Artist’s Legacy Toolkit: Organize

How Will You Need to Access Your Materials?

Your answer to this question will help you decide what method of organization is best. Regardless of your career level, a good records management system (how documents are organized within a filing system and how information about records is kept) can improve the efficiency of your business and your ability to archive your artistry. Many systems are organized chronologically, but you may want to organize by choreographic work, material format, content, event, etc. However you organize your files, programs, costumes, media, and other objects, remember that consistency is the key for future retrieval.

Image of Dance Theatre of Harlem archive project: Video materials separated with items with unique numbers on left and unnumbered items on right. Photo by Kat Bell.

  1. Designate storage areas for each of the main categories of your system. This could be labeled folders, drawers, boxes, and shelves. For tips on organizing digital files, see the Records Management Guide.
  2. Eliminate unneeded duplicate copies, saving a small number of older items and a larger, but limited, number of more current items that you might use for reporting or development purposes. Dance/USA recommends saving 5 copies, however you might add more or less depending on the needs of your organization.
    How long should you keep materials? Your organization should have a formal records retention schedule that staff can consult to determine whether records need to be kept or may be securely discarded. If you don’t have a records retention schedule, this tool will help provide some guidelines:

→ See Legacy Tool #3: Document Retention and Destruction Schedule

  1. Label media, artifacts, and paper materials using a consistent system. Label items as they are created – taking the time now will ensure items are identified fully. You may not remember where a photograph was taken, by whom, and who is in it ten years down the road.

→ See Legacy Tool #4: How to Label

For best practices in labeling digital, photo, and audiovisual materials:

→ See Legacy Tool #5: Digital Material Data Sheet

→ See Legacy Tool #6: Photo Materials Data Sheet

If you are further along in your career, examine what you have and your methods for collecting and saving materials. Are you missing information or is there a discernible pattern to gaps in your documentation? Determine what you need to locate or create. Identify possible sources for obtaining missing materials such as former company members, board members, friends, relatives, venues where you performed, and videographers who may have items that belong in your archive.

Image of Dance Theatre of Harlem archive project: Unsorted materials in Lib-2 before organization. Photo by Kat Bell

Take Inventory

An inventory not only helps you locate your materials, but it is vital when calculating insurance needs, transferring your files to another organization, or developing a disaster plan. We’ve provided a sample spreadsheet template that gives you the flexibility to develop an inventory only as detailed as you need. Think about how items are already labeled and how that information can be transferred to a spreadsheet. If you need assistance with your inventory, contact us!

→ See Legacy Tool #7: Inventory Template Guidelines

→ See Legacy Tool #8: Sample Inventory Template

Unique ID Numbers

Use unique ID numbers to identify items in your collection and connect them to inventory records. Find tips and best practices for creating a numbering system unique to your archive.

→ See Legacy Tool #9: Creating and Using Unique IDs  

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