National Performance Network > News > “Telling Our Stories” part of NPN/VAN Knowledge-Building Initiative

“Telling Our Stories” part of NPN/VAN Knowledge-Building Initiative

Posted: Friday, May 19th, 2017 at 4:44 pm in News

March 3, 2017
Paul Bonin-Rodriguez

Under the Knowledge Building Initiative (KBI), a research project led by Paul Bonin-Rodriguez and Media Lead Elliat Graney-Saucke, NPN/VAN has begun documenting, assessing, and reflecting on its three-plus decades of accomplishment – in other words, planning for how the NPN/VAN archive will serve as a site for knowledge building and sharing.

To seed the KBI, a breakout session at the 2016 Annual Meeting, “Telling Our Stories/Documenting and Archiving our Work” assembled artists, partners, and colleagues to share strategies and experiences in archive building.

Artistic Director Stephanie McKee told how her work assembling the Junebug Productions’ archives provided deeper insight into the organization’s history, vision, and importance. Executive Director Laurel Raczka shared the process by which the Painted Bride assembled and moved its archives to the University of Pennsylvania Van Pelt Library. Sixto Wagan, Director of the University of Houston Center for Arts and Social Engagement, shared his experiences of digitizing Diverseworks’ history while serving as Co-Executive/Artistic Director. Dr. Eric Colleary, the Cline Curator of Theatre and Performing Arts, Harry Ransom Center, an archive repository at UT Austin, offered a host of resources, rationales, and strategies for archive building. His presentation paid special attention to the work of the American Theater Archive Project (ATAP), a grassroots effort that bearing similar partnership ethos as NPN/VAN.

The following suggestions are taken from all four presentations and the 20 people in attendance.

Why do it? Rationales for Building an Archive
(From ATAP’s Why Archive Theater? – A Call to Action)

  • Preserving the present can inform an artist’s/company’s future, artistically and organizationally.
  • The presence of the archive offers a tool for advocacy, artistic practice, and teaching, among other things.
  • A wide variety of individuals (scholars and students, artists, and advocates) may have a vested interest in learning from the archive.

What to save? Notes on Content
In its free online “Archiving Theatre” manual, the American Theatre Archive Project (ATAP) has a sample retention policy and schedule that lists what documents a company or artist should consider saving in perpetuity and what should be discarded after a set period of time. A sampling would include

  • Production/show materials (photos, programs, scripts and scores, videos, etc.), including those related to development.
  • Grants and reports, i.e., documents that demonstrate how the artwork was created to make an impact
  • Relevant agreements (contracts) and correspondence that demonstrate how the work functioned as an element of both practice and arts policy
  • Press, i.e., promotional materials, reviews, and letters, which demonstrate reception.

How to Get the Work Done? Strategies for Starting and Sharing an Archive

  • Decide who you’re preserving history for, what you’re going to save, and how.
  • Determine a consistent approach for saving materials and be sure to put dates on all articles that might one day be saved, so that the history can be accurately documented.
  • Also, think about where you might place this work – in a dedicated repository (collection), such as the library, or in the Cloud?
  • Determine an appropriate retention schedule and method (see Archive.org). In other words, on a consistent basis (quarterly, every six months, or year, perhaps), check on the location and status of saved items.
  • Talk to performance historians – scholars, who are key end users and emissaries for your work.
  • Start early. Even doing a little bit now is better than postponing the work for later. It’ll only pile up.
  • Board retreats and volunteer working sessions can be times where a lot of organizing can happen quickly and effectively.

Who can help? Additional Resources




Past Issues