Artist’s Legacy Toolkit: Using the Toolkit

Image of an exhibit of recent acquisitions to the dance collections, reproduced by Nicole Topich at the Library of Congress Performing Arts Division.

Early-career dance artists and young companies

If you are just starting out, you may not know what you should keep and how you can organize your records. Ten years from now, will those research notes still be useful? How will you be able to find your documentation and records in the future?

Use these resources in the Toolkit to begin to:

  • Identify: Determine what materials you’re creating and which of them have archival value.
  • Organize: Sort and arrange your saved materials, a crucial step in developing an efficient archive.
  • Label: Describe your materials now for easier identification in the future.
  • Digital files: put in place good practices for backing up your files, preserving your social media, website and email.
  • Records management: develop systems for naming and organizing your files.
  • Preserve: Store your materials safely to extend the longevity as items in poor condition threaten your legacy.
  • Copyright: The section Copyright and Art-making explains how to secure the rights to your own work. Think about what role technology plays in the way you document and preserve your legacy. How will you be able to access digital materials you create now over the lifespan of your career? Also, keep in mind that the issues addressed under Access, Resources, and Copyright may not be important to you right now, but will be in the future, and should be part of your long-term thinking.

Image of Ernest Belcher’s ballet shoes, reproduced by Nicole Topich from the Marge Champion Collection at the Library of Congress Performing Arts Division.

Mid-Career artists and companies

At this point in your career, you may have an overwhelming amount of material you’ve kept over years. Organization is key – if you needed to find the rental agreement for a theatre your company performed in fifteen years ago, could you find it? How fast could you locate that agreement? Do you have videos or digital files in obsolete formats?

Use the following tools to help move you in the right direction:

  • Inventory Summary: Document what materials you have and how they are organized. An inventory may help you find and tackle obstacles hindering your organization system.
  • Label: Describe your materials now for easier identification in the future.
  • Preserve: Have you noticed some items important to your legacy are deteriorating? Think about what role technology plays in the way you document and preserve your legacy. How will you be able to access digital materials you create now over the lifespan of your career?
  • Digital files: Learn about digital reformatting and preserving your files and website.
  • Resources: Now is a good time to seek out funding sources and people power.
  • Copyright: The section Copyright and Art-making explains how to secure the rights to your own work.

Image from the Dance Theatre of Harlem archive project: Lib-4 room with boxes of unsorted materials. In the corner stands a poster of Zelda Wynn, the costume supervisor for DTH for around 25 years. Photo by Kat Bell.

Seasoned artists and companies

By now, you’ve likely collected decades worth of material that documents your career. Are you thinking about the future of your legacy and how it will continue after you? Then you may fall into this category. Follow these resources in the Toolkit to secure your legacy:

  • Copyright: Secure the rights to your work.
  • Inventory: Document what materials you have and how they are organized.
  • Preserve: You may have items important to your legacy that have deteriorated or become damaged. Protect against future damage with this tool.
  • Access: Share your materials with others. Learn about donating your materials to a library or archive repository.
  • Resources: Seek out the expertise of others to help you with what may seem to be a daunting project.