SAA 2014

It was so exciting to reunite with the DHC fellows at the Society of American Archivists National Conference last month in Washington, DC. When we first met in Chicago, we had no idea where DHC would take us. Now we have traveled all over the U.S. and delved into amazing projects that have not only helped us develop professional skills, but have also enriched our lives.

Thanks to the DHC, we were able to attend SAA sessions on everything from ensuring access to digital records to how copyright law affects libraries and archives. My personal favorite was a session on archives and activism. Panelists included lobbyists from the American Library Association and American Alliance of Museums and the executive director of the National Association of Secretaries of State. Funding for libraries and archives are constantly threatened. For example, Paul Ryan’s most recent budget plan including cutting the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which funds our DHC fellowship! While we can’t all be lobbyists, we can make a difference on the ground level. Make sure your friends know the importance of libraries and archives. Share the cause on social media. And don’t forget to write your representatives to let them know about how libraries and archives impact you!

We also had the chance to attend sessions related directly to our field and network with other professionals and students. We all attended the SAA Performing Arts Roundtable, which focused this year on archiving punk collections. Though I am not a punk fan myself, I learned about how archivists can connect with music communities and countercultures to ensure their history is preserved. This isn’t as easy as it sounds–forming partnerships often means slowly earning trust and developing long-term relationships to build collections over time.

And no worries. After all of those sessions, we made some time for fun too! Below are some photos of our SAA experience!

 

DHC Fellows at SAA in Washington, DC!

DHC Fellows at SAA in Washington, DC!

Hanging out at the Library of Congress

Rubbing elbows at the Library of Congress

Last dinner together!

Last dinner together!

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The Silk Road Dance Company Project and the Value of “It Depends”

Well folks, it’s been a while since I last wrote. Since my last post, I’ve moved back to the great city of Washington, DC, which has been my home for about three years. I have to admit that I was a bit sad to leave Cambridge and the folks at Harvard–what a beautiful place to work and study! However, I’ve begun a fantastic project that I can’t wait to tell you about!

For the past three weeks, I’ve been working with Dr. Laurel Victoria Gray, internationally renowned dance scholar and artistic director of the Silk Road Dance Company. Laurel is known as the “pioneer of Uzbek dance in America,” having founded the Uzbek Dance and Cultural Society in 1994. She has worked for decades to promote cultural exchange between the two countries. In doing so, she has collected many important photographs and artifacts related to Uzbek dance. Furthermore, she has a collection of photographs, videos, artifacts, and records related to her work with the Silk Road Dance Company.

A poster from Laurel's collection. It includes members of the Akilov family, which are known for carrying on the Uzbek dance tradition.

A poster from Laurel’s collection. It includes members of the Akilov family, which are known for carrying on the Uzbek dance tradition.

My job is to help her create a records management and preservation plan for her physical and digital records, which go back to the 1970s. The work introduces a few new challenges for me as an archivist. The first is that I am no longer acting as just an archivist, but also a records manager. I need to figure out a system that works for her as she actively collects and adds to her records. However, I also need to form a plan intended for long-term preservation. Secondly, I have to keep in mind the limited budget of a small dance company. At my previous jobs in academic or federal institutions, I could easily follow best practices since I had easy access to supplies and technology. However, a smaller institution can’t always order unlimited archival supplies, buy the highest quality scanner, or afford the latest digital asset management software.

My favorite professor in library school had this saying: “It Depends.” While we aspire to use best practices, the best technology, and the best supplies, it all depends on our situation. For me, the solution has been to sit down with Laurel and get an understanding of her needs, her organizational system, and what she thinks is important. From there, I’ve been able to compromise and begin a system that not only works for her, but will ensure long-term preservation. For example, instead of looking into an expensive digital asset management system, we’ve found a way to embed the needed metadata using Windows in a way that fits her own search strategy. Because cloud storage can be expensive, we will be saving photos to both an external hard drive and the company’s Google Drive, which offers up quite a bit of space for free.

So far, working with Laurel has been a valuable learning experience, and I can’t wait to continue with the project!

The Silk Road Dance Company at the Kennedy Center on August 5, 2014.

The Silk Road Dance Company at the Kennedy Center on August 5, 2014.

 

A Detailed Look at the John Lindquist Project

These six weeks at Harvard University Houghton Library have flown by so quickly! But I’m glad to say that I’ve made some decent headway in the Lindquist project. As I stated in my last post, my job has consisted of creating an inventory of photographic negatives in the John Lindquist Collection in preparation for preservation and digitization. Though I didn’t get through every volume of negatives (there are a lot!), I got the project off to a good start and created a guide for the next person who comes in. Furthermore, by going through Lindquist’s works and researching the dancers and companies in the images, I was able to vastly expand my knowledge surrounding dance in the twentieth century. Since I didn’t go into too much detail in my last post, here is some information on Lindquist and some of the subjects he photographed.

John Lindquist was a well-known dance photographer who served as the official photographer of the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Massachusetts, from 1938 to 1980. During this time, he photographed and corresponded with some of the most influential names in American dance. Furthermore, because of the inclusive nature of the Pillow, he captured artists the world over who performed a diverse array of classical and traditional styles. Overall, the Lindquist Collection contains 7,426 photographic prints and 17 volumes of negatives, which chronicle important aspects of dance history throughout much of the twentieth century. Such a collection is invaluable to dance research, scholarship, and heritage.

Here just a few of the dancers and companies John Lindquist photographed:

 

Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers

Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers. MS Thr 482, Box 3, Ted Shawn, Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Lindquist began photographing the renowned Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers in 1938. By that point, Shawn had purchased the property known as Jacob’s Pillow in 1930 to be used as a summer dance retreat and theatre and was using it as a residence for His Men Dancers. With this group, Shawn developed new and unique choreography based on masculine movement.

Edward Villella dancing

Edward Villella (1936–). MS Thr 482, Box 17, Edward Villella, Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Edward Villella is one of America’s most celebrated dancers. He was principal of the New York City Ballet and served as Founding Artistic Director of Miami City Ballet, bringing the company international acclaim. Villella was awarded the National Medal of the Arts in 1997.

Maria Tallchief

Maria Tallchief. MS Thr 482, Box 17, Maria Tallchief, Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Maria Tallchief (1925–2013), one of America’s first virtuosic American ballerinas, as well as the first Native American ballerina to gain widespread prominence. Tallchief pursued a twenty-five year international career and became the leading ballerina of the New York City Ballet.

Sahomi Tachibana, traditional Japanese dancer

Sahomi Tachibana (1924–). MS Thr 482, Box 17, Sahomi Tachibana, Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Sahomi Tachibana is a traditional Japanese dancer who was born in Mountain View, California, in 1924. She began dancing at an early age and traveled to Fukushima, Japan to study at the Tachibana Dance School as a child. She returned just weeks prior to the events at Pearl Harbor and spent the duration of the war in an internment camp. After the war, she moved with her family to New York City, where she rose to prominence as a traditional Japanese dancer.

 

Dance Theatre of Harlem Contact Sheets

The Dance Theatre of Harlem (Arthur Mitchell Co.), 1973. MS Thr 482, Box 17, Dance Theatre of Harlem (Arthur Mitchell Co.), 1973, Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University.
The Dance Theatre of Harlem was founded by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook in 1969 as a place for youth in Harlem to learn and perform dance. It grew into a groundbreaking, multi-cultural institution that has not only defied racial stereotypes in the dance community, but gained worldwide acclaim through its innovative and bold artistry.

The “Wow” Factor

When I began my job at the Harvard Houghton Library a few weeks ago, the only word I could think to say was “wow.” Through a tour with the assistant theatre curator, I got to hold an original Picasso, Virginia Woolf’s photo album, and my personal favorite, a signed copy of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Elliot. I was equally humbled as I began researching and creating an inventory of negatives in the John Lindquist Collection. Lindquist, a Boston dance photographer, served as the official photographer of the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival for forty years. During this time, he photographed many notable dancers, including Maria Tallchief, who is considered America’s first “prima ballerina” and was the first Native American to gain prominence in ballet; and Ted Shawn, the first American man to achieve a worldwide reputation in dance and the founder of the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. As I began flipping through pages upon pages of these images, I felt excited–I had the opportunity to view history through Lindquist’s lense and see these incredible artists caught in a moment in time. As an admittedly nostalgic individual (what archivist isn’t?), I was reminded of the beginning of career and the moment I decided that I wanted to dedicate my life to archives.

When I got my first job at the Texas Tech University Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, I had no intention of actually remaining in the field. At the time, I was a working toward a music degree and needed a part-time job to help pay for gas and rent. I thought that this job would be interesting enough and might help me gain some research skills. However, I was soon taken aback by the wonderful things I got to see. As a music student and member of the marching band (known in West Texas as the Goin’ Band from Raiderland), I was quickly recruited to process the TTU School of Music Collection. It contained photographs and manuscripts from the early history of Goin’ Band, which played a big role in the establishment and popularity of marching bands in Texas. While this may not be that exciting to someone who never played in a marching band or grew up outside of the Lone Star State, it meant it something to me.
But what was it, exactly, that made my heart swell when I looked at those old, dusty photos from my alma mater? Why, did I gasp when I got to hold an original Picasso? Why, when I look at the tiny, black-and-white figures dancing in and out of decades-old negative strips, do I get excited?

In archival science, we often refer to this as a record’s “intrinsic value.” Even if it doesn’t have a lot of research value (though these collections certainly do), it is still intrinsically valuable to us. Perhaps it is because, through these records history becomes tangible. They show us that these events, people, and places that mean something to us existed. They show us that this history we’ve only read about was once alive, and we get to connect with it.

When I look at Lindquist’s photographs, I feel myself connecting with the people in them–I see their emotions and thoughts through their bodies and faces and can feel the intensity of their art. When I say “wow,” it is a realization that they were here! They danced! They played a role in humanity’s journey! And so can I.

DHC Fellows Head to the Windy City!

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Hello Readers! And thanks for taking a look at my first blog post with the Dance Heritage Coalition. For those of you who aren’t familiar, the Dance Heritage Coalition (DHC) is supporting eight fellows through an IMLS grant to train and practice in dance-related librarianship and archives (to learn more, head to the “about” section). I am one of those fellows and just completed my first week with DHC!

It all began last week with a trip to Chicago. I set off for the Windy City just three days after graduating with my master’s degree in library science from the University of Maryland. (That makes me an official library scientist now!) With my new credentials, I stepped proudly into the DHC cohort, which consists of seven other fantastic ladies dedicated to preserving and promoting dance legacy materials! We got to go to all sorts of cool places, like the Newberry Library and Chicago Film Archives. We also accompanied our advisers on visits to two dance companies, Natya Dance Theatre and Jump Jazz Rhythm Project (JJRP). At JJRP, we worked as a team to gain an understanding of their records and provide their organization with an archival assessment in order to help them better manage their collections. Such experience was incredibly valuable–not only did I get to interact with seven other archivists with various points of expertise, but I got to put all that theory and knowledge I gained in grad school to professional use.

Here are a couple of highlights from the trip:

DHC Fellows At Newberry

DHC Fellows at the Newberry Library

20140527 Anna Pavlova's Ballet Shoe

Anna Pavlova’s Ballet Shoe at the Newberry Library

20140528 DHC Fellows Getting a taste of chicago

DHC Fellows getting a taste of Chicago!

Stay tuned for my next post, which will be about the Harvard Houghton Library’s awesome collections! Same DHC time, same DHC channel!