The Dance Heritage Coalition Fellows cohort of 2014 reunited once again in Washington, DC for the Society of American Archivists annual meeting of August 2014. I was overjoyed to see the rest of the fellows again, and catch up. I was lucky enough to be in DC for the whole 13 week fellowship, so I did get to meet up with Kat, Libby, and Heather Darnell at various points in the summer. There was so much to talk about – everyone’s fellowship placements at larger institutions and smaller dance companies, technical information about digital archives, processing work, outreach, and building relationships with coworkers and artists! And experiences in new cities and repositories were very interesting. I felt very connected to all the fellows, through following their blogs, and hearing from them on Facebook (in a group Ailina set up after our first week in Chicago), but the conference was the perfect opportunity to exchange our experiences and I am so grateful to have been a part of it!
The first meeting I attended with the rest of the cohort was the Performing Arts Roundtable, where we learned about the dance archives projects at the Oregon Multicultural Archives from Natalia Fernandez and punk zine projects in the DC area at three different repositories. These projects were very exciting and interesting and showed that dance and performing arts archivists work across many different libraries and archives, with goals to represent the dance community as well as many cultures, ethnicities, and subcultures.
The setup was similar at the Native American Archives Roundtable that Friday. There were announcements and updates from members that gave me a really good idea of how the roundtable supports its members, and how it fits in to the greater organization. The rest of the time was for presentations – Dr. Kim Christen-Withey gave a presentation on the Sustainable Heritage Network which strives to create and sustain connections between tribal libraries, archives, and museums, sharing resources and knowledge online. Christen-Withey brought up examples from the summer workshop Association of Tribal Archives Libraries and Museums conference (ATALM) where attendees used hands-on workshops to learn and discuss shared issues in their home institutions. We heard again from Natalia Hernandez from the Oregon Multicultural Archives and Elizabeth Joffrion from Western Washington University on their study of how tribal and non-tribal institutions can come together and build successful partnerships. I was struck by many parallels and overlap between cultural heritage concerns and issues that dance companies and artists face.
I attended many sessions during the conference week, and I will describe a few of the standouts here. The session that Kat Bell facilitated on the last day of the conference “When Communities Perform Their Own Documentation: The Dos and Don’ts of Building a Community / Family Documentation Project,” was a great use of the “fishbowl” discussion format, where speakers sit in an inner circle of the room, leaving extra chairs for people to jump in with their own examples or questions. We heard from a great many projects at many different repositories on the challenges and opportunities of community archives projects. And it was great to hear Kat talk about the DHC fellows work and artist-driven archives to a large audience. I attended a morning session on “Getting Things Done with Born-Digital Collections” which offered practical advice, tools, and case studies from several institutions. Though all the archivists had done amazing work, they stressed that there is no perfect way to deal with born-digital collections and that each archivist must do the best they can with the resources they have. Other themes were building good relationships with IT staff, being able to explain the importance and urgency of your work, training staff, and demystifying the process of born-digital records programs.
I also attended a session called “Weighing in for the Balance: Indigenous Researcher Perspectives on Using Non-Native Archives,” which brought presentations from Navajo historian Zonnie Gorman and Dr. David Lewis manager of Cultural Exhibits and Archives at the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde in Oregon. Gorman shared the story of her research at NARA about the original 29 Navajo code talkers in WWII, and her discovery of George Clinton the “30th man.” This inspiring research narrative was followed by Lewis’s long work of collecting, reclaiming, and sharing the history of Oregon tribes from state and federal repositories through the Southwest Oregon Research Project (SWORP). These two speakers were tied together further by words of encouragement and a call for further projects and research that support indigenous archives research from Guha Shankar from the American Folklife Center and Jennifer O’Neal from the University of Oregon Libraries. Another conference highlight was presenting a student poster on the Oneida Nation Film Preservation Project (through the Tribal Libraries Archives and Museums project in Wisconisn) with my project partner Emily Swenson, along with many other talented LIS students presenting their research. All the DHC fellows stopped by the poster to hear our short talk and give their support!
As a cohort, we were able to meet past DHC fellows and partners at the conference, as well as DHC staff who work with the Digitization Hub in at the DHC offices in DC. This was a great opportunity to hear what possibilities are in store for the future of the DHC. Thanks again to the DHC for providing us with the fantastic combination of education, connections, and inspiration found at SAA 2014!