Published June 4, 2023 | Version v1
Conference paper Open

The challenges of preservation: digitizing graffiti in the urban landscape

  • 1. Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities and Cultural Heritage
  • 2. Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology (LBI ArchPro)
  • 3. Spraycity


Graffiti have always been a contested form of human expression. Although they have increasingly been accepted as museum objects or study topics, in many cases they are neglected or even actively rejected as human expressions worth documenting and (digitally) preserving. However, some scholarly initiatives have tried to overcome this lack of coverage of the graffiti scene. INGRID, for example, collects images from Germany over a span of forty years, while SprayCity archives photos of graffiti from all over Austria and beyond. The limitations with pre-existing solutions, however, is that they do not have standardized criteria to create and process the digital surrogates of graffiti, especially because they derive the photos from different sources.
Project INDIGO aims to overcome these difficulties by offering a systematic, standardized and extensive coverage of a specific area of the city of Vienna, the Danube Canal, which has been a hotspot for graffiti production since the 1980s. For this purpose, INDIGO has developed a highly reliable and reproducible workflow that ensures color accuracy and automated orthorectification of the pictures, and has combined it with a curated digital preservation strategy that involves different services, such as the digital repository ARCHE and the spatial database application OpenAtlas. While drawing on the specific experience and knowledge acquired in the course of project INDIGO, this paper aims to offer an overview of the challenges that must be faced when digitizing, documenting and preserving contemporary graffiti. It will focus on three key aspects: (1) heritagization, i.e. the process by which an object made by humans such as a graffito becomes a valuable sample of cultural heritage; (2) FAIRness, the compliance with the so-called FAIR principles (findability, accessibility, interoperability, reusability) in the development of a digital preservation strategy for graffiti; (3) sustainability, i.e. how we can ensure that the data and services provided can integrate into the existing research environment, in order to safeguard the continuous relevance of the products of the research project. While graffiti are an edge case in the field of current studies, this paper aims to show that discussing the challenges linked to the digital preservation of graffiti can also help us think more carefully about possible improvements in digital preservation strategies for other, more traditionally accepted, kinds of cultural heritage assets.


Carloni e.a. 2023 - The challenges of preservation_digitizing graffiti in the urban landscape.pdf