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Performance as Knowledge graphic spacer Wednesday 3 May 2006
The Portico Rooms
Somerset House, London WC2R 1LA



Transcripts — Access & Dissemination

Speakers:

Daisy Abbott (DA)
Khairoun Abji (KA)
Guy Baxter (GB)
Kerry Brierley (CB)
Bex Carrington (BC)
Steve Cleary (SC)
Michelle Harris (MH)
Steve Jupe (SJ)
Rubbina Karruna (RK)
Mira Kaushik (MK)
Lois Keidan (LK)
Zoe Lukas (ZL)
Wayne McGregor (WMcG)
Geoff Marsh (GM)
Sylvia Morris (SM)
Chandrika Patel (CP)
Andrew Stewart (AS)
Alda Terracciano (AE)

Speakers not identified by name on transcription tape referred to as Man or Woman

Woman: Could everyone please start by announcing their names and their organisations, thank you very much, starting with Michelle.

Michelle Harris: My name is Michelle Harris; I’m from Middlesex University and I am an MA student.

Andrew Stewart: Andrew Stewart. I am the conference report editor.

Lois Keidan: I’m Lois Keidan from the Live Art Development Agency.

Steve Cleary: I’m Steve Cleary, Curator of Drama and Literature at the British Library Sound Archive.

Guy Baxter: I’m Guy Baxter from the V&A Theatre Museum

Bex Carrington: I’m Bex Carrington, assistant keeper (live art) at the Theatre Collection, University of Bristol.

Zoe Lukas: I’m Zoe Lukas, I’m the archive assistant at the National Theatre Archive.

Daisy Abbott: I’m Daisy Abbott, performing arts services and outreach officer from the Arts and Humanities Data Service.

Mira Kaushik: My name is Mira Kaushik, artistic director of Akademi South Asian Dance UK, an organisation based in London.

Khairoun Abji: I’m Khairoun Abji from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. I manage a range of activities funded by the Department of Culture.

Sylvia Morris: I’m Sylvia Morris, head of information resources for the Library of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust; I also care for the RSC’s company archives.

Steve Jupe: I’m Steve Jupe from the BBC.

Rubbina Karruna: I’m Rubbina Karruna, also from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport where I am an arts policy adviser.

Chandrika Patel: I am Chandrika Patel, a PhD student at Exeter University.

Alda Terracciano: I’m Alda Terracciano, director of Future Histories and the Archive of African, Caribbean and Asian Performing Arts in the UK.

Kerry Brierley: I’m Kerry Brierley, marketing co-ordinator for Random Dance.

Wayne McGregor: I’m Wayne McGregor, choreographer.

Lois Keidan: I think it would be interesting maybe to define what we mean by those terms, access and dissemination. Everybody here might have different understandings, not necessarily of the words but of their implications in terms of our individual practices. For me, the issue surrounding access is not just to do with access to resources but with access to information about where those resources might be. I think one thing that’s going to come up for many years, and certainly arose this morning, is this sense of what’s out there and how it might be accessed. That, for me, is what access is about: in other words, access to the information as well as access to the resources themselves. I would say that dissemination concerns the dissemination of information about where things are and also dissemination of the work itself. One of the things that’s very interesting for me is about documentation and the sense of an archive as a kind of closed (I don’t want to say dead), historical space. Or is the idea of the archive a kind of generative space that can trigger and create creativity, and that the archive becomes a source of material for artists and audiences. That’s why those words are of interest to the area that I represent.

Alda Terracciano: These two words have always been fascinating for me because of their nuances. In a way, I feel that access has a more passive feel about it, dissemination a more active one. I say this because, with the work we’ve done, we’ve provided access, which means that we make sure collections are preserved and catalogued; therefore, they are made accessible. That’s the first stage, and it’s fantastic that you know the archives are there and that people can look at them. But will they? This definition of access is passively active: you’re there, you have provided the access, but then one needs the work. Dissemination is this active movement of reaching out and finding innovative ways to engage people creatively with the process and the end product. What we’ve been trying to do at Future Histories, so far, is to be as true as possible to the nature of the material. If the material is about performing arts or that which is transient and untouchable, then we don’t have the object, we don’t have the painting or the photograph; we have traces of what is left of the banquet, of a wonderful meal or a wonderful encounter. Dissemination needs to reflect that. Access is about those traces, the leftovers of the meal; dissemination for us, so far, has been about the process of creating that banquet, or creating that meal, or creating that feast. That is how we’ve been looking at access and dissemination.

Daisy Abbott: I would make a slightly different point about what the terms mean. My job is partly about advising people on the creation of digital collections. I think we should also consider the access to services and tools that creators need, as well as accessing the collections themselves, and also dissemination of the fact that a service like ours exists. It is surprising the amount of people who don’t know about us, at least it is to me, because I work there.

Guy Baxter: Access to what, firstly? When we break it down, are we talking about access to the archives that are sitting under people’s beds or are we talking about archives that are already in some kind of orderly state? I think they are two aspects that we should look at quite separately. And also, access for whom? To pick up on Alda’s point, we need to talk about passive access: here’s the stuff, come and find it. Or even, here’s our catalogue on the web come and find it. Who’s going to find that? That will depend on the quality of the researcher; how well they’ve been trained; their social and educational background, and all sorts of factors. That’s when you start coming in to dissemination, and we need to be aware of this. I think it’s very interesting to consider the tools. That’s a really good point, because there are many people here who have a lot to offer to theatre practitioners in terms of how to go about creating archives. Let’s not reinvent the wheel: a lot of people have already got that expertise and are willing to share it. Maybe they already share it but that the news hasn’t got round. We should not confuse “I haven’t heard about this” with “It doesn’t happen”. Khairoun Abji: When we assess the quality of access on websites in terms of the partners we’re working with, those who are trying to improve access on a particular website, we’re really talking to them about quite practical things: for example, what barriers are preventing people from finding the website? What barriers are there to using a website? If you exchange ‘website’ for ‘resource’ then I think you can get closer to an idea of access that includes such practical things as thinking about how your resource is advertised or marketed; looking at numbers; seeing how widely people view the resource and what community they come from, and whether you need to deepen access to other communities. I see access as a practical issue. Dissemination, on the other hand, which we do less of at Culture Online, is about engaging with people, about how deeply they are using the resource, rather than whether they are simply coming to see it; it is, as I think Alda said, about how deeply they are engaging with the resource.

AT: Yes, for example, I realised that many artists from the African and Asian diaspora might not know what was done in the 1970s. If we look at the young generation, perhaps they are unaware that similar issues were treated in plays or dance pieces in the early 1980s. If one is looking at the idea of users, which is part of access, one should not forget that artists are probably the best users of records. They are the producers of records but can also be the best users of records. Recently we took a play, which was in one of the archives but had not been produced, so it was in the un-produced scripts folder, and we adapted it for a storyteller. The storyteller and I worked on the play together, looking at its resonances and particular meanings for him; we then worked together on the way he has of telling the story. And so this retelling, this possibility of using the archive as a gold mine for artists themselves – it’s not only the 80s’ fashions which are coming back, you know, it’s ideas, aesthetics and qualities. In considering dissemination, I think one should look at the artist’s role and what role the artist can play in dissemination.

LK: At the Agency, we don’t call it an archive, because … we don’t! We call it a library and now it’s a very, very large library. It’s got open access, anybody can use it, and so it has thousands and thousands of open-access publications and a whole bunch of other stuff. What we wanted to do was use it as a kind of resource for research, no matter if that was scholars, students, artists or whoever. We also wanted to work closely with artists because, for us, artists were a unique resource to kind of navigate and negotiate through those materials. We’ve commissioned about eight artists to do Study Room guides on different themes: for example, Franco B has done a Study Room guide using the materials we have in our archives. It takes the form of an interview with somebody who talking about the works that have influenced him, the works that have influenced others. What’s happening, as far as that process is concerned, is that other artists are having their visibility and their profile raised. Historically, somebody doing their PhD or their dissertation on the body in performance they would probably refer to five or six artists. Through these Study Room guides, users are able to come across artists they might not otherwise have heard of; those artists then start to be cited in PhDs; they then get curated, and they start to be written into the cannon. At the same time, we’re asking artists who are writing the guides to point out a mission to us, so if we want this resource to really be effective in terms of site-specific performance, then we need to have this publication, this publication, this publication. We’re trying to work very closely with artists and how people work their way through the room. We also use the library as a space where artists, and particularly artists who have from culturally-diverse backgrounds can come and talk about their practice, draw on the materials of the Study Room to talk about work that’s influenced them and, again, point out gaps, not just in our library, but also the gaps in the body of knowledge, the work from the 1970s that has disappeared and only exist in people’s memories. That’s one of the ways we’re trying to work with artists creatively in the space.

AT: Study Room guides is a very nice expression, as well.

Steve Cleary: I think those ways of presenting material are extremely valuable, but access depends in the first place on information being available on what exists and where it is held. At the British Library, we recently hosted a workshop in an attempt to introduce students to the use of archive materials. The people from LIFT (London International Festival of Theatre) focused on one particular show, the assumption being that no documentation existed bar press cuttings, reviews etc. Yet two weeks later I incidentally discovered that video documentation of this show existed in the archives of the Centre for Performance Research at Aberystwyth. So I think an overall guide to where these collections in the UK and perhaps international collections of performance documentation are held is something that’s very necessary. I’ve got a strategy document here called Hidden Treasures – the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council funded this about two years ago. A key conclusion to emerge was, “The audio visual archives in the public sector should collectively define their holdings as a distributed national collection, more widely accessible to diverse communities of users… the national strategic and funding bodies ... should work with the audiovisual archives sector to develop a national framework of institutional provision in which national, regional and local responsibilities are respectively understood and well resourced, with the aim of ensuring comprehensive coverage for audiovisual archive activity throughout the UK.” I don’t think anyone would disagree that this is a useful thing to do, but in the last two years, I don’t think anything has really happened since that recommendation. I wonder if the discussions we’re having today will be like that. I think you need someone or some institution to take recommendations forward, otherwise they don’t amount to much.

LK: The Arts Council are looking at collecting at the moment, particularly in terms of ephemeral practices of collecting. But a lot of the discussions have come to the conclusion that you can’t begin to have a discussion about collecting unless it is predicated on the fact that there is archiving already there. I’ve always felt that the Arts Council should be taking a lead on this; obviously, the Arts Council is very heavily involved in archiving but tend to do it in an art-form basis rather than on a bigger overview of what a national archiving strategy means in terms of cultural heritage.

GB: There’s a really difficult thing about being funded from the Arts Council perspective, because the way the Arts Council works is to fund something like a theatre project: here is the funding, and then it ends. They are not used to funding things that go on forever, like archives do. I think there’s a real danger with the Arts Council’s approach to this. We keep hearing that the Arts Council is very interested in building archiving into project funding, but they haven’t spoken to anyone who is actually doing the archiving who can say, “Are you aware that you’re going to give 3000 to this, but in a hundred years from now you’re still going to be funding it?” I just worry about the idea that archives are a long-term commitment: it’s about national institutions like the British Library or the V&A; it’s not like theatre in that way, it’s not actually like funding the arts.

LK: Building is a long-term investment, and the Arts Council is involved with buildings. All I’m suggesting is that there needs to be some kind of overview of the information, of what is out there. In the digital age, in the age of Google, that really shouldn’t be so much of a challenge. And who are the organisations or institutions that ostensibly have that overview? Well, they are the Department for Media, Culture and Sport and the Arts Council. So it seems that they, for me, would be the logical places to be developing the initiative that says this is the overview. As soon as you post up there that these are the ‘key archives’, anything that’s not featured in the list will be on to it like a shot saying we’re not included. The easiest way we can do it is to start doing it.

GB: Well, we have started doing it. What about the Backstage project, which is a collection and description of performing arts archives? That exists. If people don’t put things in to that, then …

LK: I’m not talking about putting things in. There are lots different archives with different specialisations, and quite right too. But what there doesn’t appear to be is this kind of overview of all the different resources that are out there that people can access.

DA: I would make the point that there’s almost too many of those. Plenty of things try to be that and end up failing: I mean, for example, Backstage. Artefact is a good example, which is supposed to be a sort of one-stop shop for digital archives. The problem is that, in order to access these things, users have to know that they are there in the first place. It’s great if they know about Artefact or Backstage, or if they can find other things to do that job. But they have to know that that thing exists.

LK: We’re now in an age where we can find out whatever we want about anything; if somebody’s interested, all they have to do is type in the word ‘Backstage’ and it should be coming up. If Backstage is not coming up, then there’s something fundamentally wrong with their kind of search facility.

DA: I would contest that, because I think users looking for materials do it on a task-by-task basis; they do it on an item-level basis, and you cannot always find what you’re looking for. If somebody has a research interest, they go to the web to find something, and type it in. They don’t type in ‘generic performing arts collection’; they type in that they want a picture of Patrick Stewart in King Lear from this year. Even if that is held in a database, Google can’t find it.

LK: It can. Our library is a list on our website; if you type in Franco B, our site will come up on Google.

DA: That is fine if the site has been designed in that way, and websites are beginning to use Google like that. But it takes quite a bit of technical knowledge of the type people do not always have. If you put things in a database without indexing them as web pages, then you Google can’t find them. What I’m saying is, it takes a level of technical knowledge that I would say a lot of people, even those who are creating digital collections, don’t actually have.

LK: But if that’s how people are doing their searches, are archives responding to that in how they disseminate information about what they hold?

GB: This is great if you’ve got it in a digital format, but what if you have it on a card index. You said it was very easy in the age of Google; in fact, it’s not very easy if, if you have a card index, or if you’ve got a self-indexing archive of ten million theatre programmes, which is just arranged by venue. How do you begin to provide easy access on the web for this? That’s just cloud cuckoo land.

Steve Jupe: We’re facing exactly that issue at the BBC, where we’re attempting to put our catalogues online. Our catalogues have been created over the last sixty years. The way in which they were created was designed to fulfil a business purpose. Along comes the Internet, but that doesn’t mean we can instantly turn all of our existing data into something that can be searched by Google. It would not be a useful amount of money to spend of the licence fee on that particular project. I take the point about using facilities, but you’ve got to remember that those are very, very new search tools. We’re looking at things that have been created over a long period of time, so I totally agree with Guy.

LK: History has let us all down, you know. We’re all having to rewrite the histories of the art forms we work in, because we’ve been let down by being under-resourced or that the knowledge didn’t exist before, whatever, whatever, whatever. And, of course, so much stuff is on card indexes –half of our library is actually paper based, full stop. But if we take today as Ground Zero, we do now have the digital capacities to disseminate resources and catalogue them.

SJ: I think most organisations are taking that approach to their digital material. But, if you’re talking about research, most people don’t want Ground Zero to begin today or tomorrow; they want stuff that’s forty or fifty years old. I think we have got to balance the expectations of what we’re trying to do, if we’re talking about public access and dissemination, with taking it back a stage and saying, “Well, this is what we’ve got, what can we do with it?”, rather than trying to have some kind of Shangri-La Utopia of where we could be. That’s what we can move forward to that’s what a lot of organisations are doing now.

LK: But maybe if we’d had the Shangri-La Utopia fifty years ago, we wouldn’t need to be sitting here all talking about how archive contemporary performances.

SJ: I think you can only go with what the business requirements were at a particular time. A lot of archives fulfilled the business requirement of that time. Archives generally don’t exist in their own right; they are parasite organisations, they exist to fulfil the business requirements of the organisation they support. That’s all they can ever do; if you come along, place another set of requirements on them and say you have now got this responsibility to respond to the public, those are completely new business requirements on archives. You cannot respond retrospectively and suddenly turn everything around and rework it.

LK: So, do we need another organisation that does have that responsibility? Is something else needed? Whose responsibility is it?

AT: I think it’s important to share what the latest programme has been in this area, because Access to the Archives programme has been really massive. They have done a retro-conversion of catalogues. The British Library, National Archives and the Manuscript Commission were aware of archives with catalogues that were not able to be disseminated in the digital age as they should. Government has put lots of money into this and the National Archives have done massive work. They have retro-converted or catalogued for the first time around 80,000 catalogues and these have been put online. The question was about searching for this or that performance, at item-level. In cataloguing one goes through various stages, and there is a hierarchy. That’s something I learnt from the archivists after working on a number of projects. To get to the lower level, which is the item level, is a massive endeavour. We’re talking of designing the old collection, what are we going to select at item level. Do we provide an item-level description for a certain number of items, because it can’t be done for everything? Why cannot the access to archives programme be repeated for the performing arts? They have done insurance companies and all sorts of archives. The website is amazing, quite amazing. Records of organisations could be made available through this website on an international level. What I’m wondering is, since they’ve put in place a programme which has received massive funds from Government, why not simply decide here today that the performing arts need to be served in a similar way? We did it on a personal, an individual organisational level, at Future Histories, because we were working in partnership with the National Archives, so now our catalogues are on the Access to Archives (A2A) website, but this could be done for the whole sector. Or maybe, by learning from that model, put in a bid as a consortium of archives, of institutions, of corporations, of small archives, etc., and doing something similar to that. Then you have a search engine, which allows people to do research which we are thinking and talking about. But I think there are models already there and things that have been done; it’s a question of deciding if the performing arts needs to do the same thing or not.

DA: And get ten million quid to do it.

AT: Precisely. And if that is not possible, then what could be done? Is A2A a valid tool?

GB: Yes, it is a valid tool. I agree with what you’re saying. One of the problems is that A2A is about archive catalogues that are already in a certain format; in other words, they’ve had an archivist look at them in the past. These insurance companies, for example, have produced archives that collected by local authority record offices in the 1950s, someone has gone through the archive and now they want it to be digitised. Our challenge isn’t quite that. They’ve probably got un-catalogued archives that they haven’t even bothered with, just as we have. It’s a tool. The other tools we need, of course, are about getting access to video material. If you’re the Dorset Record Office and have an insurance company archive, you’re not going to have a whole load of audio and video tapes which are fundamentally important. A2A doesn’t deal with those sort of challenges. The other thing, and this is something we’re doing at the moment through the Theatre Information Group (TIG), funded by Museums, Libraries and Archives (MLA) under the subject specialist network programme, is to create a database, or at least a nationally agreed standard for performing arts, events data and production records; in other words, where it was it done, what was being done and when was it done. This is something that we desperately need to try to draw together all the arts collections. That has been good; we’re really pleased that MLA have funded it. That’s another sort of tool that we need in order to get performing arts into the digital age and establish an accessible catalogue world. A2A was a bit ‘easy win’, you know. They had the catalogues already there and all they had to do is go to through with a highlighter pen and the National Archives did them, or they had to apply for a funding bid. Alda, you’ve been incredibly successful at getting funding bids, which we’re very envious of, but when you start looking at that widely, the figure becomes ten million quid.

AT: I think you are right, but in the performing arts we’re more interested in specific items rather than the old hierarchy of the catalogues. If we’re more interested in audiovisual content, then one should use that as a model and see how people won their big A2A bid. How could that work for our own needs for the sector? When I had to do the Future Histories website, I had no interest in repeating what the National Archives had done; of course, I was delighted that the dry catalogue was on their website for academic researchers wanting to know what material was available. For the Future Histories website, I was more interested in selecting items together with the archivists items, and in which items and why those items, and in items that could reveal the creative process. For example, by digitising the drawings for a poster and then the poster itself, people are able to see the passage between the creative process of people sitting around a table, deciding that they I like a particular draft, and the final product. These were the criteria which we adopted in deciding how we would make our website. This is obviously just the beginning and it has been done with very little money and big passion. Maybe we already know the needs of our sector and the essence of the work with which we deal, and can come out with something that reflects the sector and can still use a successful model such as that developed for A2A.

SC: I know what I would find most useful and that is a directory-type web resource that is a clear 'market leader', like Google, which would be the first thing you’d go to. You could have documentation categorised in various ways and where these things are. I can imagine somebody looking for some live art material in the UK on Google and coming across Lois’s Live Art Development Agency suite of pages immediately. That would be the first step. I work in the British Library Sound Archive and, although my department is called drama a literature, it doesn’t do simply what it says on the tin, as it were. There is a lot of material that crosses over and activities we collect documentation of. I’m worried that people will not come across those. But if there is some kind of centralised resource, constructed or developed from one of the existing ones, rather than Google, that people can automatically go to track down research materials that may be useful to them. There is no reason why that should exclusively be used by the academic community. I think I would find that, as a first step, the most useful one, rather than trying to present something in a more ambitious way. I’m thinking more of a directory.

LK: So, a type of signposting thing?

SC: Yes. And once you find out about something, you can have a web link to a more detailed site or individual institution.

LK: Most people’s websites presumably refer to other related resources and so on. On the Future Histories website you presumably direct people to other resources?

AT: Yes, we do. We have set up and now and will link up with as many other web resources as possible.

LK: I think part of the responsibility is for us to make sure that we are fronting that information and disseminating it.

DA: I posit that that is currently the way that most users find out about things. The resources they perceive to be the most valuable are the ones they will remember and return to. But even to somebody who works in the industry, if you like, of digital performing arts records, the number of resources out there is overwhelming. It’s so time consuming to follow a link, do the search with the different search terms, try it again, give up, go to the next one, and keep repeating these searches. It’s quite idealistic in some ways, but I think that a centralised item-level description catalogue would be fantastic. People could return there every time, and it wouldn’t matter if the video they were looking for was not online because at least they would know where to get it, or that it is available through the BBC’s website or the British Library’s website. I would say, however, that such a site would have to be extremely robust, because you can’t predict use-case scenarios. Somebody might go to it wanting a picture of one actor from multiple productions; somebody else might be looking at one production and the differences between them. Those are simple examples, but people from all sorts of disciplines use performing arts materials like ethnographers and anthropologists, and we can’t always predict what people are going to use them for. A gateway site would have to be fairly generic, very robust and not make any assumptions about why people visit it.

Andrew Stewart: I’m sure this is going to be politically sensitive, but it relates back to what Steve said about a search engine or a vehicle, if you like for accessing information dedicated to performing arts. Well, of course, if you were to start building that from scratch it would be a very costly and time-consuming business. Google does exist and, like it or not, they’re putting a great deal of effort into digitising the world, particularly in terms of manuscript archives and books. It strikes me that there is a possibility of dealing with Google in a way that could be of great value to what we have been discussing. What you could end up with are lots of very good but very difficult-to-find search engines. Keep in mind that most people are going to begin looking for things on Google before they actually think, “Oh yes, there’s a performing arts search engine called Backstage”. I wonder to what extent, from a funding and arts political point of view, talking to Google or somebody like Google would be possible and, indeed, profitable for the organisations here.

LK: Google is constantly developing and trialing Google different search capacities, so there’s no reason why there couldn’t by a Poogle. Just going back to the point from this morning, about performing arts archiving, I would like to see an erosion of the distinctions across art forms. I think we’re talking about a broader historical legacy. Certainly, in the area that I work in there are artists that don’t sit either in the performing arts or within the visual arts, or they easily straddle quite a few art forms. Quite a few ResCen artists themselves have a much closer relationship to Damien Hirst or Tracey Emin than to Nicholas Hytner, for example. So I think it’s important that it is very much a broad field, and possibly one that that doesn’t even use the word performance. But I can’t see any reason why Google couldn’t be approached, although who would do that and in what capacity?

DA: Again, let’s not confuse digital records with records.

AS: Well, my only reason for mentioning Google is because it is doing its best to make existing records, card indexes and whatever into digital records. In that respect, there’s already a critical mass going in that direction.

LK: I don’t think the suggestion is that everything should be digitised; rather, digital technologies have to keep searching and finding out information. There is nothing new in suggesting that card indexes should be digitised, but we do have the technology now to find out things, to find out what they are and where they are, and that’s where we should be using digital technology.

AT: But the problem is who is paying for that? Digitising is very expensive in terms of the time.

LK: I’m not talking about digitising; I’m talking about using digital technology to find out things.

AT: Ah, yes, okay because I think that’s also important to make…

LK: If I can see my roof terrace on Google Earth, then I should be able to find out where that information about a particular performing arts group is in the world.

GB: I disagree with you, again about card indexes, for example. I take the examples of the ones that we’ve and that other performing arts archives have. They’re not what you want to get at in the end; they are the finding aids. I’ll give you an example: we’ve got a card index which occupies forty drawers, which is of performances in the UK on which the Theatre Museum holds programmes. Now since we aim to hold the programme for every professional production in the UK going back to 1704, that’s a lot of information. It’s one of the biggest performing arts collections in the world and it’s almost completely lost because it’s down to those individual entries on those cards. That’s what really matters, that Hamlet was done there on that date. It’s an index to the finished product, which I don’t think should be digitalised necessarily (although you could argue for). If you’re looking for the actual people then you have to digitise that if you want to search by actor. If you’re searching for things that Judy Dench was in, then you’re talking about indexing each programme. So I think it is actually an enormous job. I can’t give you a list of the actors about whom we have material because it runs to millions, it’s just too much. And that’s why we have taken this repertory database approach. Our experience for however many years the Theatre Museum has been going is that people search by production. Yes, they search by person, which is very much a visual arts approach; yes, they search by work. But they most often search by production. So that’s why we’ve gone with that approach because that’s a pot into which you put a lot of information. I think the only way we can approach it is by trying to get those vast quantities of indexed information out there. You can’t stop: you can’t say, oh we’re not doing that because the Theatre Museum just has a card catalogue.

LK: But it’s a step on the road.

GB: That information is out there and there comes a point where you have to say if people don’t know that the British Library exists then it starts to get a bit silly. How far do we go? Do we disseminate the fact that the British Library or the Theatre Museum exists; surely, that’s not what we’re talking about here, is it? People either know that if they’re doing serious research then they must do a certain amount of finding out.

Sylvia Morris: I’m from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s archive. What the Theatre Information Group (TIG) is going to be doing on this performance research database will be flagging you towards other collections where you might find that information, because it has already been indexed at a lower or a higher level. So you, Guy, will be pushing people towards the more detailed resources where you can find out the information. The National Theatre and ourselves are using the same system.

GB: The Theatre Collection in Bristol has its own system. The idea is to bring these together and create a central index which says, if you’re looking at that Richard Burton Hamlet or if you’re looking at whatever it may be, it will tell you where it was done and these are the resources that relate to it, and that this is your item-level catalogue of the performing arts. but it’s a distributed item-level catalogue drawn together by this index. It then says that the programme is held by the RSC archive, there’s a copy at the Theatre Museum and there’s also a copy in Bristol and so on.

SM: It has to be very robust because of all of these cross searches.

GB: Yes, that’s the beauty of it. We’re not going about this in a half-hearted way, because it has to be totally agreed; it has to work really well, and take a lot of data, whatever the system. The technical people think we’re on the right lines.

AT: I think the directory idea is probably the best starting point in that one could actually have a listing somewhere of all the repositories.

GB: I’m sorry – that’s Backstage!

AT: Apart from Backstage. I know Backstage, but I’m saying what is the content, as well? So that people can start looking at the value of things and where they can go to find certain kinds of information.

GB: I can put these things into Backstage. It exists as a place where collection-level descriptions for the performing arts can be presented, but I can’t make people put their information in.

AT: I know, but you probably could be more proactive in asking for that information, that’s what I’m saying. I know that the template is there with Backstage, but perhaps it’s a question of trying to get more people involved with that project. I think it is wonderful that Backstage has been created, but I think it is a little bit like the difference between access and dissemination, with the latter requiring a more proactive approach. I know it requires energy, investment and all the rest of it, and I know that it’s all a question of how much work one can do, but….

Zoe Lukas: But it’s not just a matter of this higher body disseminating itself. I think the individual archives have to take some of the responsibility for this. At the National Theatre Archive, we have leaflets, we tell people about it, but we don’t go out, all singing and dancing, to tell people about it. Whenever I speak to people on the phone I try to mention it but it’s not necessary that it’s there. I think every archive has a responsibility to do that, once it knows about it. That groundswell of interest comes from there. If you’re the first port of call for students and they do not know what they want to do beyond that it was a production at the National Theatre, it’s for the archivist and assistants to say that to everybody. It’s not just for the non-governmental bodies to say that this is what we have: I think it’s very important that everyone has his opinion about it. I’m not saying that anyone’s passing the buck, but everyone does take ownership of it and does have some part to play.

SC: I don’t know if it was a dereliction of duty or what, but I was not particularly conscious of Backstage. I think if something like that is to be successful, it needs an injection of cash for advertising and it has to impinge more on the consciousness of people like me, as well as people using archival materials. I must admit that, although the British Library supported it, Backstage is not a resource I often turn to. I don't think it is seen as a 'market leader' in the way that is necessary for such a resource to be of most effective use to professionals like me and to people researching archive material.

LK: Absolutely. I’m sure it’s inappropriate ignorance on our part, but we deal with a substantial number of users of our resources on a daily basis and also a substantial number of ongoing interviews or information advice surgeries with artists who are working with archival issues, and Backstage has never been mentioned.

Bex Carrington: Like you, Lois, I had never heard of Backstage until I went to the Theatre Collection. I’ve been having problems getting it updated to reflect our current situation, which is a whole different ballgame.

GB: I have been arguing for Backstage and am probably the worse person to do it, because I know it’s fraught with problems. I can give you a quick history. The Theatre Museum has about three hundred special collections relating to the performing arts. We couldn’t get funding because the Higher Education sector which was funding it would not fund us, even though we’re the National Museum of Performing Arts. They would not fund our collections being put on to Backstage, and we had to go to the British Library partnership funding in order to be included. The fact that Backstage happened should be applauded, because it was a big struggle to get a national collection-level description project for the performing arts area. But if people haven’t been included in it’s either the fault of the project not picking them up at the time or because they haven’t found out about it. This doesn’t mean, however, that we need to be reinventing Backstage. Maybe we do need to push it so more people know about it, but not rebuild it.

AT: I think that is important. Again it’s a question of dissemination of information. We have to be aware that we are bombarded with information all the time, that there are constant innovations. People run businesses and companies, constantly deal with lots of things and that’s what I am becoming more and more aware of myself. So that’s why I’m saying one needs to be, although we would all like to think, okay I’m there, why people don’t see me, it might be that because there is a huge crowd people don’t see us.

LK: It might mean that they were looking for you and found somebody else instead.

AT: Precisely, and they got distracted! But that’s why I think it’s the responsibility for institutions to begin tackling the old question of ownership. In a way Backstage and other initiatives, even like the A2A programme, have appealed to institutions, to big organisations. Now what about the small fishes? What about those who have resources, who have archives, who have material and have been working in communities, for example, who have not felt included so far and with whom big institutions haven’t really been able to build trust over the last decades? I think one needs to look in to that also, and at how we can build bridges and what needs to be done to do that. I think this is something to think creatively about.

LK: Can you talk a bit about the Theatre Museum’s audit of performance art archives under Susan Croft.

Geoff Marsh: Susan started a database, which exists but is, so to speak, frozen at the moment. She tried to track down all film relating to theatre as an extension of the National Video Archive Performance. Because she had particular interests, she began where her interests lay. Every time I’ve seen her since, she says that she’s going to start working on it again but not at the moment, so that sits as a collection of files, not immediately accessible when people want to see it. There’s an up side in that it got as far as it did; the down side, I think, is interesting in the context of looking to the future. Firstly, one person with a particular interest drove it and, when she became involved in other things, the project became frozen. Secondly, was the whole issue about copyright, which affected all too many of the things that she’d got. Copyright was absolutely unclear, even when something had been recorded. Thirdly, and this is something you’ve obviously dealt with at Future Histories, is the question of whether people were willing to hand over material like that, or what sort of status it might have. Twenty or thirty years ago, people were much easier going about different forms of deposition, so you have things like permanent loans and all these sort of things, which – correct me, Guy – don’t mean anything legally. But there’s been immense pressure on all institutions about storage capacity and that makes it very difficult to open up.

There’s a classic problem about getting in touch with organisations and communities which deal on the margins; quite naturally, they don’t necessarily want to hand stuff over, which only tends to happen where there’s a major conservation issue or where something is clearly just about to disintegrate. It seems to me that there are issues for the future about trying to work out some sort of framework – and I don’t know if it’s a national framework – which would allow for the collection of material like this. It would not simply be an amnesty for handing it over, because many people argue that there doesn’t need to be an amnesty but something about the rights issue attached to it. We obviously have this agreement with the unions about recording performance, for which we’re very grateful. Guy, you might want to say more about this, but I think the unions are usually quite accommodating when they are approached about specific things, although clearly they are there to protect the interests of their members.

GB: Yes, and they are probably more accommodating than in the United States.

GM: Absolutely. In fact Claire Welsby and I recently went to the Harry Ransom Collection at …

LK: Harry Ramsden, the fish and chip shop?

GM: No, the Harry Ransom Collection at the University of Texas. In fact, they recently tried to establish a performing arts recording programme along the lines of what’s done at the New York Public Library. The unions simply said no. I think that’s the difference between post-and pre-Internet and MP3 world. I’m not saying that the museum wouldn’t be willing to try and do things or talk to the unions; on the other hand, we’re not terribly keen just to rattle the cage without very good reason and with the sort of logic which makes sense to the unions. Is that a fair assessment?

GB: Yes, I think the whole issue of finding a way of getting at audio and video resource is something that we’ve been worrying about for a long time, partly because we’re all aware that we’ve got problems in terms of the deterioration of material and that we need to deal with those videos under the bed. We’ve all got videos in the store, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re in any better condition. We’ve talked about getting a national survey of those as an audit from a preservation point of view, but it may well be that it’s worth looking at from an access point of view as well. Even for a big organisation like ours and our wider organisation, which is the V&A, they have a digital asset management system and are at the beginnings of using it.

Man: How to make it work?

GB: And you know that people say they have got these videos under the bed, that they are going to give them to the museum and that they’re going to be fine. Well, that’s not exactly how it works and I don’t think people realise that. Even the big institutions are still struggling with these new technologies. Even the BBC and British Library is probably struggling with them, so even the big institutions have problems with these things and we don’t have a magic wand where people can say, “Oh yes, it’s fine – just leave them here”. When people come to us and say they have got this archive (and I’m really aware that there are many small fish out there), they are coming along to ask if we can put an archive on disc for them; in some ways, we’re saying that we can’t do this, we can’t do that, and we can’t do the other, because we haven’t any resources and can’t and you can see why people run away from us.

LK: I can see why people run away. I think this relates to what we touched on this morning in terms of who are the gatekeepers of the culture, who are writing the histories and what are the roles of museums in terms of acquisitions. I think it’s very fraught and highly, highly politicised. I know that there’s a huge degree of sensitivity among artists about how their work is going to be consigned to history in that kind of way. There possibly is a resistance about handing stuff over, because then it’s out of the creator’s hands. That might not matter now, but in terms of your fifty-year framework, it matters enormously. Places like AAVAA, the African and Asian Visual Artists’ Archive, had to be set up because the work of African and Asian visual artists was not being documented, it was not being written about in the same way. And that is a huge political issue.

GM: This is what is important about what Chris Bannerman is trying to do today. That’s why so important to try and move towards some sort of a practical agenda, as the current battles in the Theatre Museum reveal. We’re part of quite a large organisation but it’s a large organisation that is fundamentally disinterested in what we do, it’s been demonstrated by the events of the last few weeks. We’ve moved in twenty years from a culture that basically dealt with paper, photographs and a little bit of film to a situation where, with a camcorder and a computer, you’ve suddenly got this colossal resource, which we know is a fantastic opportunity. However, there seems to be three fundamental hurdles to overcome. The first one is the whole issue about copyright. The fact of the matter, I guess, is that most of us here are involved in education as a kind of moral good; but if you’re an actor who’s unemployed most of the time, they see it as a business and I think it’s fair to say that is also where the unions set their starting point. They don’t really see that there’s some sort of category of educational archive use, which justifies their members not getting paid. The second issue is obviously one of resources, which is an inevitable thing, and the third, I think, is the issue of the market. There presently isn’t very much of a market. Some of you here are probably familiar with Heritage Theatre, which is a commercial equivalent of what we do. They buy out the rights and make a number of recordings of theatre and then sell them. I know from back of envelope calculations that they have to sell 20,000 videos of Primo Levi or whatever before they break even. I think NESTA has given them support, but essentially it’s a tiny UK business that thought of doing this because, as far as I can see, there is no established market for watching theatre on video.

LK: Are you distinguishing between market and need?

GM: I would say market rather than need. If you think that Richard the Third is a great play and wouldn’t it be good if people watched it, people probably would watch. The fact is, however, that the process of putting stuff on to video, which is what Heritage Theatre has done, is satisfying a micro-niche market. If you go to an HMV store, those products are probably racked alongside BBC comedy recordings, which probably shift far quicker. Perhaps you can buy those videos in the National Theatre shop now but you can’t buy them in the Theatre Museum shop. But in ten to fifteen years, presumably you’ll just download them; in other words, the means of accessing the market are changing.

LK: We are totally small fry now, but one of the things we are doing is to look at DVD on demand. We’re also setting up an online bookshop, which is not to make money but to try and create a market for artists to create works for, so it is another platform for artists to disseminate their work. The whole stuff about Arts Council funding is that it suggests that if you’re producing a DVD you need to produce a run of a thousand, but at the same time Arts Council information knows damn well that the best selling DVD in Corner House’s Collection right now is Susan Hiller, and Susan Hiller had sold one hundred and forty. So we’re talking, in terms of markets, about small markets and technology has another way of being able to address those markets of DVD on demand. I also think there is a difference between a market and need. There isn’t a market for documentation of Impact Theatre’s Carrier Frequency, but there is a need for people to be able to see that work and know that it exists because it changed the face of British experimental theatre overnight and has had a twenty-, thirty-, fifty-year influence. But there’s no market for that work.

GM: Perhaps I can look at it the other way round. At the moment, the RSC are starting their complete works of Shakespeare, so they’re doing all thirty-nine plays. Half of them have been done by the RSC and half by overseas companies. If you’re interested in Shakespeare, then it’s a fantastic thing, which I think is costing about 3 or 4 million to stage. We’ve talked to them about trying to do some recordings for the National Video Archive performance. At most, we could afford to do two or three and that’s the maximum. So this is a colossal expenditure of let’s say 4 million pounds, which is probably going to be seen by a total of maybe 4,000,000 people. This means that in Britain alone there are 59,600,000 people who haven’t seen these productions. I’m not saying that it is the RSC’s responsibility to film them, but…

Woman: The RSC are filming them, but for their own archive purposes.

GM: Yes, their archive, but they’re not…

Woman: There will be a recording of each one, but not of broadcast quality.

GM: I’m not criticising the RSC; I’m simply saying that it seems odd that in this world of technology and with that amount of money pumped in to those performances, but the stage beyond that is…

GB: But opera manages to do it. The Royal Opera House appears quite happy to say here is what we do, come and see it in the Covent Garden Piazza, where we’ve got a big screen. Or they invite the BBC in to do a telecast of a production, which is very, very different from theatre. Obviously, it’s all about the economics.

LK: It’s partly to do with the form, isn’t it? Opera is a big, loud visible form that can be shown on the screen, as opposed to a kind of intimate one-on-one piece of performance art, which would not go so down well in the Piazza at Covent Garden. So there is a formal consideration.

GB: No, but also, also the live telecasts of opera appears on the BBC. Opera does go in to that and, to some extent, does it quite well.

GM: And also they’re doing parks up and down the country, so it’s not just piazza now but they’re doing it outside The Sage and other locations. All I’m trying to say is that, if we were sitting here thirty years ago, we’d be basically talking about paper and photographs. Fifteen years ago video film was just starting to take off. We’re now where we are – we don’t just have the film on video, but we’re at the point where dissemination … sorry?

LK: It’s redundant, almost.

GM: Yes, exactly. But the dissemination system has changed. If we came back to this in ten or fifteen years time (given the length of time it takes to get anything done in this country, then that’s probably the time scale you need to look at), we would be in a situation where it’s technically possible to download the RSC on to mobile phones or straight into people’s heads! But the barriers against doing that, it seems to me, are not about the technology; they’re about issues of copyright, of funding and of somehow creating a market. I completely accept that it’s a micro-market at the moment. But is that situation always going to be the case? Look at MTD, for example. It is a channel which survives entirely on performance; it just happens to be a very particular type of performance: dancing.

DA: I think Chris Bannerman pointed that out this morning that access can drive demand. When I look for certain materials online, I feel slightly cheated if I can’t find them. That’s very different to how it would have been even five years ago, not to mention ten or fifteen. We can’t expect people to say, “Well, I really want this,” when they don’t know that it’s possible or that, although some commercial company has a model exactly like it, they don’t know that maybe the National Theatre or whoever could do the same thing. Once it filters through the levels of academia and in to public consciousness that that sort of thing is possible, I think we will start seeing a very high demand for it.

LK: I just wanted to make the distinction between financial value and cultural value in terms of the use of the word ‘market’.

SR: I’m slightly disturbed …

LK: What, generally, you mean?

SR: I should preface this by saying that it has nothing to do with the BBC. I’m an archivist by training and am talking about this from an archivist’s perspective. An archive is there to fulfil a business requirement and if that business requirement is being reflected either as a need or a market or there is somebody driving that cultural capture, that’s fine. When you said that you were capturing the RSC performances but not in broadcast quality, that’s because the archive is fulfilling its business need. It does not have a remit or a need to transmit those performances at broadcast quality, so it doesn’t keep them at that quality. What I’m constantly hearing, at least from an archivist’s position, is that you’re putting on top of the archive a nebulous requirement to fulfil cultural expectations without actually pinning down who you are doing this for, why are you doing it, and why are they not supporting you in delivering this. From the archivist’s point of view, you can’t really expect the archive and the archivist to be driving those things along because that’s not what they’re there for; it’s not what they’re being paid for; it’s not what they’re funded for, and I think there is an unreal expectation from some of the things I’m hearing.

LK: I think that is at the heart of the issues of what today is about. I would put 50 on the table to say that fifty years from now there will still be people whether in this room or elsewhere talking about the issue of archives and documentation and it still won’t be resolved. As long as I’ve worked in the arts it’s always been the annual event. I think it’s partly to do with the cultural sector trying to get its head round exactly what archiving is and why it’s significant. It’s the archivist’s responsibility to create the archive; in the wider cultural sector it’s a case of recognising how that information sort of can be best use, what are its values, what is its role, and so on.

SR: I don’t disagree with that. Putting my BBC hat back on, one of our Charter obligations is to make our archives as publicly available as possible. We are constantly moving forward whenever we can to make them more and more open. Those are the sort of drivers that organisations have to have placed on them in order to try and achieve greater access; otherwise, if you don’t have that as a driver, you’re never really working within your own remit. I think that is very different from someone like Guy Baxter, who is obviously very passionate about what he’s doing but he’s almost trying to invent business reasons for doing some of the things he does. He can see that there’s a wider need but no one is backing that to fulfil it.

GB: Well that’s, I’m afraid, about being in the collecting archives business rather than, “We’ve got an institution which is doing something – broadcasting – and these are the archives that come off it.

SR: Yes, yes, yes.

GB: As an institution, we are not tied to a theatre; we’re tied to the performing arts as a general thing. Traditionally, we have done those things like taking programmes, cutting the papers, and that’s how we’re recording performance at a very basic level. It is in the areas of proactive documentation, such as videoing, that its starts to get much more difficult for us, because we’re making value judgements. But there isn’t a body of material that is there that we select from, because we can only select from the things that people offer us. We are entirely at the whim of other organisations in terms of when we try to record the heritage – there’s no legal deposit of theatre programmes and certainly not theatre videos.

AT: I think what you’re saying is really important. Eventually, archives reflect the normal course of activity of an organisation and so they just keep these records of what work was happening, no matter the type of organisation. In creating a record, there is no primary interest in making that record accessible; I mean, it is simply a testimony of something which has happened. This is why I don’t think the question of access needs to be distinguished from dissemination. When it comes to the performing arts, it’s not so much that video is the end product, which is piece of art we are making accessible. This is a matter of how we use this resource to inspire, how we use it to create new things. That’s why, from my point of view as an artist working with other artists, this is the core. The archive is there to bear testimony, to witness.

LK: But that is almost a curatorial practice, which surely is subtly different from being an archivist?

AT: Yes, but after that you have the use you make of it. And the use you make of it can be an artistic product in itself, it can inspire new artists and audiences. A video is not really the end product. Perhaps it’s the video of one performance, not the video of the tour.

LK: But something like the BBC archive is sort of around you and you archive what the BBC’s output is. With other users, there’s the sense that things have to come to you. When the Live Art Archive was set up, it really was driven by a person whose desk had lots of boxes underneath it. It was a bit like, where is this information going to go? If it’s not going to go somewhere, then it will be lost forever. And so they set up an archive based completely on what came in. If you look at the Live Art Archive from the late 1980s to the late 1990s, there was no Black and Asian performance work made in Britain, because it simply wasn’t collected in the archive. But, of course, the late eighties and nineties saw an absolute explosion of activities among Black and Asian practitioners. The idea of an archive that is dependent on people knowing about it and thinking it’s appropriate to submit materials is quite difficult, isn’t it?

GB: Well, yes. The Theatre Museum continues to collect theatre programmes without distinction. We’re not going to say, oh that’s a Black performance or an Asian performance and we’re going to chuck that in the bin. As far as I know no one has even made that distinction in the past. Having said that, Gabrielle Enthoven, who started our collection in the nineteenth century didn’t do the regions and she didn’t do music halls, because it was beneath her contempt. So we have a kind of mainstream of London performances for a big period of our collecting history. Obviously, we’ve filled those gaps since, so there is a sense in which we…

LK: So you have actively filled those gaps?

GB: Yes, to some extent. But even when you talk about being active, there’s a difference between being active in terms of if people give us programmes, we’ll take them, and being active in the sense of having four staff and 1 million a year to go out and buy stuff about theatre. We could spend a lot of money and a lot of time collecting things. I’m not saying our collecting procedures are great, because we do pretty much sit back and wait to see what comes in. But where do you draw the line? Do you say we should be going out and collecting in certain areas because we’re lacking them? But how do we know we’re lacking them?

LK: I don’t know. I think at the beginning of the Live Art Archive there was awareness amongst a whole bunch of people from a wide constituency that existed, that it was there and that it was important that artists’ work was represented. Therefore, artists started contributing work to the Live Art Archive and those gaps began to be plugged.

Woman: Of course, we also have the National Review, which is the video archive that we have just got a big grant for to digitise. We actively go and film that every year, and we’ll maintain that. But that costs an awful lot of money.

GB: I do worry that our conclusion from this is that not enough people know that the Theatre Museum exists. Or not enough people know that the Theatre Information Group exists, or not enough people know that the British Library has more performing arts material than even the British Library knows it has.

LK: I think people need to know what’s there, in terms of what Steve was saying about that directory; what kind of acquisitions policies are, and how people should be thinking about their own practices in relation to those existing resources.

GB: I think the National Collecting Policy is quite a good way forward, because at least there are people talking to each other about what our areas of responsibility are. So it’s being sorted in a more formal way rather than in an informal, bilateral way. That might be a way forward in order to get an understanding of what the collections are, by saying this is what we collect.

AT: And what about duplications? Maybe we don’t need to consider duplicating. If we know now that the National Theatre is archiving all its performances and that the Royal Shakespeare Company is doing the same and that black theatre is archived by another organisation, then maybe the Theatre Museum can concentrate on doing something else. It’s probably a question of being rational in the way of collecting and investing resources. This directory might not only be a way of giving access but also of deciding who is the best repository for certain things, without duplication. An archivist once told me that an archive is very valuable if it is the only one that has got some particular material, and eventually it is. So this is about value as well.



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