhere is empowered to share these collections in new contexts and to connect them with new audiences. Artists can choose how they share their work under Creative Commons licenses. They retain their copyright but allow people to copy and distribute provided credit that is attributed to the author and only on the conditions specified in the creative commons license for that particular work. It gives authors integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.  

Thanks to the CC tools, digital images of artwork are made freely accessible and are broadly made available to the public more than ever before. This conference was a beginning towards having an open dialogue with contemporary artists and art lovers and broaden their horizons about the big Open Movement in India and shared role that the Wikimedia movement plays in it.

Panel Discussion

In the panel discussion, as we were reflecting on how we can improve the process and make it easier for the artists to contribute to Commons, some key questions were raised by the artists:

  • Can there be an alternative platform established in Wikimedia to support CC by ND licenses? 
  • How can the current structure support or protect the artists for legal problems that may arise in some cultures and regions due to derivatives? What kind of strategy can be devised to protect the artists from the possibility of such issues?
  • If a work has been purchased by a museum or a person, who owns the copyright ?
  • How do you check if the work on Wikimedia Commons is original?
  • How can freely sharing the works under CC Licenses help the artists?

Strategic Priorities 

Some important strategic priorities were identified in these interactions. Some of the key areas included:


There were suggestions on focussed outreach for artists and authors who have significant contributions in the field, such as art collections or other works should be approached for Open Access and Commons collaboration particularly the younger generations that have influence over the masses for strengthening and widening the movement’s reach in India.

Knowledge Sharing Platform

It was concluded by various Summit participants that Knowledge sharing platforms should be created in simplified formats so the larger audiences can access the information on contributing to Wikimedia in different formats, devices, technologies and languages.  

Wikimedia Awareness 

There was strong interest and support expressed in improving the awareness of artists and GLAM staff about the Wikimedia Movement and open licenses.To facilitate this, similar conferences and technical workshops were suggested to be organized in different regions to bring a wider audience in touch with Wikimedia.

Policy Revision

This was one of the priorities identified in this event. It was strongly recommended that there should be a special strategy for connecting artists with Commons by supporting with the underlying issues that affect them in social cultural and  legal aspects: 

  • Revision of policies for inclusion of knowledge such as addressing concerns that arise due to no support of CC By ND license in Wikimedia Commons or any other Wikimedia project.
  • Improvement in technical user interface and documentation process by making it simpler to understand by non technical individuals who want to donate their works on Wikimedia Commons. For instance, sometimes, the licensing and the OTRS (Open-Source Ticket Request System) – which is a service management suite that comprises ticketing, workflow automation and notification – can be hard to understand for a common artist.

Outcomes and Where We are Going Next?

During the discussions, it was noted that a Commons Resource Exchange Group needs to be set up in North India for the artist community wishing to be collaborators in the Wikimedia Movement and donate their work to Commons. A series of Commons and awareness workshops were suggested to be organized in different circles and regions of North India.

The artist community noted that there is little to no awareness among the cultural institutions and local artists about the Wikimedia and Open Access Movement. It was concluded that there should be more outreach work done for raising awareness about the Commons and free knowledge Movement to ensure that more conscious efforts are made to bring the artists in the Wikimedia Movement. 

As the conference follow-up, Diwan Manna who is a conceptual artist and the National Academy Award winner from India, re-licensed his works from his famous collection Shores of the Unknown New under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License to be donated to Wikimedia Commons for reuse and sharing. 

Initiatives such as Access to Arts Conference can be used as a case study to bridge the prevalent knowledge gaps amongst the emerging communities to identify the recurring roadblocks towards open access and draw lessons for the best practices for continuous growth of Wikimedia Movement and open access at large. This can go a long way in supporting people to share their creativity and grow the Movement in a strategic direction building a more equitable, accessible, and innovative world.

File:Shores of the Unknown 5 by Diwan Manna/CC BY-SA

Credits: This blog is reposted from Wikimedia Diff Blogs. as A dialogue on Open Access with Indian Artists: Looking back on the 2019 Access to Arts Conference on 31 March 2020 by Wikilover90.

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