The Wolanski Foundation Project


Paper no 15









List of papers








Report by Paul Bentley on Museum Australia Performing Arts Special Interest Group Conference, Canberra, 23-24 April 2001

1 May 2001


Major projects

An international perspective

Research experiences

PASIG’s role and direction  

Appendix 1: Program  

Appendix 2: Participants


Information technology is forcing integration of diverse performing arts library and museum  interests. This was the strong impression from the latest gathering of Performing Arts Special Interest Group (PASIG), held in conjunction with Museum Australia’s conference in April 2001. Presentations on major online projects, overseas performing arts collections and research experiences highlighted the importance of initiative by individuals, the value of collaboration between cultural institutions and industry, and the need for an agenda.




For the first time in twenty five years, theatre, dance and music interests gathered under a performing arts umbrella as major areas for development. Since the Arts Information in Australia Conference, organized by the now defunct Museums Arts and Humanities Group (MAHG) in 1975, these interests have been developed as separate concerns of the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres (IAML), Arts Libraries Society Australian and New Zealand (ARLISANZ),  Performing Arts Special Interest Group of Museums Australia (PASIG) and  Australasian Sound Recording Association (ASRA) and particular cultural institutions. 


The prevailing wisdom in 1975 was that separate development of subject interests was preferable because of differences in histories, practices and professional cultures. The Internet and information technology have made this an outmoded piece of wisdom. The conference provided the opportunity for the project managers of three major projects to report on progress, compare notes and build relationships, thus illustrating the value of dovetailing conferences and other activities with kindred organisations. And it encouraged the need for further thinking on new organisational matrices involving industry, cultural institutions, professional associations.

  • AusStage is the brain child of Joh Hartog from the Drama Department of Flinders University in Australia. Flinders is the lead organisation for the project, involving eight universities, the Australasian Drama Studies Association, PASIG and an Australian Resource Council grant, . It’s elements are a web-enabled database of performing arts events in Australia from 1789 onwards, a directory (currently with 150 collecting organisations and organisations with collections), links to other databases and a performing arts gateway as part of the National Library of Australia’s subject gateway project.

  • Keep Dancing was initiated by Julie Dyson of Ausdance, a professional association representing the dance industry, who established partnerships with the National Library of Australia and the ScreenSound Australia to obtain a  four-year Australia Council grant of  $250,000. Under the management of Michelle Potter, the project has created an excellent directory of dance resources, primarily drawing on the holdings of the National Library and ScreenSound, promoted the importance of archival preservation to the dance industry and produced two commercial videos on companies which had a seminal influence on Australian dance in the 1940s and 1950s, the Colonel De Basil companies and Borovansky Ballet.

  • MusicAustralia owes its birth in large part to the energies of the Robyn Holmes, recently appointed Curator of Music at the National Library of Australia. With the National Library providing the technical infrastructure, MusicAustralia will be the portal interface for a number of elements involving the presentation of digitized  sound, images and text resources, a directory of services and information and interactive tools involving the music community. Related plans include digitization of the extensive sheet music collection and selective oral histories at the National Library, production of a book to illustrate Australian social history and an exhibition Between the Sheets.



Janine Barrand presented a talk on her Churchill Fellowship research, which looked at developments in performing arts collections in Europe, USA, and Japan. Janine’s primary objective was to gain an international perspective on issues like governance, community support, product mixes, commercial opportunities, staff development opportunities and exhibitions, particularly in relation to museums attached to arts centres. She visited the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts, Copenhagen Theatre Museum, Netherlands Theatre Institute, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Experience Music Project, Paris Museum of Music, San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum, and Harvard University Theatre Collection, among other institutions. The perfect set-up in Janine’s view: one that combines the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts, Netherlands Theatre Institute and  Experience Music Project.




Two entertaining talks underscored the importance of dialogue with people who use and supply material to curatorial institutions. 

  • Robyn Archer, festival director, actress, singer and guest curator with her own exhibition of choice pieces from the National Archives collection, applauded PASIG members for their work in acquiring and preserving cultural material and highlighted the importance of heritage materials as triggers for developing a richer cultural memory.

  • Corille Fraser, author of a book about Sarah Bernhardt’s 1891 Australia tour, Come to Dazzle (Currency Press/National Library of Australia, 1999), spoke about the frustration of locating material, the value of serendipity and the importance of cross domain searching, illustrated colourfully though an unexpected conversation with a marine biologist who led the author to evidence of Ms Bernhardt’s likely involvement in orgies - or at least the unrestrained consummation of her affections with an expatriate Frenchman - on Rodd Island in Sydney.   



PASIG is a group of 29 members within Museums Australia (very few of whom attend the regular PASIG conferences), a small number of representatives from cultural institutions (some of whom are not members of Museums Australia), other interested individuals and organisations. The conference, with 27 participants from a library, archival and museum sectors, reflected the cross sectoral nature of the group.


A possible long term agenda emerged from Janine Barrand’s research. Her recommendations covering national networking; a centre for research on the performing arts, collaborative relationships, documentation of the performing arts and funding, among other issues, will be published on the PASIG website ( in June 2001.  


As it develops a more adventurous agenda, it will be interesting to observe how it deals with a number of operational issues.



Use of business planning techniques, deeper research and sound decision making processes will extend group capability and effectiveness. Some associations and professional interest groups operate with borrowed objectives and plans that favour personal anecdote over industry facts. Strategies are sometimes based on superficial research, means are represented as ends and scant attention is given to financial questions. Conferences are often under-utilized as planning tools. At a time when association membership is declining, Mark Lyons in Third Sector: the Contribution of Nonprofit and Cooperative Enterprises in Australia (Allen & Unwin, 2001) underscores the importance of adopting business practices, acting in a concerted fashion, promoting to a wider audience and getting the right mix of local and global ideas and action.  



The relevance and value of the parent body may need to be re-examined in due course. Museum Australia has served PASIG well since the connection was formed nearly 10 years ago. However, the trend towards peak body mergers or umbrella relationships and the rise of the virtual organisation may lead to a re-examination of this affiliation. Current restructuring within the Australian Library and Information Association, for example,  is causing some groups to question their allegiance to the parent organisation, consider operating independently, and look at overseas parent bodies or mergers with kindred groups. Day, Mang, Richter and Roberts in The Innovative Organisation: Why New Ventures Need More Than a Room of Their Own (McKinsey Quarterly 2001 number 2) offer useful advice on the trick of creating the right balance between separation and integration. 



Relationships with kindred groups will need to be managed. In recent years, discussions with some kindred arts information groups on dovetailing interests have unveiled territorial fears and frustrations, partly caused by the limited capability of the voluntary commitment. PASIG is one group that has initiated simple forms of cross communication in conference programs. This has helped create a better understanding of related groups but has produced some repetition in programming. ASRA is still out of the picture. A new arts and humanities group, ARTHUR, has emerged within the Information Specialists Division of ALIA. The desirability of and prospects for global relationships have not been fully explored. 


It is a delicate game, requiring recognition of territorial interests, preservation of incentive but, above all, an eye on macro business needs. 


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