SAA 2014

The SAA annual meeting in Washington, DC was a great experience for me. It’s certainly a useful event for new professionals to network, students to meet up and share their experiences, or to explore different types of career paths.

The first session I attended – Archival Education: Outcomes and Opportunities – was the beginning of what I’m sure will be a great dialogue between employers, educators, and emerging professionals. Each group had different expectations for what skills should be built into archives graduate programs, but similar themes emerged from their discussions with each other. It seems like one of the major obstacles to archives education is the lack of discussions like the one I attended. Without them, educators don’t understand the needs of their students, students don’t understand the needs of potential employers, employers don’t understand the needs of educators, and so on.

I constantly shuffled around my schedule due to time constraints, and it paid off when I ended up attending Laboring for Access: Rearing Records in Labor Archives. It ended up being one of the my favorite conference experiences. The session addressed the visibility of women’s work in labor collections. Thanks to the boom of women employees in almost every possible field since the second wave, women now participate in almost every possible labor union, but collections don’t often reflect that change, especially in historically male-dominated fields. It is interesting to view this dearth in light of the growing number of women in archives management in what is rapidly becoming a female-dominated profession.

AFSCME Local 426 member children’s librarian Margaret Dixon hosted “Your Library Story,” a popular weekly television show in Milwaukee. Photograph courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library.

One of the highlights of SAA was connecting with Vincent Novara, Curator at the University of Maryland’s Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library, at the Performing Arts Roundtable meeting. Novara is trying to coordinate a Big 10 consortium of performing arts archives, and I was happy to represent both the University of Wisconsin – Madison and the University of Minnesota (through the DHC). I immediately thought of Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research at the UW-Madison, my employer for the past three years and a natural fit for the consortium given the scope of the collections and the various formats of material we collect. I look forward to helping on this project and seeing what kinds of performing arts collections are being kept at Big 10 schools.

As I finish up my day-to-day work at the University of Minnesota, I’m pleased that there are so many opportunities to continue the projects I’ve worked on for the DHC as I continue my studies at the UW-Madison. I’m looking forward to turning my thoughts and analysis of the Penumbra Theatre Company Archives into a scholarly report of copyright as it relates to performing arts collections (more about that project here), and thinking more about access to performing arts collections in Novara’s Big 10 consortium.

I am so grateful to the DHC for this wonderful opportunity and the lasting impact that it will have on my professional development. Thanks for reading!

With Cecily Marcus, Curator at the PAA and my practicum supervisor

With Cecily Marcus, Curator at the Performing Arts Archives and my practicum supervisor

Thoughts on copyright in the context of the Penumbra Theatre Archives

I’ve always been interested in studying theories behind digital access to information as they relate to primary source materials. The pressure to digitize materials is often measured against the amount of sensitive or private material within the collection, or even the misgivings of a lone archivist. One of the biggest challenges to providing digital access to archives collections is copyright.

For my practicum, I’ve chosen to study copyright as it relates to the records of performing arts organizations. I was confident that I knew enough about copyright to tackle these issues, but quickly learned that copyright and intellectual property are:

  1. arcane arts, practiced only by lawyers and wizards
  2. infuriatingly complex in the context of the performing arts

After accepting how ignorant I am on the subject, I found many wonderful resources that have been guiding me through the first few weeks. The first resource is the Copyright and Fair Use Statement from the Dance Heritage Coalition’s website, which masterfully contextualizes these concepts to apply to archivists working with dance companies, and dancers working with archives. I also found Hirtle, Hudson, and Kenyon’s book Copyright and Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for U.S. Libraries, Archives, and Museums incredibly helpful. The authors’ focus on digitization addresses the tension that has led to a major dichotomy of archival policy, in my opinion. Digitizing primary source material allows for access, but at the risk of copyright infringement. The fear of litigation suppresses digitization efforts, which has an adverse effect on the public’s ability to access important cultural records.

To address copyright issues in performing arts collections, I am surveying the materials of the Penumbra Theatre Company Archives, one of the most frequently used collections within the Archie Givens, Sr. Collection of African American Literature at the University of Minnesota Libraries, and the target of many funding initiatives, including a recent IMLS grant.

Greta Oglesby and Dennis W. Spears dance in Penumbra Theatre's annual "Black Nativity." (Photo credit: Ann Marsden)

Greta Oglesby and Dennis W. Spears dance in Penumbra Theatre’s annual “Black Nativity.” (Photo credit: Ann Marsden)

In 2006, the University of Minnesota Libraries received the Penumbra Theatre Company Archives, donated by Lou Bellamy, Founder and Co-Artistic Director of Penumbra Theatre. Penumbra is an active performing arts organization, documenting the African American experience through theater.

The terms of the donation (outlined in the deed of gift) state that Lou Bellamy and the Penumbra Theater Company shall retain copyright and all other intellectual property rights for the materials they owned prior to the transfer, but the University is granted a “non-exclusive, perpetual, and irrevocable license to allow photocopying, reproduction, or exhibition by the University” of any copyrighted works within the collection for non-commercial purposes.

Lou Bellamy contact sheet and Penumbra Theatre Company program (Photo credit: Penumbra Theatre Archives, Givens Collection of African American Literature, University of Minnesota Libraries, Minneapolis)

Lou Bellamy contact sheet and Penumbra Theatre Company program (Photo credit: Penumbra Theatre Archives, Givens Collection of African American Literature, University of Minnesota Libraries, Minneapolis)

The University of Minnesota Libraries hopes to digitize all of the materials in the Penumbra Theatre Company Archives in the future. Though Lou Bellamy and Penumbra Theatre retain copyright to most of the printed material, the University was granted an irrevocable license to allow for “photocopying, reproduction, and exhibition” of copyrighted works for non-commercial purposes through the deed of gift. For materials created by third parties, the University would have to rely on fair use to digitize materials. There are also materials created by third parties within the collection. Since these are not licensed for non-commercial use, the University would have to employ the four-factor fair use test to digitize these materials. Both the University and researchers run the risk of copyright infringement if their uses of third party materials cannot be construed as fair use.

Through my survey, I’ve found materials that could be digitized with little to no risk, and materials that pose a more significant risk, due to third parties’ involvement. I am looking forward to understanding the depth of the risk by interviewing key stakeholders from Penumbra about these materials, and to assess what kinds of issues should be addressed before the University undertakes a mass digitization project of this scale.

Dennis W. Spears as Nat “King” Cole in Penumbra Theatre's "I Wish You Love" (Photo credit: Michal Daniels)

Dennis W. Spears as Nat “King” Cole in Penumbra Theatre’s “I Wish You Love” (Photo credit: Michal Daniels)

More to come soon!

On Dance/USA, and the dreaded “Financial” series

Dance/USA was a success! I was thrilled to meet and talk with Kat Bell and Rebecca Fraimow, former DHC Fellows and current DHC staff. I went on tours of the Andersen Library with conference attendees, and got the chance to show off my exhibit on the John Munger collection.

Materials from the John Munger collection, courtesy of the University of Minnesota Performing Arts Archives

Materials from the John Munger collection, courtesy of the University of Minnesota Performing Arts Archives

The Minnesota Library Access Center in the caverns of Andersen Library - a high-density storage facility the size of a football field containing almost 1.4 million monographs

The Minnesota Library Access Center in the caverns of Andersen Library – a high-density storage facility the size of a football field containing almost 1.4 million monographs

On my birthday, I went to one of the conferece’s dance showcases featuring local performing arts organizations, like TU Dance, James Sewell Ballet, and Minnesota Dance Theatre. The showcase itself was highly diverse, with classical ballet, contemporary, modern, and world dance performances. During my practicum, I hope to have the chance to work with some companies directly and help coordinate the transfer of their legacy materials to the Performing Arts Archives.

My latest project at the Performing Arts Archives has been processing the Nancy Hauser Dance Company and School records. Nancy Hauser founded the company in 1961. Hauser developed her unique aesthetic from the German Expressionist tradition, a form of modern dance often associated with Mary Wigman and Hanya Holm. When Holm opened a dance school in New York City in 1931, Hauser was one of her first students.

Photograph by Benedict Frenkel; from the Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations. Courtesy of the Dance Heritage Coalition's 100 Dance Treasures.

Hanya Holm. Photograph by Benedict Frenkel; from the Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations. Courtesy of the Dance Heritage Coalition’s 100 Dance Treasures.

The Nancy Hauser Dance Company (NHDC) enjoyed the title of being the Midwest’s first and foremost established modern dance organization. NHDC’s mission is to present high-quality modern dance teaching and performances to diverse audiences, and promote artistic integrity, creativity, exploration, and growth in individual artists.

The company fulfilled its mission through original performances, modern dance technique education, extensive touring (local, national, and international), apprenticeships, residencies, and workshops.

In 1987, Heidi Jasmin, Hauser’s daughter and the former assistant artistic director of NHDC, succeeded Nancy Hauser as artistic director. Nancy passed away in 1990. Jasmin’s artistic vision remains closely tied to the Hauser/Holm aesthetic, but challenges audiences with “powerful images that combine visual sensibility with human… strength. The dances of both Heidi Jasmin and Nancy Hauser reflect their conviction that dance must relate not just to the dancers themselves, but to the world around us – something larger than individual experience, and therefore meaningful to us all,” (Mission, Goals, and Overview of Programs, Nancy Hauser Dance Company and School records).

Processing the collection has been an interesting challenge. While the collection itself is very well-organized, thanks to the work of Heidi Jasmin and her staff, its organization reveals a nascent narrative about the health of performing arts organizations in the Midwest, closely tied to fundraising and development efforts.

The collection documents many successfully established dance education programs, such as a Cross-Cultural Dance Camp that sent K-12 dance students to Japan, and brought Japanese dance students to Minneapolis; a competitive apprenticeship program; and artist residencies, which brought renowned dancers to Minneapolis to teach workshops and choreograph new works for company members. As already mentioned, the company toured extensively, bringing dance to underserved areas and populations, as well as performing in large cities known for their commitment to the arts.

Despite their growth, the company records are intense in their commitment to fundraising and development. Both artistic and administrative staff dedicated a lot of their time to finding funding opportunities, applying for grants, conducting donor research, and reaching out to the community for support. As a non-profit organization, the company relied almost entirely on its dedicated sources of outside funding, which began to dwindle drastically in the 80s and 90s. While some of these changes can be tied to the economic climate, the company’s struggles can also be linked to performing arts organizations’ diminished status in the eyes of funders.

One often assumes that performing arts collections will be rich in visual materials, like photographs, posters, programs, stage notes, and A/V materials. The Nancy Hauser Dance Company and School records may seem, prima facie, less compelling, but the narrative is very honest. Financial records, budgets, countless grant applications, and a myriad of correspondence between grant agencies and the NHDC gives researchers a better sense of the difficulties of running a company while being a full-time advocate for the arts in an environment where arts programs are often devalued or even cut entirely.

For this reason (among others), the Nancy Hauser Dance Company and School records is a valuable collection for dance and performing arts researchers. I have enjoyed processing the materials in it (even the financial documents) because the company had an unwavering dedication to its mission, and a hyper-awareness of trends in performing arts funding. I have had such wonderful experiences during my first six weeks here at the University of Minnesota – I’m looking forward to the next half of the summer, and working on several exciting new projects during my practicum!

Weeks 1-2

After only a week of working at the Andersen Library at the University of Minnesota, I can say with confidence that this is one of my favorite institutions for library and archives collections. I love the design of the building and the work environment that it supports.

The Elmer L. Andersen Library at the University of Minnesota

The Elmer L. Andersen Library at the University of Minnesota

At the Andersen Library, the archives are separated by collection type. Some of the major collections include the Tretter Collection (for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies), the Charles Babbage Institute (for information technology studies), and the Sherlock Holmes Collection.

This summer, I’m working for the Performing Arts Archives (PAA), which shares an office with the Northwest Architectural Archives, the Givens Collection (for African-American Literature), as well as the Upper Midwest Literary Archives. The offices for all the separate collections form a semi-circle around the Archives and Special Collections Reading Room, which makes it very easy for researchers to get assistance from a dedicated staff member with a deep knowledge of the subject and collection.

The layout of the Andersen Library also promotes collaboration between archivists. Even though it has become the motto of many professional archivists, I don’t like to resort to saying “it depends” during processing. Saying it often feels like avoiding the important conversations about what archivists’ responsibilities are to donors, researchers, and collection preservation. In my office, students and archivists share a large processing table, which allows for collaborative reflection on processing decisions and goals, and ultimately leads to greater consistency in our work.

My processing station at the Performing Arts Archives.

My processing station at the Performing Arts Archives

This week I finished processing all the A/V and “born digital” materials in the John Munger collection. I was responsible for indexing all of the CDs, DVDs, floppy discs, cassette tapes, VHS sample tapes, as well as any other oddball format (U-matic tapes, MiniDVs, and microcassettes).

John Munger was a celebrated local choreographer in addition to a dance teacher, researcher, and Artistic Director of his own troupe, the Third Rabbit Dance Ensemble. Munger passed away last year. The PAA is lucky to have a strong relationship with many of his collaborators, who will help staff identify and catalog the photographs in his collection.

Next week, Dance/USA comes to Minneapolis, and the timing couldn’t be better. Kate (the other archivist working on the John Munger collection) and I will put together a small display of some of the most notable materials from Munger’s collection for conference attendees touring the Performing Arts Archives.

Choreographer, consultant, and actor: Resident Alien (1991), a made-for-TV movie starring John Munger as "Sheriff Jack."

Choreographer, consultant, and actor: Resident Alien (1991), a made-for-TV movie starring Munger as “Sheriff Jack.”

Munger was a consultant for Dance/USA for 20 years, working tirelessly to promote dance and turn Dance/USA into the foremost institution for dance information and research. I’m definitely looking forward to attending some of the conference sessions and celebrations happening at Dance/USA next week, and maybe learning a little more about John in the process!


The Dance Heritage Coalition (DHC) Fellows’ orientation took place in Chicago this past week. I enjoyed getting to know the program coordinators, Imogen and Libby, and my cohort. It has been great to be surrounded by such remarkable people with distinct backgrounds, skills, and knowledge. Even though we were only together for one short week, I definitely feel like we’ve made some great connections, and I look forward to seeing everybody again in Washington, D.C.

Orientation began with trips to the archives repositories for Natya Dance Theater, a dance company rooted in Bharata Natyam tradition; Jump Rhythm Jazz Project, an innovative style of dance that focuses on human energy; and the Chicago Film Archives, a regional archives with significant moving image collections for dancers Ruth Page and Sybil Shearer.

For the past two years, I have worked with moving image materials at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research. It was very interesting to see a different perspective on access to film collections. The CFA is rapidly expanding access through accelerated workflows (for example, the Ruth Page collection is almost entirely online now, though parts of it have limited cataloging), and on-demand digitization. As a non-profit, the CFA has been able to fund these initiatives through preservation grants and the support of the Chicago community.

Below is one of the silent films from the Ruth Page collection, Variations on Euclid (a.k.a. Expanded Universe), circa 1938.

Courtesy of the Chicago Film Archives