First Steps for Artists in Creating Artist-Driven Archives

By Imogen Smith

To get started, ask yourself:

  • WHAT do you have?
  • WHERE is it stored?
  • HOW is it organized and used?
  • WHY is it valuable?
  1.  WHAT:
    • What kinds of materials do you save that document your work?
    • Do you have video and audio recordings, choreographic notes, scores,
      photographs, programs, marketing materials, press clippings, costumes
      and set pieces?
    • Which materials do you value most highly?
    • Do you feel you have enough documentation of your works?
    • If not, what is missing?
    • If you are missing documentation, can you contact venues or collaborators who might be able to fill the gaps?
    • Do you have documentation you cannot access because it is on obsolete video or audio formats?
    • TIP: Dance Heritage Coalition can advise on creating a digitization plan.
    • Are you able to find and use the legacy materials you need?
    • If not, what are the main challenges you face?
    • Do you lack sufficient storage space?
    • Are some materials in off-site storage that is not accessible?
    • Do you worry about the condition and safety of your materials?
    • Are materials un-organized or not consistently organized?
    • TIP: An archive assessment and inventory can be the best way to start
      improving organization and knowledge of what you have, and improving the
      management of your records will also make your organization more
      efficient in day-to-day operations.
  3. WHY:
    • Do you have a long-term vision for your archival materials and how your artistic legacy will be preserved and transmitted?
    • Are there issues around sharing your materials, because of copyright or privacy concerns?
    • TIP: If you think you might want your materials to be available in an institutional library or archives, think about institutions where they might be a natural fit: for instance, universities you have ties to, institutions that hold related collections or that focus on collecting in your region of the country. A well-organized collection will be more desirable to repositories and will receive priority in processing!TIP: If you envision maintaining your own archive, think about what would be involved in making it available to researchers and the public. Digital archives and exhibitions can be another way to share your materials.TIP: Think about how YOU might add value to your materials by providing context or interpretation, capturing unique aspects of your working process, or coming up with ways to share the archive publicly.
    • For more guidance on your archive, use the free online resources in the Artist’s Legacy Toolkit and Records Management Guide.

Imogen Sara SmithImogen Sara Smith is the project manager for the Dance Heritage Coalition. She is the author of two books, In Lonely Places: Film Noir Beyond the City and Buster Keaton: The Persistence of Comedy, and her writing has appeared in The Threepenny Review, Moving Image Source, Dance Chronicle, Bright Lights Film Journal, and other venues. You may reach her at:


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