For many dance companies, records and archives are a priority, but funds are lacking and staff may not know where to start. Many companies lack a complete, current picture of what they have, as well as information about how best to redress problems and put in place better systems to organize and safeguard their materials. The Dance Heritage Coalition (DHC) offers dance companies and other small dance collections the opportunity to have their collections assessed by archival and preservation consultants, who will produce a document that summarizes the collection's scope, condition, and needs. An assessment can be a vital first step in establishing a sustainable plan for your records, and can also be used in applications for funding to support work on the collection. After an assessment, a company often taps the DHC's or archivist's advice in how best to arrange the collection, so that everyday needs for information and materials can be easily served all the while organizing and protecting the materials for the long term. This next step is a records-management assessment, another service that can be provided through the DHC.
The Dance Heritage Coalition began offering archive assessments as a continuing service to the dance field in 2009, when The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funded assessments of 23 dance company archives. From October 2009 to April 2010, consultants visited the companies to interview staff members and visually assess archival holdings, in order to evaluate the status of organization, care, and accessibility. From this project, the DHC provided the 23 companies with recommendations on next steps for ensuring their materials could serve the company's needs as well as be maintained as well as be a record of the company's legacy to the dance field. The project also served to broaden the DHC's understanding of the special attributes of the in-house dance company collection. As a result, the DHC is drafting a report for the dance and archival fields that will describe the "culture" of dance company archives and share observations on archival and preservation options that best serve those collections.
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Following the success of the Mellon-funded archives assessment project, the Dance Heritage Coalition now offers dance companies and small dance collections the chance to benefit from an archival assessment.DHC consultants can visit your company or dance collection. The site visits usually last about half a day, and consultants will ask for information about your archive (as summarized below) and for an opportunity to see how materials are stored. (Note: The assessment is not a complete, detailed inventory.) The report they produce will lay out their findings in detail and make recommendations concerning the needs of your collection. This information is necessary for successful grants to support preservation of performing arts materials, find a list of funding sources here, and for companies to evaluate their holdings and come up with a legacy plan. Whether you are planning to maintain your materials in-house or place them with an outside repository, the first step is to form an accurate picture of the collection's current state, so that next steps can be determined.To inquire about fees for an archive assessment, contact DHC Project Manager Imogen Smith: ismith [at] danceheritage [dot] org 202.223.8393
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Consultants talk with company members about how their dance records were viewed within the institution, how archival materials were used, and what the company's vision was for the future of their legacy holdings. They ascertain the size and scope of the collections and what kind of materials are included (film and video formats, sound recordings, photographs, clippings, paper records, costumes, born digital records, etc.).
Consultants also ask:
How much of the materials are one-of-a-kind items not available in other collections;
Where and how the materials are stored, and how they can be accessed;
Whether materials are at risk from improper storage, handling, or the environment;
Which staff are responsible for the archives, and their level of training;
What preservation efforts have been undertaken or are underway;
How materials are catalogued and organized;
What copyright or contractual issues affect the company's use of its materials;
What funds are available in the company budget for its legacy collections;
Whether the company has considered partnering with a library or other formal repository.
Consultants write reports summarizing their findings, which are shared with the companies. The companies use the documents to gain a better understanding of their collections and develop plans for improving their condition, care, and accessibility. The DHC used the reports to create a single document summarizing findings about common issues, which provides an overview of trends and needs within the field.
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As follow-on work to the dance company assessments, Mellon has funded the DHC to coordinate additional work for seven of the original group visited, aiding them to inventory, organize, and preserve their collections. Check back here to find progress reports. Another outcome of the project was a Save America's Treasures (SAT) grant jointly awarded to the DHC and Dance Theatre of Harlem for preservation work on DTH's archives. The completed archive assessment by an expert in preservation was a part of the application package that assured reviewers that qualified staff and steps would be supported in the SAT grant. Follow Kat Bell's progress as Preservation Technician for the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
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Dance companies are constantly generating new records, but they often lack the staff time to organize them consistently. Then when the next set of grant-support documents is needed, staff time is devoted to tracking down the needed records. The DHC can help by matching your company with a qualified archivist: archivists are expert first and foremost in records management systems, and can help design a sustainable system that addresses both day-to-day demands as well as long-term archival needs.
In April 2010, DHC Fellow Arlene Yu spent a month with Shen Wei Dance Arts, observing how the company organized and used its files, and producing an extensive document detailing how the company could improve its records management systems.
"Records management" means how documents are organized within a filing system and how information about records is kept. It affects how easily materials can be found, but also how smoothly a company's active files will eventually transition to being an archive that tells that company's story. A consultant can lay out in simple terms the how and why of organizing your records, including tips for proper housing and a customized organizational plan that will serve the company's specific needs. Developing a good records-management system can be especially helpful to young companies, which are in a position to establish sustainable practices at the outset to ensure that as their collections grow they are properly organized and stored, thus making them more useful and usable to the company and forestalling future ordeals with unorganized or deteriorating materials.
To inquire about fees for a records-management assessment, contact DHC Project Manager Imogen Smith:
ismith [at] danceheritage [dot] org
Considering managing your records on your own? Use our guide for tips and best practices, Records Management for Dance Companies and Choreographers.
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