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!