Final wrap-up of PDP with a Q&A

I recently interviewed Terry Fox, my practicum supervisor and director of Philadelphia Dance Projects, for the Dance Heritage Coalition’s Artist-Driven Archives blog (read it here). Terry thought it would be fun to turn the tables and ask me some questions! I thought this would be a great way to wrap-up my time in Philadelphia.

What is your overall impression of the LDHP?

I chose to work in libraries and archives for the community, collaboration, education and sharing of information. LDHP is no different! LDHP brings together artists, archivists, designers, educators and others to tell the story of dance in Philadelphia. I love that the community is encouraged to participate – in fact, it’s required! Without input from dancers, this project would be missing a lot of the magic and material.

I think this is a great framework for other local dance history projects, and I can see this project inspiring other communities to try out something similar in their cities.

Coming from your fellowship with Jacob’s Pillow Archive how do you see the LDHP efforts to archive?

One similarity that stands out to me between the Pillow and LDHP is standardization. When there are so many people involved in a project throughout various stages, it’s challenging to keep records and procedures consistent. This applies to scanning, describing data, file-naming, saving and storing. Also prevalent in both collections is the power of curation and context. Rather than create a comprehensive digital repository, these web projects strive to add value through careful selection and storytelling.

Have you been able to bring any of your skills and experience to the LDHP?

My background isn’t specific to archiving, and this practicum has given me the chance to pull from other areas to help achieve LDHP goals – web usability, cataloging, marketing, scanning, research, etc. Also, my background in dance has made this project even sweeter because I genuinely care about this art form and artists.

Has the LDHP clearly articulated the importance of keeping a “regional ” dance history?

LDHP feels like you’re in on a secret – it feels very intimate. This project tells stories and ideas from the perspective of the artists who were shaped by their environment and influenced by the people here in Philadelphia. Preserving and sharing this history is important to the local community because it’s deeply connected to the culture, art, politics and ideas of the time.

Before coming to Philly, I didn’t know much about the city, especially not the dance scene. Dance history is often overlooked unless it’s a massive company or notable performer. This project is important because it’s very grassroots and underground – it tells a story often untold.

Were you drawn to any of the materials? images, videos? other?  to get a sense of the time?  history? or other?

I feel more connected to the material that I’m working with because I’m directly working with the artists and Terry. Of course I’m drawn to the visuals – images and videos from performances. I love to look at old programs or flyers because most of these are “homemade” and capture the DIY spirit of the community.

Hand drawn flyer for Come/On/Spring performance with Jac Carley and Friends

Hand drawn flyer for Come/On/Spring performance with Jac Carley and Friends, 1977

In Wendy Hammarstrom’s collection, Terry digitized slides from the original event. The performers look like they’re parading in and around city rubble – it looks like the end of the world! Terry gave me historic background and context on this time period and explained that the city was tearing down buildings and clearing land to build an expressway. I could tell that the images were telling an interesting story, but only after I heard from Terry did I get a clearer idea of what it was like to live in Philly during this time. These stories and memories are what make these collections so powerful. That’s what makes this project so exciting – the involvement from the artists. Who better to tell the story than those who were really there?

Wendy Hammarstrom performance

Wendy Hammarstrom performance “Sunrise Sunset Orb” in 1978 with Wendy Hammarstrom, Dianne Aronson and Ishmael Houston-Jones

Most recently, I was going through some digitized performances from VHS tapes in Jano Cohen’s collection. One segment was a rehearsal in a studio space. I’m sure they were aware of the camera, but the dancers didn’t seem to be performing for an audience. I’m really interested in the process of creating dance and how people work together in a studio, so this gave me a tiny glimpse into that experience.

Anything else of particular interest?

I’m really excited about the upcoming artist workshops. These will be prepared and presented by Terry and Margery Sly, Director of Special Collections at Temple University, to teach dancers and artists in the community how to archive and preserve their own work. As an educator, I love this plan in general, but it’s also a great way to promote Philadelphia Dance Projects and garner support for LDHP.


Reunion at SAA with DHC Fellows & More!

How is it my last week in Philadelphia? I’ve been traveling a lot in my final weeks of my practicum. First, I went to New York City for a weekend trip to see some museums (in particular, FIT’s lingerie exhibit and Charles James at the Met!) and visit the Jerome Robbins Dance Division. I met briefly with director, Tanisha Jones, to learn more about the collection at NYPL and the workflow of her department. Last week, I took the train to DC to attend the Society of American Archivists Conference. Now I’m finishing up my projects at LDHP before heading back home to San Francisco and my final semester at SJSU iSchool!

It was wonderful to catch up with all the fellows on their projects and practicum placements during the summer. I was also able to meet up with former fellows and supervisors at DHC including last year’s fellow from Jacob’s Pillow, Elizabeth Hollenbeck. She had some great advice and information on job searching, plus it was great to finally meet her in person! I also briefly chatted with Nicole Topich, who also worked with Terry at PDP. It’s always interesting to hear from people from the fellowship program, and it helps to know I have another resource to turn to when I have questions.

View from the hotel room

View from the hotel room

This was my first SAA conference, and I’m going through my notes now to apply to my practicum and future projects. Here are some key takeaways from the conference that I find most exciting:

  • Community documentation projects/artist driven archiving – so many wonderful things to say about these projects such as the pros of educating public on preservation and importance of documenting history, sharing local history with larger audience, community-building and diversity. The engaging session on the last day, with Kat Bell from DHC, was one of my favorites because we were able to hear from people who are working directly with community members to build fantastic collections.
  • Special collections can make libraries and archives stand out and interest more users, but also build relationships in the community. I’m really excited about local music projects, especially streaming artists that otherwise wouldn’t be heard! At the Performing Arts Roundtable, Michele Casto from DC Public Library shared their plans for the DC Punk Archive and one project includes a local music portal.
  • Activism in archives – I missed out on two sessions on advocacy in archives and archival collections in Palestine, but every session touched on our professional responsibility to preserve and provide access to collections, especially groups who are underserved or underrepresented. For example, in the session mentioned above “When Communities Perform Their Own Documentation”, we heard about the project Witness which educates people how to use video documentation as evidence to seek justice in political and human rights cases.
  • Teaching! I do a lot of teaching at my job at FIDM, so I was especially interested in the session on using primary sources in education. I like the idea of “primary source literacy” (similar to information literacy) and the members of this community are working with ACRL to create better standards for archivists who teach.

The highlight for me was the reception at the Library of Congress! This building is absolutely gorgeous. What a perfection location for archivists and librarians to mingle!

Inside the Library of Congress - beautiful!

Inside the Library of Congress – beautiful!

Natalie de Almeida and me outside the Library of Congress

Natalie de Almeida and me outside the Library of Congress


A quick update from Philly: Philadelphia Dance Projects & Local History Dance Project

I’m in my third week here in Philadelphia, and it’s certainly a change from mountain life in the Berkshires. Philadelphia reminds me more of city life back in San Francisco where I can walk to work with a cappuccino in hand – how I missed my morning capp! The city here is beautiful, and I’m enjoying exploring and taking in all the history. Plus, I’m working with the amazing Terry Fox of Philadelphia Dance Projects and she’s been instrumental in making me feel at home here.

Here’s my official welcome to PDP on Facebook –

This will be a quick update on my progress, but I’ll be back with more details about the dance community and history that I’m learning about and helping to preserve and share. In my time at PDP, I’m focusing on the Local Dance History Project, which is a collaborative, artist-driven archival project split into two main parts: setting up a collection at the Temple University Special Collections Research Center and launching an interactive website with a timeline and detailed artists pages. My first project was tackling the artist collections to create a master spreadsheet of all items and descriptive data for each piece. I’m contacting eleven of the main artists involved in this project to finalize the spreadsheet and tie all loose ends before sending along to Temple. I also attended a meeting with Terry and our contact person at Night Kitchen Interactive to discuss next steps for the website. This was really exciting for me because I’m able to apply some of my web usability skills from my graduate coursework to this project!

More to come!

Reflections on my time at the Pillow

While I am excited for my practicum in Philadelphia (in fact, I’m blogging from Philly right now!), I would be lying if I said I was ready to leave this magical place.  I have been completely immersed in dance from all angles – taking modern and ballet classes, viewing nightly performances, attending Q&As and Pillow Talks, and talking about dance with my roommates and friends at the Pillow. On top of all of this, I also contributed to a variety of projects in the Archives. This post will be a wrap-up of my fellowship at Jacob’s Pillow.

View from our deck at Ayrey House - I will miss daily dance chats with my roommates Maura and Nancy who are scholars in residence at Jacob's Pillow

View from our deck at Ayrey House – I will miss daily dance chats with my roommates Maura and Nancy who are scholars in residence at Jacob’s Pillow

A daily reminder of the rich history at the Pillow - Barton Mumaw weathervane on top of the Ted Shawn Theatre

A daily reminder of the rich history at the Pillow – Barton Mumaw weathervane on top of the Ted Shawn Theatre


For the first part of my fellowship, I focused on the open-source software Omeka that currently acts a public online catalog for the collection at the Pillow. Last year’s fellow, Elizabeth Hollenbeck, transferred the archival records in csv file format from Filemaker Pro into Omeka. One of the tasks Norton Owen, Director of Preservation, gave me was to come up with ways to improve and/or add more content to Omeka. First, I completed an assessment of the search functions and metadata. Then, I researched what other libraries or museums are doing with their Omeka sites, which also included researching plugins and scouring Omeka help forums for tips and tricks. This was my first time working with open source software, so I learned how valuable it is to reach out to the community. From the forums, I was able to make edits to the php code to improve search results and learn more about plugins. With the assistance from Gerry Kavanaugh (IT), the search results are now sorted alphabetically and include the Dublin Core date field. So simple, and yet so effective!

In addition to editing php codes and writing recommendations for metadata standards, I also designed some sample sections using the Simple Pages plugin which required some basic html and CSS skills. I created some sample landing pages that enable the user to browse by genre, collection and company name/dancer. Norton and I also brainstormed about creating “subject guides” on styles of dance represented at the Pillow. These guides are multi-page exhibits that include a timeline of the dance genre at the Pillow, photos, related resources in the collection, etc.

Collective Access

Multiple departments at the Pillow are working towards adding digital content to a shared Collective Access database. There are around 12,000 still images on the database, but the records only have a minimal amount of metadata. Before I left, Norton wanted me import images from the Marketing department into the database. In my final two weeks, I focused on media importing and batch editing of records. I created procedures for these processes so that the interns can start editing the metadata in the records and continue moving forward with this project. I’m really excited that I was able to gain some experience with another open-source program.

Dance collections…who uses them and why?

The most rewarding parts of this experience were learning from my colleagues and the artists that I watched each week. I lived and worked with two of the scholars-in-residence, Maura Keefe and Nancy Wozny, so I was able to see firsthand how dance scholars engage with dance materials in an archive or online collection. The scholars present pre-show talks before each show and also conduct a Q&A post-talk with the dancers, choreographers or production team after Thursday and Friday shows. Both Maura and Nancy gave me insight on how they research for these projects and provided me with feedback on the Omeka site. The prep work for these presentations, along with program notes and other talks throughout the festival, involves researching moving images, articles and past talks with artists. Our chats on Omeka and their research influenced my work, and php edits and plans for adding Library of Congress and local subject headings were made with these scholars in mind. The video team at Jacob’s Pillow documents EVERYTHING which is amazing, but it’s just as important to completely describe these materials otherwise the records are not going to be found during a search.

It was a joy to see students, interns, show-goers and artists come in to the archives to watch videos from past performances at Jacob’s Pillow. Blake’s Barn is a very active part of the Pillow community, and people light up when they walk into the Reading Room. This is a place of discovery and inspiration for all types of researchers from the scholarly level to general dance enthusiast.

I was especially inspired by choreographer/performer Reggie Wilson and his research process during the creation of his work “Moses(es).” Through program notes, pre-show talks and post-show talks, I learned that this piece was inspired by Zora Neale Hurston’s book Moses, Man of the Mountain. Wilson also traveled to Israel, Egypt, Turkey, and Mali to study the cultures and various relationships to the story of Moses. Wilson started with a thesis, exploring the ideas of leading and following. The music is a carefully curated selection including call and response, songs from Africa, gospel music and Louis Armstrong. Dance isn’t always easy to interpret, but there’s also no right or wrong answers when viewing dance. There doesn’t always have to be a clear narrative or one way to see the choreography. Still, providing context can often enhance the experience and give the audience more to consider during the performance. I’m drawn to the challenge of how to capture this information and make it accessible to researchers and I look forward to exploring this idea further. Here’s the post-show talk with dancers Raja Feather Kelly, Rhetta Aleona moderated by Maura Keefe:

This fellowship also stretched my thinking on how my degree in library and information science can be applied after graduation. Before learning about this fellowship, I had never considered the possibility of dance and libraries merging together. Now it’s all I think about! The possibilities for a librarian or archivist in dance are endless. I can’t wait to see what awaits me at my practicum at Philadelphia Dance Projects!

My First Week at “The Pillow”

I can’t believe I made the journey all the way from San Francisco to Becket, MA! I arrived last Monday on a beautiful, sunny day in the Berkshires.

The Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival kicks off this week with the Gala, and the staff and interns are busy preparing for the event. Here’s a video of this year’s line-up:

So where does a MLIS student fit in at a dance festival? There’s so much work to be done here at Blake’s Barn, which houses the archives and video department. Some recent milestones in preservation at the Pillow include:

  • Norton Owen, the Director of Preservation, and the team at the Pillow created the Dance Interactive site which showcases clips from performances over the years.
  • Last year’s fellow Elizabeth Hollenbeck started an online database using Omeka which acts as a searchable catalog of the collection. She and Norton also worked together to post an online exhibit, Lindquist/Lundqvist.

My goals for the next six weeks include refining the Omeka site, researching next steps for transferring digital images and records into a Collective Access database, providing recommendations for future digitization projects and online engagement. Right now, I’m working on a few different projects, mainly revolving around Omeka. For example, I’m updating some best practices guides Elizabeth wrote last year, editing metadata and testing out some new online exhibit ideas. I hope to improve the site’s browse-ability and add more content. Additionally, I’m researching Collective Access quite a bit to determine how the Archive can make the change to this new database. The interns are populating the database with images, and I hope to provide some more insight on metadata guidelines and curation ideas.

I feel so fortunate to be working in such a creative and inspiring atmosphere. I’m taking dance classes, meeting new people, exploring the Berkshires and working with an interesting collection of dance materials.

I have so much more to share, but for now, I want to share some amazing images from my first week at the Pillow.


Here’s the barn I call the “office”


I work upstairs in the hayloft!


Norton says that the whole campus is an archive – and he’s right! Here we are standing in the Sandra & David Bakalar Studio…on the original flooring! I’m standing on the same floor as Ted Shawn!


This is our “dining hall” – all staff eats together outside (or indoors when it’s raining…like today!)


Official plaque

Welcome to Chicago: Meeting the DHC cohort

My fellowship with the Dance Heritage Coalition (DHC) is now in full swing! I arrived in Chicago on Monday afternoon, and Tuesday was our first full day meeting as a cohort. This week was a whirlwind! There’s so much information to soak in, and my notebook is packed full of useful knowledge (hopefully I can decipher my handwriting…) that I’m going to take with me to my next project at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. We traveled all around the city including visiting the Newberry Library, Chicago Public Library and the Chicago Film Archives. Here are some detailed highlights from my amazing week in the windy city:


Entrance to Newberry Library in Chicago

Entrance to Newberry Library in Chicago

The Newberry Library served as a host site for two of our group meetings. Topics for the first day focused on financial information (beneficial to me as a current fellow, but also as a future archives or library consultant!), grant writing and research, and project management. I’m really excited to add to my archival skill set. My work experience is in an academic library (teaching, collection development, cataloging), so I’m looking forward to working with more specialized collections and AV formats this summer.

At the end of our first day, Alison Hinderliter gave us a tour of the space and talked about her work as Manuscripts and Archives Librarian. We learned how the Newberry library handles donations of materials, accessioning and processing collections – plus Alison showed us how and where the library keeps the amazing collection (it’s freezing in there, as you might imagine!). We also looked through some amazing collections and materials such as photographs from the Ann Barzel Dance Collection (finding aide here) and Anna Pavlova’s toe shoes!

Anna Pavlova's Toe Shoe - Notice the darning at the toe!

Anna Pavlova’s Toe Shoe – Notice the darning at the toe!

Ann Barzel Dance Collection

Ann Barzel Dance Collection – aisles and aisles of her donated material!


The best part of this week was discovering how I can help preserve and share dance collections. We had the pleasure of visiting two local dance companies: Natya Dance Theater and Jump Rhythm Dance Project. As a group, we chatted with the administrative staff, toured collections and learned about these unique Chicago based dance companies. I was especially interested in hearing from the artistic director at JRJP, Billy Siegenfeld. It was such an incredible opportunity to hear directly from him about his dance philosophy and teaching technique – so full of energy and passion! After this meeting, the cohort collaborated on a project that required us to assess the current state of the collections at JRJP and provide recommendations on how to increase access to archival material for company and public use.

Athenaeum Theatre opened in 1911 - this is where we met with the Jump Rhythm Jazz Project

Athenaeum Theatre first opened in 1911 – this is where we met with the Jump Rhythm Jazz Project


As an online MLIS student, I loved meeting with everyone in person! Online courses are great, but I really loved getting to know everyone and discover what amazing backgrounds and skills we bring to the cohort. It’s great to know that I have a support system and resources to turn to throughout the summer. Can’t wait to reconnect with the entire group again at the SAA conference in DC!

Thanks for a great week, Chicago!

Thanks for a great week, Chicago!