R. Sumi Matsumoto

MSLIS Portfolio, Class of 2021

Artists’ Archives: A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Keeping Records Close to Their Creators Versus Housed by an Institution

Artist archives are maintained by an array of organizations throughout their lifecycle. The many different types of objects in an artist’s collection makes it more difficult to ensure proper care of all objects without professional oversight. While under an artist’s care, a collection is able to grow and be easily accessed by an artist’s collaborators. Unfortunately, objects are often lost or damaged due to negligent care while under the ownership of the artist. Repositories can offer better care and increase public access. However by donating their collection, an artist indicates their creative death. Finding a compromise between these two options is the best way to balance a working archive with proper collection care.

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I chose to write about artists' archives based on my previous experience with performing artist archives and a 1987 New York Times article about the “crisis” within the field of dance archives. Unlike traditional manuscript collections which can be created and kept by the owner without much additional cost or effort, performing artists must take a more proactive—and costly—approach to archiving their work. Arts organizations also tend to have less funding to dedicate to archive projects and maintenance than business institutions. However, an artist's archive is deeply personal; in addition to factors like cost, care, and access, the location of an archive can affect the creative process. The location of an artist's archive typically mirrors the artist's creative journey. Legacy planning, scholarly access, and preservation of materials should be considered as an artist builds and houses their collection.

For this paper, I read a wide variety of articles from dance-related publications, like Dance Magazine, as well as repository-focused documents, like ones published by the Library of Congress. My research also involved looking at case studies, like the Cunningham Dance Foundation Legacy Plan, for precedent on an artist’s collection moving from organizational care to a repository.