Goodbye Seattle…

I am a little sad to be writing this final blog post, since it means that my Dance Heritage Coalition fellowship is already over! Last week I finished up my projects at Spectrum Dance Theater and have since moved back to Austin and started my second year of classes. In this final post, I want to sum up my last week at SDT and reflect on some of the challenges that the company faces in continuing to establish its archives.

One of the challenging aspects of SDT’s archival collection that I find particularly interesting is the gap in their materials. The change in Artistic Directors about eleven years ago resulted in a lack of materials relating to the first twenty years of the company. While there are some old photographs, programs, and posters as well as some performance tapes and television spots from the late 1980s and 1990s onsite, the older materials are hardly comprehensive. I had been told that many of the materials pertaining to Spectrum’s first twenty years had been thrown out by the interim management during the transition and that several of the founders and dancers involved with Spectrum from the early years actually held more comprehensive collections of archival materials in their personal collections. It seemed like a good idea to get a sense of what types of materials were held in these personal collections so that if SDT established an official archives or donated their collection to a repository in the future, other owners of materials could consider contributing to the collection to fill on those gaps. Therefore, during the second half of my time at SDT I conducted interviews with people who currently own materials related to Spectrum’s early history. I learned that they held many old videos as well as programs, posters, and press clippings that I did not come across in my work at SDT. While it is unfortunate that these materials are not also onsite at SDT, I am glad that they have survived and been kept in such good condition! The people that I interviewed clearly cared a lot about SDT and its history. I hope that some day all of these materials can be unified and preserved because of their importance to the history of dance not only in the Pacific Northwest, but also in the United States in general.

In addition to seeking out information about other collections related to SDT, I wrapped up the rest of my projects. I successfully complete a basic chronological arrangement of publicity materials and press clippings, as well as an item-level inventory of the older moving images and a broader box level inventory of the paper holdings around the building. Unfortunately, I did not complete an inventory of the DVD collection. Since many of the DVDs were labeled with very limited information, I realized that as much as I would have liked to thoroughly organize and inventory them, someone who is very familiar with the company’s work would be able to do this much more efficiently and accurately. I think that this project of identifying, labeling, and organizing DVDs and CDs should really be a priority for the staff at SDT because it would make accessing performance and rehearsal footage much more efficient. Given how often SDT remounts works, having the DVDs readily available would definitely be beneficial. Inventorying the collection could also open up the possibility of onsite viewing of videos for researchers and students interested in the work of SDT and Donald Byrd. Finally, having a clear idea of the moving image collection would make preserving them easier because unique DVDs could be identified and master and access copies could be established for all media.

I hope that the staff at SDT found my efforts helpful and that they will be inspired to continue with the archives project. I think that SDT is an amazing company and a wonderful school, so I hope that their records ultimately end up fully accessible to researchers, students, staff, and the community. I was definitely a bit sad to leave since I enjoyed my time there and I wanted to keep assisting them!

Overall, this summer was a great experience. I really enjoyed the combination of working in an established archive and then sharing my archival knowledge with a dance company. At ADF, I was happy to be able to process and describe two very different dance collections and to have my finding aids posted online (see the Inventory of the Mark Dendy Papers here and Dance Pages Records here). Then at Spectrum, I learned how to talk about archives and archival practice with people who had varying degrees of knowledge about archives and records management. It also gave me an opportunity to experience the very different nature of arranging and describing archival materials outside of a repository, where they are still part of a working and growing collection. In addition to gaining valuable professional experience this summer, I got to attend numerous dance performances, meet and work with the amazing choreographer Donald Byrd, and travel to Chicago, Durham, New Orleans, and Seattle. I feel like I should end my blogging the way I started it – by giving a big thank you to the DHC for making this amazing summer experience possible!


SAA Conference and Progress at Spectrum Dance Theater

Last week I attended the annual SAA conference, which was held in New Orleans. Not only was it my first annual conference, but it was also my first time visiting the city. Unsurprisingly, my time at the conference was a whirlwind of meeting new people, attending interesting panels, and of course, tracking down delicious, powdered sugar covered beignets. Although I had some idea of what to expect from the conference, I found that it was a surprisingly bustling and well-attended event. After participating this year, I can definitely understand why so many people make an effort to attend. It feels wonderful to be a part of a strong community of archives professionals coming together to discuss various aspects of the profession and learn from each other’s experiences. Each day there were plenty of sessions to attend, and it was difficult to choose just one for each time slot out of the many that piqued my interest. Some of my favorite sessions covered topics such as oral history projects, accessioning as processing, and bridging the digital divide between archives staff members as well as archivists and researchers.

One of the highlights for me was participating in a student leaders meeting. This year marked the 20th anniversary of student chapters of SAA, so it was the perfect time for us students to get together to discuss our chapters’ programming as well as the challenges and successes that we have experienced in our respective chapters. It was great to hear from so many different chapters and have the chance to meet archives students from around the country. I really hope that this type of session will become an annual event because as vice president of UT Austin’s student chapter, I found it extremely helpful. The discussion during the meeting definitely made me excited for the fall semester and for introducing new programming into our chapter.

While New Orleans was entertaining and great learning experience, I was happy to get back to Seattle and resume my work at Spectrum Dance Theater. During my first two weeks at Spectrum, I had been focusing on getting to know the archival and current materials, the various filing systems used to organize them, and the ways that staff created and used records. As part of this endeavor to understand the collection, I also completed a broad inventory of the boxes and filing cabinet drawers. While this certainly helped me understand what types of materials Spectrum has collected over the past 30 years and how they have been stored, this inventory could be also useful for staff members trying to find particular records. I also wrote a pre-assessment report, which I mentioned in my previous blog post. After getting a sense of the collection, I decided to attempt to accomplish four main tasks: centralize and organize publicity materials for both the company and the school, consolidate and arrange press clippings, inventory the audio-visual materials, and turn my pre-assessment report into a larger report that includes my work over the last six weeks as well as provides extended recommendations for further steps to establish the archives and support its future growth.

So far, I have almost completed the first task of consolidating and arranging the programs, posters, and publicity materials from the past 30 years. Hopefully this project will not only make the materials much more accessible, but also clear up some much needed storage space. I managed to recycle about four bankers’ boxes of weeded promotional materials over the course of this task! I am also nearing the end of the second project of collecting and filing press clippings. At this point, I am mid-way through the process of organizing and inventorying the audio-visual materials at Spectrum. So far, I have completed the VHS, Betacam, and MiniDV tapes – next up: DVDs! With only a week left, I am ready to make a final push to finish up my projects and leave the staff at Spectrum with a solid foundation to continue organizing and expanding their archival collection.

Spectrum Dance Theater – The Beginning

This marks the beginning of my second week working at Spectrum Dance Theater (SDT) in Seattle. SDT is located in a historic bathhouse on Lake Washington in Madrona Park. Being right on the lake is beautiful, especially in the perfect summer Seattle weather. The only downside is that I have now become extremely envious of the sunbathers on the docks and the kids that I hear happily playing in the lake all day.

My assignment for the second half of the DHC fellowship is to help SDT assess and inventory their archival materials. My first step was to write a report similar to the pre-assessment report that the other fellows and I wrote for Thodos Dance Chicago. Independently writing the report this time was an exciting challenge. Through talking to SDT’s small staff and writing the assessment, I got a sense of the archival materials in SDT’s possession as well as the challenges that the institution faces in managing those materials. Developing a plan to organize and preserve the institution’s archival materials is very important, especially given SDT’s prominent place in Pacific Northwest dance. Founded in 1982, the institution has managed to not only survive for over 30 years, but also flourish, gaining national and international recognition.

Currently, SDT is comprised of three organizational components: the professional company, the school, and the community engagement and outreach programs. For the rest of the summer, I will most likely be organizing and inventorying records from all three of those areas. I’m looking forward to seeing what I find as I explore the collection!

ADF – The Final Two Weeks

For my second project at the American Dance Festival archives, I arranged and described a collection of materials from Dance Pages, a quarterly dance magazine published from about 1983 to 1997. Kenneth Romo and Donna Gianell, a husband and wife team of professional dancers, originally created the magazine as a way to consolidate and distribute information about New York City dance studios and teachers for local and visiting dance students. Soon, the magazine grew in size and scope, featuring not only metropolitan New York, but also national and international dance. In addition to publishing articles on a range of dance styles and performances, the magazine featured articles on dance history, physical therapy and conditioning exercises, and book and video reviews.

Processing this collection was quite a change from my previous project, the Mark Dendy Papers. With that collection, I basically created an order for all of the materials, since they arrived at ADF with no real organizational system in place. This time, most of the records in the Dance Pages collection arrived at ADF in labeled folders, which I initially thought would make arranging the collection much easier. However, adapting to a creator’s filing system brings its own challenges. Striking a balance between remaining true to the creator’s organizational system and ensuring that the collection is arranged logically for future researchers can be a difficult task at times.

The Dance Pages collection, before I started processing the materials.

The Dance Pages collection, before I started processing the materials.

The Dance Pages collection includes an interesting mix of materials that were created and collected over the course of publishing the magazine. The majority of the materials are subject files pertaining to dancers, dance companies, performances, festivals, and events. These typically include photographs and publicity information, such as press releases and press clippings. I particularly enjoyed coming across files about dancers that I had idolized when I was younger, like Michelle Wiles and Marcelo Gomes. I also found some files with information about young dancers whose dance studio or parents had requested that the magazine feature them. Some of them even included handwritten resumes, which I found kind of adorable.

Interestingly, in addition to subject files about dancers and performances, there are folders containing information about physical therapists, dance photographers, visual artists, filmmakers, and musicians. The collection also holds materials specifically related to magazine publishing, such as paste-ups of advertisements and magazine layouts.

Magazine paste-up, Dance Pages Records, American Dance Festival Archives

Magazine paste-up, Dance Pages Records, American Dance Festival Archives

Some other surprising materials that I discovered as I processed the collection were photographs of a dancing pigeon (according to the file label the magazine actually published an article about it), adorable dancing sisters, and an ice dancer.

My last two weeks at ADF passed by so quickly, with finishing processing the collection, a site visit from Kat at the DHC, and watching more amazing dance performances. For my last night in Durham, I had the perfect final ADF experience – attending a performance of Trisha Brown Dance Company. It’s sad to leave Durham and the American Dance Festival, but I am excited to begin my new adventure working with Spectrum Dance Theater in Seattle!

The finished product

The finished product.

One collection down, one to go!

Over the past couple of weeks, I have certainly enjoyed settling into the routine of working at the American Dance Festival. In other words, I have grown accustomed to attending amazing dance performances two to three times a week by companies like Pilobolus, the 605 Collective, Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion, and Mark Haim.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, my first project at the American Dance Festival Archives was to inventory, arrange, and describe the Mark Dendy Papers. Mark Dendy is a Bessie and OBIE award-winning choreographer, writer, dancer, and actor, whose career spans experimental dance theater, grand scale site specific work, pure movement dance pieces, opera, and theater. He has also founded and served as Artistic Director of two dance companies: Mark Dendy Dance and Theater and Dendy Dancetheater. First attending as a student for several summers and later returning a number of times as a choreographer and performer, Dendy is very connected to ADF. In fact, in celebration of the 80th anniversary of the American Dance Festival, Dendy will premiere a site specific work featuring 80 dancers at Lincoln Center in New York City later this summer. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to work on the papers of such an accomplished artist, especially one who is still actively creating new work.

I found that this collection was both interesting and challenging to process. It includes over 90 videos and DVDs, about 70 notebooks, and a variety of project files, press clippings, programs, flyers, posters, photographs, and publicity materials. Since the materials did not arrive in any order, there was a lot of reorganization involved, which often meant spreading out across multiple surfaces. The summer is a crazy time during ADF, with a number of new summer staff and interns. That means sharing the space with other archives intern projects, which can result in some mild chaos (or perhaps “coziness”) at times.

Multiple projects taking over the office

Multiple projects taking over the office

By processing Mark Dendy’s materials, I could truly get a sense of who he is and how he works. I only wish that he were premiering his new work in Durham instead of New York City so that I could meet him! My experience arranging this collection definitely underscored the importance of preserving dance heritage and in particular choreographers’ papers. These types of materials are extremely valuable and can give not only great insight into the working methods of choreographers, but also into the lives of performing artists.

Last Friday, I completed arranging the collection, writing the finding aid, and encoding it in EAD. See below for some photos from the process! My next project is arranging the records of Dance Pages, a dance magazine published in the 1980s and early 1990s. I have already starting looking through the records, and I am excited to see what I find as I continue to go through the boxes!

Orientation in Chicago

It’s hard to believe that my summer as a Dance Heritage Coalition fellow is already well underway! When I decided to study archives and preservation, I never thought that I would have the opportunity to combine my professional interest in archives with my enthusiasm for dance. Needless to say, I was thrilled to be selected as a DHC fellow earlier this year, and I have been looking forward to this fellowship for months.

Tour of the Chicago Film Archives

Tour of the Chicago Film Archives

The DHC fellowship began with a weeklong orientation in Chicago filled with workshops and visits to local repositories, including the Newberry Library and the Chicago Film Archives. The repository visits provided a great opportunity to hear from archivists about the challenges and rewards of working with dance materials as well as the importance of grant writing in the field. We also had the chance to take “backstage” tours and see some really interesting collections. I know I was not the only one who was excited to hold Anna Pavlova’s pointe shoes at the Newberry!

One of the highlights of the week was definitely our visit to Thodos Dance Chicago to conduct an assessment of the company’s archival holdings. Afterwards, we wrote an assessment report as a group, which inspired much conversation about the strategies that dancers and dance companies can use to best care for their materials and their legacy. Completing the assessment made me enthusiastic about the idea of working directly with dance companies to help preserve their archival materials and provide guidance about records management.

Since I had never been to Chicago, I was happy that I was able to not only explore the archival collections in the city, but also squeeze in a bit of sightseeing with visits to the Art Institute of Chicago and, of course, the “bean” (more accurately known as Cloud Gate, by Anish Kapoor).

the bean!

the bean!

Orientation week was an excellent way to kick off my DHC summer fellowship. I feel so lucky to be involved with the DHC and to be a part of such an interesting and talented group of fellows. By the end of orientation, I was eager to start the first part of my summer at the American Dance Festival Archives in Durham, NC. Watch for a post soon about my project processing the Mark Dendy Papers!