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.
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?
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.