Iconclass is used by a steadily growing number of institutions and projects, to provide subject access to image collections. That is a development we obviously welcome.
At the same time it is cause for concern; for the simple reason that this also means that an increasing number of professional and institutional users - a selection of which you see below - has come to depend on what has essentially been a volunteer service, made available to the Netherlands Institute for Art History and the community of users around the world.
For some twenty years now we have managed to make the Iconclass system available in the shape of the online Iconclass Browser and the Harvester of Iconclass Metadata service.
While we remain committed to creating a stable situation for Iconclass, and ensuring the continued availability of an online Iconclass system in Open Access, it is clear that in the long run this cannot depend on the commitment of two individuals. The active involvement of the community of Iconclass users is a necessary condition for a stable future.
Under Dutch law a consortium is defined as a temporary organization of a certain number of partners to accomplish a common goal. It is not automatically a legal entity in its own right, so for legal and financial issues the Henri van de Waal Foundation will take responsibility, at least in the initial stages.
The common goal that is immediately in front of us is self-evident: the continued availability of the online Iconclass system, free of charge and open to everyone who wants to use it to standardize iconographic information.
When you take the initiative to form a consortium of partners the first step is to find out who else is prepared to become a partner. The initiating partner is the Henri van de Waal Foundation, but, obviously, one partner is not a consortium...
So, to determine whether we can actually build a consortium of partners, we have created a survey. Institutions and individual researchers can use it to tell us whether they are able and willing to contribute to the common goal, either by making a financial contribution or by investing their own time in the work that has to be done to keep the system going, and to develop richer functionality.
To organize and structure the involvement is one of the goals of the Henri van de Waal Foundation, founded on June 14th 2021. This Public Benefit Organisation aims to stimulate computer-assisted iconographic research in the widest possible sense, but also sees a first task in mobilizing the user community of Iconclass and setting up broader support for the maintenance and development of the system.
The Henri van de Waal Foundation is the legal entity that has assumed responsibility for the maintenance and further development of the Iconclass system with the formal endorsement of the Netherlands Institute of Art History. The Foundation commits itself to continue publishing Iconclass as an Open Access classification system. This commitment implies that the Foundation accepts that the system will remain a cost item, as Open Access publications by definition do not produce any turnover.
The cost involved can be subdivided in several segments. First there are the external costs of keeping the service in the air, i.e. the costs of server hardware, bandwidth, etcetera. Then there are the internal costs of the time invested in creating the software and editing the content.
To meet the external costs the Foundation evidently needs funding. But to continue developing the system, adding more images to the dataset of samples, add new translations and maintain and finetune the software, real people need to invest real time and some form of compensation is required for that too.
On the Sponsoring Iconclass page, more information can be found.