Thursday, 24 November 2016

Business Archives Council Annual Conference 2016

This week I attended my first ever Business Archives Council event, their annual confernece.  This one was focussed on branching out and diversifying the service of business archives.  I have been meaning to engage with this group for some time as I am keen to hear more about how archives outside of the performing arts sector capitalise on their holdings and their annual conference sounded like as good an excuse as any!

I could write out my summary of all the speakers but that would take a long time and I'd rather think about the take aways from the day that I found really valuable.

The conference was held at the HSBC building in
Canary Wharf, very different to a day at the office!
Firstly, it was really lovely being at an event where everyone was so passionate about the place they worked in.  All of the delegates I spoke to where enthusiastic about their business and were great representatives of their brands.  I felt like I was among likeminded people as I love what the National Theatre does and hope that I am a good advocate for them.

Jeff James giving the key note
For business archives, a big selling point is the importance of transparency.  Jeff James, Chief Executive and The Keeper of The National Archives spoke about the confidence inspired in people by the transparency of archives, which can be accessed forever but can also be used in new, creative and innovative ways.
The History Wall in HSBC foyer, built in 2002 by Thomas Heatherwick
I learned that some archives have a lot more money at their disposal than others!  HSBC's 150th anniversary project was exciting to hear about via Helen Swinnerton, Senior Archives Manager for Asia-Pacific, who was calling in form Hong Kong.  I was particularly interested in their immersive dining experience, designed to tell the story of the journey of the bank from its founding through to present day, to an audience of important people from London and Hong Kong.  They used interpretative dance and projection to tell this story through the performing arts.  I should always remember that archives are a means of telling stories, which is the mission statement of the National Theatre itself.

More of the wall
Academic partners and researchers can be interested in your archives even if you don't expect them to be.  Sophie Clapp, Archive Manager of Boots undertook a bit of an academic audit to see what research potential there was in their collections and it turned out that there was a lot.  So they have secured collaborative doctoral awards and are working well with a variety of universities in the East Midlands.
I liked the wall
My favourite presentation was given by a non archivist, Sam Roberts, Ghostsigns, who partnered with the History of Advertising Trust to crowd source photographs of ghost signs across the UK and Ireland.  What I loved about his presentation was the simplicity of his project, which was born out of his passion for the subject.  It shows how much documentation and attention to detail can be achieved when someone has that enthusiasm for a subject.

Apparently cleaning it is a nightmare
I was really struck by Jake Berger's BBC Reminiscence presentation about creating memory packs of generic events, to be used with dementia patients.  Jake gave us a demo of the website that they have been piloting and it was wonderful to see how an archive can be used to spark conversations and much needed personal contact with patients.  The BBC are striving to serve their whole audience, not just the mainstream, they are reaching out to those on the margins of society and it was a heartwarming project to learn about.  They are moving forward with the project, building in feedback from patients and carers to make it better and it is all on an open source platform so other countries can populate it with more culturally relevant material for them.

I have no more wall facts
A theme through many of the presentations was the amazing potential that modern technology holds to help us to open up our archive to a much wider audience in increasingly diverse ways.  I am always slightly apprehensive of new technology because my mind instantly jumps to 'how will we archive it?' but I need to be more experimental and open minded and who knows where it could lead!

I did find it interesting how many people didn't realise that performing arts institutions have business archives.  The focus of our archive is mostly on researchers and providing a good public service for them but we are also a business archive and so we have to sit in this middle ground between being solely for the purpose of serving the business and its employees and being  public service - which I suppose means that we are already diversifying our service and reaching a broader audience than some business archives are currently!

From the Archive to Google Tilt Brush

This week saw the 6th Jocelyn Herbert annual lecture held at the National Theatre.  The speaker this year was Rae Smith, the award winning designer of War Horse (2007) and (2015) to name but a few.

The lecture series is aimed at providing views on design from a variety of sources.  The lectures have been given by directors, writers and actors in the past and this was the turn of a designer to speak about the concept of drawing.

What was really lovely was that Rae had come to the Archive to view Jocelyn Herbert's sketchbooks and notebooks, which are contained within her collection in the NT Archive.  Rae was particularly interested in how Jocelyn used drawing to think.  Another artist this week has described to me how they use drawing as a means of thinking, which seems alien to me but it natural to some.  Jocelyn's notebooks are full of her life - they contain shopping lists, phone numbers, to do lists, drafts of letters and speeches, sketches from her everyday life such as a hospital waiting room or cafe on holiday as well as the sketches for the shows which she designed.  There is a great new video released from Tate Archive, featuring Rae Smith, talking about the value of sketchbooks.

In her lecture, Rae used those everyday sketches to show how Jocelyn used nature to create designs on stage and how she processed reality to make it into a 2D sketch.  She then went on to show some of her own drawings and storyboards and explain how her drawings are used extensively in the rehearsal process alongside the work of the actors and creative team to give them a sense of what their work could look like and lead to.  It was fascinating to get a glimpse into the rehearsal room and sense what her creative process was like.

Rae then decided to show us where she thinks drawing is going in the future.  I am not exaggerating when I say that the audience was absolutely astonished.  I've never been in a crowd of people, including many students, who were so stunned.  Rae demonstrated the Google Tilt Brush, which allows you to draw in 3D.  Using a virtual reality headset and hand controllers, Rae took us into the world that she has created through hours of working with the software.  The sheer scale of the designs that you can create was amazing and it's so exciting that you can get inside your characters to see what they see on stage.  The potential of this software is difficult to get a grip on as it is so different to how we have been traditionally drawing for years.  It is also a very different skill to draw in 3D and you can see that Rae has dedicated a lot of time to explore the possibilities of the software.

It was a very exciting way to end a lecture that had beautifully shown how Jocelyn Herbert's archive can be used to study process, how Rae works now and where she thinks theatre design, and indeed drawing in general, might be headed in the future.  Now I'm off to ponder how I would archive that...

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Dancing Museums

Last week I went to a lunch time talk at the National Gallery about the conservation of a painting.  The talk was by the conservator and, while he jumped straight in without introduction to the painting or the painter and lost me a bit, it was an interesting talk about a painter I knew nothing about.

National Gallery

The really interesting bit, however, came next.  Dancing Museums are currently working at the National Gallery and a dancer, Carl Shumacher, walked into our space in the gallery and performed a piece of work in response to the talk on conservation.

When I was planning on going to this event, I had expected the dancer to respond to the painting but he actually responded to the concept of conservation.  He performed to a piece of music with spoken word over the top, which added some clues about what he was thinking.

Carl Schumacher of Dancing Museums

The piece responded to the concept of dancers' bodies degrading at a different rate to the paintings that surround them and who would conserve their bodies as the paintings were being conserved.  One line in the piece stated that Schumacher was validating the existence of the museum by dancing in it and we were validating the dance by watching him and he is validating us by the crumbling of his body.

Carl Schumacher of Dancing Museums

I can't tell you that I understood what was happening or that I would have been able to deduce all of that had there not been a mostly helpful narrative.  But does it matter if I didn't get it?  I found it really peaceful to watch him dance and use his whole body to express his feelings about conservation.  I don't think that it helped me understand the paintings but this event got me into the National Gallery voluntarily for the first time since I moved to London and that's worth something, isn't it?  On the way back to the office, I was talking to someone who knows a lot about contemporary dance and I asked her what I was meant to have understood from the dance.  After a long conversation, I realise that I am so used to thinking critically about theatre shows that I find it really difficult to watch something for the feeling it gives me.  Maybe I need to relax more when I'm watching something and listen more to myself than to what everyone else says about a performance.  I think that's quite a valuable lesson.

There is a really interesting area, where one art form meets another, that is worth keeping an eye out for.  At the NT we are curating exhibitions of archive content front of house in a theatre.  How does our current exhibition on adaptations affect your understanding or enjoyment of the adaptation The Red Barn, which is on in the Lyttelton at the moment?  What else could we be doing?  It would be great to be able to bring in a different audience to the theatre through our front of house activities as I was a newcomer to the National Gallery.  Secondly, if we could provide a different route into our content for those who might not want to engage with stories in theatre in a traditional way then we might be able to deepen people's understanding of a production and the meaning behind it.  I'm looking forward to thinking more about this and continuing to look out for cross-media events like the one at the National Gallery.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

APAC Study Day: In Good Company

APAC’s 2016 Study Day was held at The Lowry in Salford on the topic of working with partners. There were 18 attendees including 5 speakers, made up of members and non members.  Archives are increasingly working with partners, whether that is universities, funders such as HLF or art organisations, and this day was focussed on sharing learning around this topic and looking at some case studies in the sector.

The Lowry, Salford

Helen Roberts, Manager of the National Resource Centre for Dance at the University of Surrey began the day with a presentation on her experience of partnership working, which spans 20 years.  Over that time she has worked with a variety of funders and partners from arts organisations and individuals to Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and alumni funders.  Her advice was that you need to have a good reason to partner, whether that is to reach a new audience, innovate or to support you in delivering a new kind of project.  The importance of working with the right people and sharing a vision is integral to a successful partnership and Roberts advised that you create this relationship through extended planning and discussions before embarking on a project.  Each partner also needs to understand the aims and objectives of the others to ensure that the project will deliver what it set out to.  An interesting point that is frequently overlooked, is that project work tends to be on top of the work that you are already carrying out and so it is integral that project aims are realistic and deliverable.  It is all too easy to get carried away with fantastic ideas and creative plans.

Roberts had some practical advice for the group such as making sure that you have sight of the full budget so that you know where money is being allocated and to make sure that you can spot any shortfalls or misallocation of funds.  Another point was the importance of drawing up a partnership agreement or memorandum of understanding, which you can fall back on if something goes wrong.  It is also important to have a project manager, who has an eye on everything that is happening and can follow up on issues.

Some key take aways from this presentation were the importance of trust and respect for each other’s skills and competencies, shared values, communication between partners, agility and responsiveness, cost and time management and agreed marketing messages.  There are pitfalls to partnerships such as lack of flexibility, failure to deliver on commitments, poor management, bad communication and not working together.  If you manage to deliver a successful partnership project then you will open the way to further collaborations, working on new opportunities, increased profile, new audiences and the development of new skills and knowledge in your team.

Arike Oke, Rambert, introducing the day

I presented next Erin Lee with Eleanor Margolies, Jocelyn Herbert post doctoral research fellow.  Our presentation focused on the National Theatre’s partnership with University of the Arts London, which has developed as a result of the Jocelyn Herbert Archive being deposited at the NT Archive in 2014.  The NT has worked with UAL on the MA Curating and Collections course, which runs for a term and results in the students curating individual exhibitions at the Cook House in Chelsea.  Another course that the NT works with is the BA Theatre Design at Chelsea.  This is a two week module where the students have to respond to work in Jocelyn Herbert’s Archive and the outcomes of this module have been very varied and surprisingly morally, ethically and politically motivated.  The final relationship discussed was that of the Jocelyn Herbert post doctoral research fellowship, which began this academic year.  I gave an overview of the logistics behind setting this fellowship up and Eleanor expanded on her plans for the fellowship over the next two years.  Although this partnership is going well and will continue, there was a focus on the importance of collaboration, communication an d respect for each partner’s work and capacity.

After lunch we were given a tour of Perpetual Movement by the Gallery Coordinator at The Lowry.  This exhibition has been installed as part of Rambert’s 90th anniversary celebrations and brings together artist commissions and archive content.  The artist commissions were responding to Marie Rambert’s call for ‘perpetual movement’, which is referenced in her autobiography, notes from which are on display in the exhibition.  Each of the artists is interested in the concept of documentation and this ties with Mark Baldwin, Artistic Director of Rambert’s writing on dance being embodied in him physically and mentally.

Looking round the Michaela Zimmer room in the exhibition

The afternoon talks were led by Dr Helen Brooks, University of Kent. Brooks discussed her partnership with Theatre Royal Brighton around the staging of lost First World War plays and offered a brilliantly honest account of how partners plan a project and what obstacles might get in the way.  Picking on several of the things that Roberts had mentioned in the morning, Brooks discussed the important of being realistic with project plans and having the right people involved in the decision making.  Brooks and the Theatre Royal Brighton have now adapted their project to something more manageable and deliverable and it was the creative thinking of those involved that ensured that this collaboration was not lost.  An important learning point for Brooks was that collaboration can sometimes lead to people playing uncomfortable roles, which can cause stress or a breakdown in communication.  She would strongly advise face to face communication where possible and appreciate what people are comfortable doing.

Goshka Macuga room in exhibition

From one WWI partnership to another.  Kate Valentine, Director at DigitalDrama, discussed their Resurrecting theShakespeare Hut project in partnership with London School of Hygiene andTropical Medicine, HLF and the academic Dr Ailsa Grant Ferguson.  Valentine told us about the installation of the Shakespeare Hut replica lounge in the LSHTM building, which is now on display at Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre.  The project had several outcomes including a centenary day re-enactment performance and an oral history project.  Valentine outlined the benefits of the partnership project from her perspective and these included the strength added to the application due to varied ideas and experience of partners involved, higher profile of the project, wider reach of professional networks, shared responsibility of success and reaching new audiences.  She advised that roles should be clear from the beginning particularly for the project manager and to play on the strengths of others and learn from them.  Her top tip was to think big and then rein it in to a realistic project.  A small project and group of people can be efficient but big projects are influential, both are worthwhile considering.

Costume from the Rambert Archive for L'Apres midi d'un faune

The last presentation of the day was from Simon Sladen, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Performance at the V&A.  Sladen talked us through the partnerships forged between the V&A and various schools, theatres and arts organisations, 18 in total, as part of the HLF Peter Brook Collection outreach activities.  This was the largest outreach project ever attempted by the V&A and, as an added challenge, none of the original project team were still in post as the project rolled out. The V&A hired a full-time project coordinator but Sladen noted that, if they were to run this sort of project again, they would build in more staff provision.  The main aim of the project was to develop links between cultural providers, improve relations with creatives in the performing arts sector, to increase awareness of Peter Brook among young people and ensure that his work is kept alive.  Sladen had some interesting reflections from his involvement in the project which included the importance of managing expectations, control, succession and legacy planning.  He also mentioned that having a dialogue with HLF is key and it was heartening to hear that he had found that teachers and practitioners love archives. 

There were many key themes that ran through the day, which I summaries here:
  • Needing to have the right people in your partnership.  Partnerships are nothing without the people
  • Communication, particularly at the planning stage, is key to progress
  • Knowing and acknowledging everyone’s aims and outcomes
  • Respecting and trusting others in the partnership

Everyone attending the Study Day had partnered to some extent or were considering doing so and the honesty of the speakers and those in the audience was a great way to have frank and insightful conversations about how to set up a successful partnership.  As was pointed out on several occasions, APAC itself is a fantastic way to network and meet potential partners and a huge thank you to APAC for facilitating this day!

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

The National Theatre: A Place for Plays

Last week the National Theatre building celebrated its 40th birthday,  The Queen opened the NT on the 25th October 1976 and attended a performance of Goldoni's Il Campiello in the Olivier while Stoppard's Jumpers performed in the Lyttelton Theatre.

On Sunday the Association of British Theatre Technicians held a symposium in the Olivier to celebrate the NT as being a Place for Plays.  The focus of the day was looking at the theatre technology and design in the 1970s, appreciating how innovative it was then and looking ahead to what innovations in theatre design and technology we might see in the next 40 years.

The Archive was present with a handling session for delegates to get close up to archive content from the 1970s and also to help us to identify some items in the Archive which are a mystery to us!  Never have I experienced such a gathering of expertise on the history, structure, building and design of the NT and this was a great opportunity to harness their knowledge.

I managed to attend most of the sessions throughout the day (as well as see a demo of our famous drum revolve!).  There was a lot discussed and lots of people on each panel but a few highlights for me were:

  • the integral relationship between those versed in technical theatre and the creatives who will use the space.  Sometimes this relationship either doesn't exist or is troublesome but I learned that a good working relationship, mutual respect and willingness to collaborate are key to creating new, innovative, functioning theatres 
  • many of the processes in backstage operations have become automated over the past 40 years, which struck me as progressive, but it was interesting to hear the downsides of this and how it has removed flexibility from the workflows.  Many people expressed a desire to go back a few steps so that the operator still had control of the system and could adapt and flex with the performance on stage
  • virtual reality is edging into the theatre space and I have always been confused about what its place will be.  Rufus Norris, Artistic Director of the NT, has been quoted as saying that the NT doesn't know where VR is going but we are experimenting with it to see what it can offer our audiences.  Importantly, VR is another form of story telling and story telling is what theatre is all about so it will be interesting to see what comes out of our Immersive Story Telling Studio
  • many of the conversations touched on the important relationship between the actor and the audience - this relationship is the most important one in a finished theatre design and the perfect balance is what theatre designers and consultants are constantly striving for
  • Director Lyndsey Turner brought our attention to the physical space, reminding us that theatre doesn't have to have a building.  She focussed a lot on the foyer spaces, which are almost entirely closed off to the ticket-buying few in the West End, but are a large part of the work of subsidised theatre sector. She asked if there has ever been an exhibition in a foyer that was worth coming to see for its own sake.  I wish that our Archive exhibitions fell into this category but will they ever when they are based round the repertory?

There was much food for thought and also many tidbits of information about the NT design process and maintenance of the drum, which filled in lots of gaps in my knowledge of the NT and are probably not for repeating!  I have come away with a much better understanding of the collaboration required in theatre design and the incredible, innovative work that was done at the NT in the 1970s and continues to be done to this day.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Tonic Theatre: gender imbalance in performing arts

I am currently on holiday and enjoying the time away from work to think about things that I don’t normally get the time to think about.  I thought I’d write up a few thoughts I had on the symposium I attended last week.  I went to Tonic Theatre’s symposium at Central School of Speech and Drama.  I had been invited by Lucy Kerble, Director of Tonic.  I had no idea what to expect and didn’t know much about their work.  So when one of the first things of the afternoon was to find someone you didn’t know and tell them why you had attended I came a tad unstuck!

In all seriousness though, the afternoon was geared towards presenting Tonic’s Advance 2016 project, which is a 6 month project bringing together cohorts of performing arts organisations to help them identify and understand the causes of gender imbalance in their institutions.  The National Theatre was one of the participants and our findings and conclusions can be found here.  The gender balance pie charts at the bottom of the page are particularly interesting reading and you can start to see where women are lacking but also where they are failing to develop in their careers eg. assistant directors are even male and female but directors are not.  I would have liked to have seen some administrative staff figures in there.  As someone who works in ‘Arts Admin’, a term I’m not very fond of, it would have been interesting to see what the balance is there.

But this data gathering, while interesting, wasn’t what really hit home for me.  It was quite astounding to be in a room of about 300 theatre, opera and dance people, all of whom were there because of their concerns about gender equality in the performing arts.  It was heartening to see so many institutions, who may ordinarily be seen as rivals, coming together to tackle a common problem.

I know that this is a big issue but I had never given a lot of serious thought to it as it seemed quite removed from my day to day work.  This afternoon, though, made me realize that it is in every aspect of our lives and isn’t something that you can ignore.  Perhaps I wasn’t as aware of it because I am in a predominantly female profession and I have never felt discriminated against because of my gender.  I have, until recently, been part of an all female team and the wider Learning team is mostly female too.  This in itself is a problem and I really don’t understand why more men do not enter the archive profession.

A useful part of the day was considering what are the barriers to change, not just in performing arts, but more generally and what are then the catalysts for change.  This felt to be like a bit of Clore thinking and it was really great to work in groups to brainstorm how change can be effected and what barriers we might have to encounter.  Being aware of the challenges and roadblocks to advancement is empowering and can only make the fight for change stronger.

A valid point was made towards the end of the afternoon when it was noted that we also need to be tackling ethnic and socio-economic diversity as well as gender equality.  Everyone agreed but these are big battles to fight and will take time.  In the meantime, take a look at Tonic’s website and see what the project partners have discovered and have pledged to change as part of Advance 2016.

Friday, 22 July 2016

The Value of Volunteers

The APAC Annual Symposium 2016 was held on 4th July at Bristol Old Vic.  We were very lucky to have the run of the theatre, which is currently undergoing renovations for its 250th anniversary.  The Old Vic is the oldest continuously running theatre in the UK and it was a fantastic experience to have a symposium based there.

We kicked off the day with a heritage tour of the building, which was led by a long-standing member of staff who knew every nook and cranny of the building.  It was fascinating to hear his passion for the theatre and how the Old Vic has become so ingrained in the community of Bristol.  They are currently working on an HLF funded refurbishment of their front of house spaces to make them more accessible, comfortable and to return visitors to the experience that their Georgian counterparts would have had.  To do this, the Old Vic is partnering with the University of Bristol Theatre Collection and the Bristol Records Office, both of which hold records on the theatre, and using volunteers extensively to piece together the heritage of the building.

Our tour guide, Andrew
This was an excellent backdrop for a day looking at the value of volunteers in the performing arts archive and museum world.  We had decided to run the day on the topic of volunteers because this is something that affects most of our members, whether they are volunteering themselves or managing a volunteer programme or considering how they could use volunteers to help with their work.  Many funding bodies now require a certain level of engagement with volunteers, for example, HLF is insisting that the Bristol Old Vic project attract a certain number of volunteers and that they come from a background of no or low engagement with heritage or theatre.  So it is a hot topic and one that can easily slip through the net of conferences or symposia.

A pretty nice place to have a symposium!
The first speaker, Eleanor Moore, was a great introduction to the topic as she works for the South West Museum Development and is focused on how to create sustainable volunteering programmes.  She could tell us straightaway where to go to find guidelines on best practice for volunteers and outlined really clearly what the benefits are for volunteers of different ages and how you can appeal to them when recruiting.  One particularly interesting point was that inter generational groups of volunteers work really well.  This is something that I have not tried and I would be really interested to experiment with.

Eleanor split volunteers broadly into three categories.  Those seeking:

  • Achievement - they will enjoy something project based with tangible outcomes
  • Affiliation - they will appreciate being part of your institution and team or community
  • Power - they will respond to being given responsibility

I found this really interesting to consider as I tend to fit the volunteer to the project rather than the other way round but it would be far more beneficial to consider the individual and what they would enjoy working on and respond well to.  Eleanor mentioned the necessity to set clear outcomes for volunteers, to make sure that they know what they are contributing and why and what they should expect to learn.  I usually try to do this but find that it can easily get lost in the day to day business.  I am intending to work with my new Archive Assistant, who will manage the volunteering programme, on this to ensure that our volunteers have a really valuable experience with us.  HLF has published some volunteering good practice, which can be found here.

There are conserved benches on either side of the top level in the theatre, which now
have no view of the stage but have been retained to show the audience what it
would have been like to come here in the 18th century
The rest of the symposium was spent hearing about various places' volunteering programmes, either in the planning, implementation or completion phases.  Some of the interesting points that came out were:

  • At Bristol Old Vic, all of the Front of House staff now have heritage training so that they can answer enquirers from the public.  This is a fantastic idea as they are on the front line and can't always refer people to the Archive!
  • Catherine White from City Varieties Music Hall in Leeds pointed out that as a volunteer manager, you are a facilitator, not there to boss them around.  We should be grateful for their time and dedication and work with them.
  • Inviting volunteers to all staff briefings or team meetings will let them feel included and part of something larger than their own project.  This is great for morale and for giving them an insight into the profession if they are considering taking up further training.
There was a lot more of note during the day but too much to write here.  I thoroughly enjoyed the symposium, espeically once I knew that it was going to go smoothly.  It is the first symposium that I have organised and it is always stressful when everything is on your shoulders.  The Old Vic and Theatre Collection teams were wonderful and made sure that the day went without hitch.  We are hoping to make a return visit in a few years to see the refurbishment complete!  In the meantime, I think that a lot of us will be returning to our collections and coming up with ideas on how to engage more volunteers in better and more fulfilling ways.  Now we know that there is a lot of documentation on best practice and a massive network of colleagues to call on, who are running amazing projects, there is nothing stopping us!

Thursday, 21 July 2016

M&S and ITV Archives - a jolly day out

A few weeks ago I organised a trip to Leeds for the Archive Trainees group and we visited the M&S company archive and ITV's archive. I took the opportunity to visit contacts at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and Northern Ballet too and it was a great day for seeing the attraction of the north and the collaborative nature of work outside of London.

The lovely Leeds train station

At the M&S Archive, a group of around 20 trainees were given an introduction to the company archive and a fantastic insight into how a business archive works alongside a permanent exhibition space and being open to researchers.  They have a partnership with the University of Leeds, on whose campus they are based, which allows them to facilitate research and student research, which sounded like a really productive and healthy relationship.

A lovely board in the exhibition inviting public responses to M&S

One idea that I really loved was that there are archive ambassadors throughout M&S, who advocate for good record keeping in all areas of the company.  This is so useful when the archive team is obviously relatively small compared to the whole of M&S and not located in the head office.  The Archive also runs really interesting programmes working with dementia patients where they use their archive of clothes and related items to spark memories from their past and they also work with schools using virtual classrooms and on-site visits.

A beautiful collage of store fronts displayed alphabetically
by town, shown in the exhibition area

It was really helpful to hear why they archive what they do and what areas of their collection they are missing items, especially in men's clothing.  I was fascinated by all of the technological records that they hold as M&S has been heavily involved in innovation in food and clothing technology.  I would never have thought of this and was thrilled to hear that this is available to research.

We paid a visit to Dusty Bin, oh and ITV
The trip to the ITV Archive was very interesting as the Archive has come into existence as a result of rights management requirements.  This is a different approach to many archives and the group was blown away by the complexity of the rights management situation and how integral it was that this information was looked after.  The tour of the stores was fantastic, there are so many tapes and formats of film!

Just a shot of some reels...
The stores had unfortunately been affected by the Boxing Day flooding in Leeds and they were in the process of fitting an early flood detection unit and new flooring.  It was interesting to hear about a disaster recovery process and get a handle on just how long this sort of process takes.  It was surprising to hear that there is less focus on heritage at ITV than on rights management to make content available.  They are not open to the public for research and so this visit was really useful for showing the trainees how different every archive can be.

I suppose that the best thing about the trip to Leeds was the very fact that these sorts of trips are possible.  I organise around 4 to 6 events for the Archive Trainees group a year, we are an informal group focused on providing visits, talks and networking opportunities for those thinking about joining the archive profession.  We visit many archives and many of the course directors come in to speak with the trainees and volunteers to give them a better sense of how to get into this profession.  Our next trip will be to the Parliamentary Archives in August and, as the group organiser, I am in the lucky position of being able to tag along.  We really are very lucky to be working in a sector where people are so willing to open up their archives to help educate others and welcome like-minded individuals in to discuss the challenges and opportunities our work throws up.

Friday, 17 June 2016

'Reading the Digital Theatre Archive'

Last week I was lucky enough to attend a symposium held by Central Scool of Speech and Drama focusing on the Abbey Theatre's digitisation project led by NUI Galway.  Patrick Lonergan, Professor of Drama and Theatre Studies, gave the lecture Reading the Digital Theatre Archive: New Approaches to the Abbey Theatre 1904-2014 and took us through what has been digitised and what research can now be done using these collections.  It has taken three years to get to the completion of the digitisation and only now are the team beginning to look at research possibilities, and there are many.

While I was attending the NUI Galway conference Performing the Archive around this time last year I heard the Archivist and her team at the Abbey speak about the archive-side of the project so it was particularly interesting to hear an academic's view on how the collections can now be used.  The Abbey Theatre digital archive is available for use at NUI Galway's John Hardiman Library and the university have just announced a second large digitisation project with the Gate Theatre in Dublin.  This is really putting NUI Galway on the map for Irish theatre academia.

NUI Galway campus

The data that can be extrapolated from these collections is far-reaching but Patrick focused in on gender studies to show how looking at the history of an institution can help inform the present and future.  The Abbey is currently marking the anniversary of the Easter Rising with a project called Waking the Nation, which has had backlash from the public concerning the gender imbalance in programming, sparking the Waking the Feminists movement.  Patrick used this as a springboard from where he jumped into his data sets to look at the engagement that the Abbey has had historically with female writers, authors and actors.  It made for a fascinating hour of graphs, tables and comparisons.

I found one model of research around a production very interesting, I think sourced from Richard Knowles book Reading the Material Theatre (2004):

This model shows the context required when studying a production and this network is the sort of thing that I try to get across in Archive inductions, particularly with people who aren't used to using archives and are unaware of the relevance to studies.  Looking at part of a production such as the recording, is only a small part of a much larger picture surrounding the staging of the play.

I was particularly interested in what Patrick had to say about theatre archives being huge data sets showing how theatres have performed over long periods of time.  They can reflect their community and can use their status to perform within society and to make statements about their situation.  This is particularly pertinent for a national theatre, like the NT.  Our National Theatre is 53 years old and it is really interesting to look at what is in the Archive and what we are archiving now to see what story we are preserving and what other voices we should be capturing for those historians of the future.

One thought that I came away with was a bit of a 'keeping up with the Joneses' - an awareness that if research of this sort could be done with the Abbey's collection, which is termed the national theatre of Ireland, then I need to be ready for researchers expecting the same access to our National Theatre's collections.  While this information is in our collections, really how accessible is it to researchers and how do they know what sort of work they can conduct in the Archive?  It was really good food for thought as I plan and prioritise future projects for my team.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Reflecting on Registration

I am in the middle of bringing all of my registration credits together and polishing them off with the aim of submitting my portfolio in October.  I have been working on my portfolio for a year and a half with work that stretches back to the start of 2013 when I became Archive Manager at the NT.

I thought that this would be a good time to reflect on the process of reflecting that is registration.  Firstly, I know that there is a new registration system being implemented already and I don't intend to write about what is wrong with the old one, I want to write about how I've found it going through the stages of the registration process.

There have been various stages to it and I'll list them out:

1. Finding a mentor
This was harder than I expected as I wanted to meet someone in my area, who had had experience of the sector I am in and who was willing to give up the time to read through my portfolio.  Thankfully I found Penny, who has been a brilliant sounding board for my credits and never shies away from telling me if what I've written isn't quite right.

2. Writing about yourself
I have really, really struggled to make my credits about me and not about my job or my institution. It is tough to write about why you undertook some training for professional development and not just say that work wanted you to go. It has been a learning curve to identify my personal motivation behind many of my credits and it has helped me to identify areas of my job that I prefer to others.

3. Identify learning outcomes
Sometimes it can be hard to appreciate what outcomes a project has had.  We don't often get the time in our professional lives to take a step back and really look at what went well and what didn't and what we have personally learned from it.  My outcomes have varied greatly from building my network of peers and clarity of vision for my career to appreciating the learning styles of my staff and being a better listener.

4. Balance your outcomes
As I near the end of writing my credits, I have now written up 13 credits and I require 12, I wanted to ensure that I had a balanced portfolio with a range of learning outcomes.  I didn't want too narrow a portfolio as that does not show breadth of learning but I also didn't want too broad a portfolio as then my credits may not interconnect or reference each other in a way that builds a stronger portfolio.  I think that I have quite a good spread and I'll use my outcomes plot to decide which credit to ditch.

5. Finding evidence
Today I have been spending a lot of time trawling through old email folders trying to locate pieces of evidence to support each credit.  I have managed to find 3 pieces of evidence for each credit, which should stand me in good stead but it has been really difficult to think of hard evidence of the work I do - I know I've achieved things but 'evidence' has to be one A4 page and that is sometimes hard to come by.  The guidance suggests that you include the agenda or delegate list from events or articles or speeches that you have written.  Emails showing discussions on topics relevant to the credit are also useful and I have included some blog posts and webpages.  I hope I am on the right track with this...

This post makes it look a bit like there are 5 easy steps to writing your portfolio but it is quite a time-consuming process.  I do feel like it has been a positive one though, which made me think about my progress far more in personal terms than institutional.  I now appreciate that my development is important not just to myself but to my work as well and I am keen to see what the ARA have up their sleeve for continuing professional development beyond registration.  I will be glad when I have completed registration so that I can move on to accreditation for my archive service, but I have enjoyed the challenge of reflecting intensely on my personal development however uncomfortable I have found it.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Archivist as Interpreter

The National Archives' Archiving the Arts programme comes to an end this month but it leaves a legacy of events aimed at those working in and with arts archives.  Last Friday was the first of these events, Archivist as Interpreter, hosted at the British Library.

I attended along with my colleague, who is also responsible for curating the archive exhibitions that appear front of house at the NT.  The day wasn't as focused on exhibitions as I had expected but was a very rounded look at how we can make archives accessible to more people and to different people.

For the seminar sessions in the afternoon I split off to hear from Sarah Kogan, an artist who has worked with The National Archives, as well as from Vicky Igliowski, who works for TNA, specialising in diverse histories.  It was really useful for me to hear from both of these ladies as one could explain what attracted her to the collections and how she has used them while the other could speak on the institutional approach to artists using the collections.

A major theme of these presentations was that engagement with the archive increases their importance: it gives them contemporary meaning and historical value.  An artist can ensure that an archive is alive and relevant.  This is something that archivists strive for for their collections and I certainly hadn't fully considered how external people could help me to do this.

Artists can do this in a plethora of ways and specialise in various different forms of art.  Something that I have been giving a lot of thought to is how to get the NT collections involved in new work.  The NT Archive is an archive of performance and most of the presentations I have heard on 'performing the archive' have involved performance artists using historical archives to create a performance piece.  I have never heard of a project using a performance archive to create new performance.  I sense that this may be harder to achieve as performance artists strive to create something original and may not work willingly with archive materials from previous productions.

I am keen to explore this issue.  Perhaps the performance archive at the NT can be used to create different forms of art but it would be wonderful if the archive could fuel a piece of performance art that could be shared at the Studio or on one of the main stages - how much more relevant could the Archive get?!

Another idea is to use art as a means of interpretation within exhibitions.  A delegate in my seminar group mentioned that they frequently include artistic interpretations of archive materials in their exhibitions spaces and we could do this in two ways: one would be to welcome interpretations of archive materials and exhibit them in the Lyttelton Lounge; the other would be to invite artistic interpretations of exhibitions and include them in the space.  It would be quite a departure for us to work in this way but I would like to explore the potential for collaborative work such as this.  It would be a step outside my comfort zone to look at how a creative mind might interpret the NT collections, but, as Clore taught me, a step into the unknown may well be a step in the right direction.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Animating Black Archives...some lessons learnt

Today I attended the 11th Annual Huntley Archives Conference, Animating Black Archives: The Next Ten Years at the London Metropolitan Archives.  I went along as the National Theatre looks after the Black Plays Archive and it would be useful to know what is happening in other institutions dealing with black archives.

Although much of the day was taken up with the content of these archives and the research that can be done with it, there were some themes that emerged, which were really useful to consider as an archivist in general.  There were several definitions of archives bandied around, which were very interesting to consider as they are interpretations of archives that were created by non-archivists.  I can feel sometimes that archivists speak to each other in a bit of an echo chamber so it can be very refreshing to hear a variety of academics, historians and activists discussing archives and their importance.

So, what did 'archive' mean to them?  Archives can provide a counter-narrative to accepted norms, they can spur on activism and provide a form of resistance.  They urge us to share and, through that sharing, ensure that the history is handed down for generations to come and the archive services themselves are continuously funded and supported.

One audience member suggested that we treat archives more like libraries, as somewhere to bring your family and browse content.  I am all for this, there seems to be a strict line between archives and libraries, which is understandable in terms of cataloguing, content and storage but when it comes to access, we should make archive materials as open and welcoming as possible, as libraries strive to do.

It is all well and good to keep these histories alive but there are two issues that were flagged.  The first was that many libraries and local community centres are suffering cuts and facing closure so it is an active issue that these archives and facilities for discussion might be lost.  The second is that if the history will be kept alive for the next generations, we need to find ways in which to engage the younger generation by using digital content and social media.  This comes with issues of its own such as how you access digital content and how it is preserved, copyright and rights restrictions, where the data is stored and what the metadata is like.  Digital access, however, will allow deeper immersion in history and encourage people to engage more directly with archive material.

It is interesting to think about what this could mean for archivists.  My role is now considering how to get our archive content out there to people who cannot come to the research room in London and what that digital provision might encompass.  We are subject to vast copyright restrictions and hold so much content that it is very difficult to imagine what an online presence could look like.  Nathan Richards, Black Cultural Archives, talked about this and raised questions such as; how do heritage institutions stay relevant in the digital landscape?  And how do we embed archives in the physical environment to encourage engagement?  And he also suggested the importance of thinking about how we produce our history so that it will be accessible in years to come.  These issues are the same for all kinds of archives and it was useful to have some space to think about them with a different audience.

So, there was plenty food for thought and there was a really lovely quote used by the George Padmore Institute, spoken by John La Rose:

         Slow builders and consolidators, not flash and dash (John La Rose)

Words to work and live by.