Documenting Creative Spaces Focus Group

How can arts producers and incubators archive multiple artistic legacies as well as their own institutional histories?

This immediately raises another question: in a project about artist-driven archiving strategies, why was one session devoted to institutions?

Artists usually need to collaborate to document and preserve their works, and an important aim of “Planning Artist-Driven Archives” is to create more dynamic and stimulating collaborations, rather than seeing the jobs of creating, documenting, and preserving as separate. A thread running through all of the focus groups was the need for more communication, negotiation and transparency in the construction of archives. A number of comments indicated in different ways that archives should not be closed boxes, but should capture connections and context around artists’ works.

In this focus group, artists had the chance to reflect on how they benefit from their ongoing relationships with presenters and venues, and how they would like these relationships to change or improve; presenters were able to explore how they might work more closely with artists on documenting and preserving their works, how this could enrich their institutional mission, and how challenges raised by this process could be addressed.

This session was structured around three key questions, which prompted wide-ranging discussions. Below are the questions and a distillation of some responses:

Q1: How can arts presenters/venues pursue artist-driven strategies to archive multiple artistic legacies while also preserving their institutional histories? What are the key questions, challenges to consider?

  • One strategy would focus on preserving connections and context, rather than merely documenting and archiving a finished performance work. Arts presenters that function as “incubators” for work have the opportunity to document creative process as well as products. They also can record and preserve the connections between a work and other works it might be related to (Was it part of a series or season? Was there a theme?), as well as the responses from audiences and fellow artists. Thus they can preserve the community around the work.
  • Key questions related to this idea are: How should the parameters of the archive be defined? And how can the process behind creating the archive be transparent, so as to counter the “myth of objectivity” in archives, the illusion that they are “complete” or “inevitable” in their structure and content?
  • Another suggested strategy was the “artist-authorized archive.” The venue can invite the artist to contribute materials and have input towards shaping a collection, which they authorize; the venue can also create its own collections, and the two can exist in tandem, reflecting multiple perspectives.
  • Challenges here arise around questions of access and resources. It is important for artists and venues to have clear contracts establishing access and rights to materials. Can the artists get access to materials, use materials in future? Is the artist willing to allow open access for research? Who is responsible for paying costs of documentation? All of this should be discussed and determined at the outset.

Q2: What are the advantages for artists of having their work archived by a presenter rather than a library/archival repository, or by their own company? What are the advantages for venues in maintaining artist-driven archives?

  • Artists can benefit from the responses and interpretations of knowledgeable curators. This input can encourage them to go in new directions, or undertake projects they might not have done on their own.
  • Museums and performance venues have strategies for audience engagement. They can connect artists with audiences and deepen audience understanding of and appetite for the work.
  • Institutions can provide a “steady hand,” continuity over time and resources that can benefit artists who prioritize making new work over documenting and preserving.
  • Creating rich archives with input from artists strengthens institutional memory and continuity, replacing a strict focus on producing new work.

Q3: Are there any possible conflicts between institutional history and individual histories? Are different archiving strategies necessary for these two?

  • Sometimes, artists and venues may feel they have different agendas or are competing for resources. Dialogue and negotiation is important to ensure both sides articulate their own agendas and understand each other’s, and there is agreement on what both sides will contribute to the archiving process and wish to gain from it. Questions to consider: Who is the archive for? Who owns the archive?
  • Artists’ works are often documented and archived by multiple presenters, creating a fragmented record with multiple variants. How can these multiple archives be connected to enable a full picture of the artist’s history?
  • Making the creative process public may hurt the process. This is a possible tension between archives and presenters, since presenters favor strategies like open rehearsals and documenting works-in-progress, whereas artists may be looking for a place to develop work without pressures of being observed or recorded.
  • Both artists and presenters may be subject to “the tyranny of the new,” i.e. pressure to focus on creating or presenting new works, and not focus on revivals, reconstructions, or archiving. It is important to make the case for these projects as creative, not merely historical.

Join the conversation! We invite your comments, feedback, and questions below.



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Advancing a vision of archives as a vital component of dance-making

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