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40NADFAS REVIEW / WINTER your markA new project allows art enthusiasts everywhere to highlight key components within Britain's public artcollection. Simon TaitreportsThousands of amateur art loversare helping to create the largestsearchable online catalogue of oilpaintings in the world by using acomputer 'tagging' process on over100,000 publicly-owned pictures.It is the latest initiative of the PublicCatalogue Foundation (PCF), the charityfounded by Fred Hohler in 2003. Sincethen, the charity has published 34volumes of catalogues covering oilpaintings in public collections in the UK,county by county - many of them instore or in unconventional venues suchas fire stations or town halls. In the summer, with the technical helpof the BBC, the PCF launched its newwebsite, Your Paintings(,which by the end of 2012 aims to bethe showcase for the entire collection ofgive us important keyword informationabout people, places and events shownin paintings. "Our challenge is that basic material -title, artist etc - is not sufficient to findone's way around 200,000 paintings.What the public search for may not beas simple as 'fashion between 1800 and1825', say, but the tagger might beteaching a class of primary school kidswho wants red, vibrant paintings thatare abstract. Or something specific -Alsation dogs, top hats. If we cancategorise the pictures in this way wecan make them more easily searchable."The technique of using the enthusiasmof the general public to solve problemsonline is called 'crowd-sourcing', andthe PCF was drawn to a system perfectedby Oxford astrophysicists Arfon Smithand Chris Lintott who, in trying to mapthe galaxies, had millions of pieces ofunconnected data. In 2007 they createdthe Citizen Science Alliance, acollaboration of scientists, softwaredevelopers and educators, to puttogether an Internet sweep that wouldglean the ordinary public's assessmentof some of the material, and encouragewider interest. Within 24 hours of thelaunch of Galaxy Zoo, 70,000 newclassifications an hour were beingregistered, and in a year there were 50million from 150,000 respondents. "Then we asked, could you gobeyond astrophysics?" Dr Smith said.They adapted the programme to makeAncient Lives, helping archaeologistssifting the myriad papyri found at the siteof the ancient Egyptian city ofOxyrhynchus in the early 20th century.Launched in July this year, that, too, hasbeen a phenomenon, with more than20,000 people examining 130,000unpublished papyri fragments. The PCF is hoping for the samesuccess in sourcing insights into theenormous national collection. In additionto the Citizen Science Alliance, it hasPCF TAGGING PROJECTpublicly-owned oil paintings (around20,000 works from 3,000 collections).Already, more than 100,000 works of arthave been uploaded. Added to the site now is a 'tagger'facility, launched this autumn to schoolsand universities after it was tested usingordinary members of the public, withvisible success. The programme takesvisitors through easy preliminary steps,with the process becoming progressivelymore sophisticated as the taggersbecome more adept. They are asked toadd their own impressions - perhaps onthe making of a piece of costume or abackground building."By looking at the paintings in detail,"says Andrew Ellis, Director of the PCF,"taggers can help generate usefulsubject classifications for each work thatwouldn't occur to art historians, andBelow: ThePCF's searchableonline cataloguealready has over100,000 works ofart uploaded