La MaMa at #AMIA18

This year was my first time at AMIA! Otherwise known as the Association for Moving Image Archivists. It’s a wonderful conference full of archivists and AV geeks of all kinds, and a great place for someone who is managing a collection of media on all sorts of nhprc-logo-lformats. Resources galore! Friendly colleagues, eager to help out! And of course, informative panels that will give you a taste of what the professionals in the field are cooking up.

I consider myself doubly lucky, since I also got to present on our National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) funded project with my predecessor Rachel Mattson, as well as my colleagues from BAVC and the WCFTR. It was actually my first time meeting Morgan, from BAVC, and Amy and Jesse, from WCFTR in person, and it was a joy. Working with all four of them on this panel was gratifying – a chance to show off all our hard work to a room full of people who will appreciate it better than anyone. My only regret was that I didn’t get a photo with my co-panelists.

Multnomah Falls

I did, however, get a photo of Multnomah Falls

In fact, we were asked to share some of our documentation. An audience member pointed out that the Memorandum of Understanding designed by Rachel and Amy at the start of the project is quite unusual, and that other institutions might benefit from having it as an example. Anyone interested can find it here! (The only info I edited out are email addresses.)

Below, you’ll find the slides from our presentation:

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you’d like to save the slides, download it here.

I was very happy with how we approached the panel. Rather than break the presentation down into individual sections, we were able to do more of a round robin discussion with all of us addressing each step of this two year long collaboration. After all, the theme of the panel itself was collaboration! We wanted that to shine more than anything else – that the solution to the problem of deteriorating, valuable material and no digital preservation infrastructure was to collaborate with like-minded institutions. We all benefit – La MaMa preserves and makes accessible important material, WCFTR expands their collections, and BAVC tackled the challenge of a large scale digitization effort that helped them streamline their workflows. You can read and download our project narrative here, although keep in mind some aspects of the project – like the staff involved, and a couple technical details – have changed.

I was so grateful for the positive response to our presentation. It meant the world to have other archivists engage with the work we’ve done, and it was especially meaningful to have students come up after to talk. AMIA was a treat – I can’t wait for next year – and I hope the documentation here is helpful. My inbox is always open to questions and ideas!

Advertisements

A new face in the archive

The most common question I get when I tell people what I do for a living is how I ended up working in archives. The story I usually tell is a fairly boring, circuitous one: studying history, not wanting to be a professor, but also wanting to use my degree; discovering the power of archives as an undergrad, internships and volunteerIMG-8049 (1).JPG positions, all leading to an eventual masters degree. The version that is a bit more involved and a little harder to explain is a story more about a feeling than a career path. It is a feeling that came on strong when I first set foot in the La MaMa Archive to interview for the position of Project Manager. For those of you who have never visited, the experience of entering the La MaMa Archive is a unique one. Immediately, you are surrounded by artifacts of all sizes, from the small hand drum from Korea, to the ten-foot tall wooden puppet, the largest of three Pinocchios, that was used in a 2016 production of Six Characters (A Family Album). It is cool and quiet, and each time you sweep the room with your eyes, you spot something new, strange and wonderful: an elaborate headdress, a large bird hanging from puppet strings from the ceiling, a lion’s head, a winged horse. These are the objects, but the feeling I’m referencing, and attempting to describe, is the sensation these objects impart. The air is suffused with their history and the mesmerizing stories they carry with them – not only about the performances in which they were used, but the people who built them, the time and care and creativity it took to bring them to life, and their lives since then.

I walked into this truly magical space on the footsteps of Rachel Mattson, my predecessor who is responsible not only for the creation of this blog, but for the catalog that has brought the La MaMa Archive into a future where its materials are not only preserved and processed, but used, loved, and remembered by the world beyond La MaMa’s doors. Over the course of an hour long conversation, Rachel’s obvious devotion to La MaMa’s collections would contribute to the sensation of creative magic. I told her, on our way back out to the street, that I’d felt a thrill when I stepped inside. She seemed to know exactly what I meant by that.

Part of this thrill is the physical magic of the objects themselves. Who could walk into a room full of larger-than-life puppets and beautiful costumes and not feel some awe? Another part is the magic of La MaMa and its place in history. I started my professional archives career at the Fales Library and Special Collections at NYU, where the Downtown Collection documents the kind of wild, revolutionary, magical art that was being created in New York City from the 1960s on. There, I learned to love the brilliant, sometimes nonsensical, often obscene, work of artists like David Wojnarowicz, Martin Wong, Mabou Mines, John Vaccaro, and Maria Irene Fornés. The world of the East Village at the time of La MaMa’s founding was immeasurably expansive and exciting, challenging and tender. The theater became a vital part of that world, providing space and resources to artists who were shaping the future in ways we’re only just beginning to see and understand. At Fales I fell in love with that world, and joining the team at the La MaMa Archive has been a return to it.

My name is Sophie, I’m the new Project Manager at La MaMa, and I’m beyond excited to have the chance to continue Rachel’s work here. We’re halfway through our NHPRC funded project to digitize 250 half-inch open reels, expanding access to a treasure trove of performances from the 1970s. We’re working to digitize performances from the 1980’s and 90’s that have been accessible only through onsite VHS viewings. We continue to build our catalog on CollectiveAccess, and we’re eager to connect and work with our fellow performing arts archives in the city and beyond. Places like La MaMa, and the feeling you get walking through its collections, are absolutely why I work in archives. The doors, physical and virtual, are open for visitors to come see what I’m talking about.