by Paul Bentley on Museum Australia Performing Arts Special Interest Group Conference, Canberra, 23-24 April 2001
role and direction
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
entertaining talks underscored the importance of dialogue with people who use
and supply material to curatorial institutions.
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.
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.
ROLE AND DIRECTION
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
is a delicate game, requiring recognition of territorial interests,
preservation of incentive but, above all, an eye on macro business needs.