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  • The Urgency of Archives
  • Kathryn Harvey

In issue 150 of CTR devoted to Manifestos, I wrote “CANADA NEEDS AN ASSOCIATION OF CANADIAN PERFORMING ARTS ARCHIVISTS AND CURATORS that would bring together all those working in theatre, dance, and music archives and museums. It should offer a venue to discuss the challenges specific to our collecting area. It should be dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Canada’s rich performing arts culture. And finally, it should encourage us all to REMEMBER OUR THEATRICAL PAST at the same time we CELEBRATE OUR VIBRANT DRAMATIC PRESENT.” This holds as true today as it did in Spring 2012, before the severe cutbacks to Library and Archives Canada and other Canadian memory institutions had been announced, cuts that have trickled down to affect the 800 or so archives across the country as well as all the provincial and territorial archives councils.

The elimination of the highly efficiently administered and beneficial National Archival Development (NADP) program—a mere $1.7 million per year from Library and Archives Canada’s budget, the only federal money invested specifically in the national archival community—struck a serious blow to archives. I am not overstating the fact that our heritage is at risk, if not maliciously (though that point is debatable) then at least from neglect, a fault not of the archivists but of bureaucratic decisions resulting in chronic underfunding.1 As I stated in my “Eulogy for Archival Funding in Canada” on 28 May 2012 in Ottawa: “Through the efforts and professionalism of archivists and the existence of archives across the country all made stronger by the NADP’s presence, we can as a nation not only know and be proud of our heritage (when warranted), but also be brought to account for our folly and mean-spiritedness when necessary.” The archivists and the rest of the citizenry—all of whom have a stake in our history—must respond by ensuring that our diverse cultures are not swept under a rug and forgotten.

The articles in this volume attest to the real and metaphorical hold of “the archive” on our culture. With their focus on theatre and dance, the articles cover a wide array of topics. The first three articles demonstrate the variety of scholarly research projects archives can support. Jessica Riley’s nuanced exploration of Urjo Kareda’s dramaturgical approach draws on Kareda’s own papers held by Library and Archives Canada as well as the Judith Thompson fonds at the University of Guelph. C. E. McGee’s research focuses not on what archives reveal about an individual theatre artist but on the product of various artistic conceptions, for his is a sociological investigation of what the Juliet costumes from five Stratford Festival productions convey about cultural attitudes toward beauty. And Dwayne Brenna tells of lessons learned during the process of archival research in the University of Saskatchewan’s Twenty-fifth Street Theatre archives in preparation for writing his history of that theatre.

Traditionally archives have expected researchers to visit them; however, increasingly over the past decade or so, archives have been paying greater attention to publicity and outreach activities. One manifestation of this trend is the curation of exhibits of archival collections within museum settings; another is the use of the Internet to curate digital collections. Ashley Williamson’s article asks the question, “Are archivists the best curators of their own collections?” In her answer, drawing on museum exhibits presented by both the Stratford Festival and the National Ballet of Canada, she suggests that the jobs of archivist and curator are divergent in that the former takes a holistic view of collections in [End Page 5] a larger context and the latter pulls out specific items from collections to tell a story. Regardless of who stages the exhibits such outreach efforts do expose wider audiences to “archives.”

Moving from the museum to the online environment, Natalia Esling suggests that digital curation and archiving offer greater opportunity for researchers to interact with history, but even more importantly, the online environment gives creators the means to serve as “archivists” of their own collections. She offers the Grassroots Archiving Strategy of Dance Canada Danse and the online Canadian Integrated...


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