Back to the Future: Where Our Conversation about Documentation and Archiving Began

Posted by Ms. Pam Korza, May 12, 2014 0 comments

Pam Korza Pam Korza

In early December, during the first of many icy weather events of this past winter season, Animating Democracy co-directors Barbara Schaffer Bacon and Pam Korza participated in an national gathering at Virginia Tech (VT), warmly orchestrated by Bob Leonard, Professor of Directing and Director of Community-based Arts in VT’s Theater and Cinema Program.  A couple dozen artists, cultural workers and intermediaries, communications and technology folks, and scholars participated, united in their commitment to community cultural development as essential to healthy communities and artistic practice.

The core question at hand was:  How are documentation, archiving, and communication of community cultural development work serving - and perhaps not serving - artists, arts and cultural organizations, community agencies and institutions, community organizers, and the communities interested in the work?  As Bob pointed out, “I think of that moment as a group of pretty terrific people entering a conversation that has been going on for a long time among lots of people,” from the seminal forum of the Community Arts Network to the convenings and writings coming from discipline specific organizations like Theater Communications Group to regionally devoted organizations like Alternate ROOTS to academic institutions and important efforts such as the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, to name only a few.

Although the framing for the Virginia Tech gathering was community cultural development, participants also talked about it in terms of community-based arts, arts and community development, cross-sector work between arts and other disciplines and fields, community cultural organizing, and arts and social change.  All of these reference points suggest a field that is vast, deep, and motivated to enhance culture and communities with various focus of intention. As this field of work has expanded, deepened, and continues to evolve, this topic takes on ever greater importance.  There were many questions raised in Blacksburg:

  • What are the purposes guiding documentation, archiving, and communications and the resources that result from them?  Who is it for and who is involved?
  • What values do we endorse to inform processes of documentation, archiving, communications as well as research and assessment?
  • What forms of documentation, assessment, reflection, research, and archiving serve the needs of different constituencies?
  • How do these three strategies not only ensure records of what was and is but become dynamic, living resources that propel future thinking?
  • What are the needs for and ways to advance critical analysis as distinguished from documentation, archiving, and communications? How can we balance the values of honoring the voices of artists and community members involved, with the value of critical distance and the kind of reflection and analysis that advances the field as a whole?
  • What kind of documentation can best inform a next generation of artists about those on whose shoulders their work stands as well as the most current and leading edge practices?
  • How can new technologies advance documentation, archiving, and communications?
  • In what ways can art-making be central to, or a part of, processes of documentation, reflection, assessment, research and archiving?

With spring upon us, Animating Democracy’s Blog Salon extends the forward thinking conversation begun in Blacksburg.  The centerpiece of the Salon is a blog by Jamie Haft, Assistant Director of Imagining America originally published by Roadside Theater in January.  Jamie captures the lively and generative exchange of the Virginia Tech meeting by exploring five misconceptions about documentation, archiving, and communicating in and about community cultural development.

Salon bloggers have been invited to respond to Jamie’s ideas, the questions above or others raised for them, or to offer their own take on the topic from their various vantage points in and around this important work.


Back to the Future: Forward-Thinking Documentation & Archiving is generously sponsored by Drexel University Online.

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