Manchester Performance Archive: Towards an Equitable Practice of Archiving and Accessing Performance
Written by Kate Dorney
The aim of the Manchester Digital Archive project is to make and hold space for work by performance artists of diverse heritage based in Greater Manchester. We want to create a digital collection for universities, schools and artists to use in their teaching, research and practice.
Creative Manchester and the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures have provided seed funding to researchers in the Drama Department to investigate how and what small-scale work is stored and made accessible for future study, who is represented and who isn’t and how we might do this more equitably in future.
Doing it equitably means representing a more diverse group of practitioners and practices, exploring how artists can be remunerated for making their work available digitally and including a wider group of people in the selection of material for the collection. We are also looking at how to make resources available to schools, colleges and groups who don’t necessarily have access to large subscription services.
To this end, the project team (Tania Camara, Kate Dorney, Rob Fellman and Simon Parry) are running a survey (available here) and workshops in June 2021 with artists, archivists, curators, teachers, lecturers, researchers and producers to find out about existing practices and to co-devise new and more equitable ways of engaging with performance through digital artefacts. Our initial focus is on small-scale work made by artists working in the Greater Manchester area and on performance works made between 2015-2021. This tight focus allows us to have in-depth discussions with artists and producers about how they want their work to be preserved, who they want to access it and with scholars and students about work they want to see more of. We chose this focus because this scale and type or work from artists of diverse heritage is missing from the resources schools and universities currently have access to. We believe this is contributing to the underrepresentation of artists of diverse heritage in the performance landscape and on performing arts courses. Equality activists often use the slogan ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ and we want the Manchester Performance Archive to contribute to changing the predominantly white landscape of performing arts in the UK.
We have been inspired by the work of numerous organisations including, in the UK, the National Theatre’s Black Plays Archive, the Black Cultural Archives, Eclipse Theatre and the work of Inc Arts, as well as by New York University’s Hemispheric Institute. Find out more about the project, or about attending the workshops, by contacting Kate (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Simon (email@example.com).
Project duration: March – June 2021
Project leads: Kate Dorney (Dept. of Drama, UoM), Simon Parry (Dept. of Art History and Cultural Practices, UoM)
Internal partners: AIURC, John Rylands University Library
Audiences involved: schools, universities, cultural organisations including theatres, arts development agencies and museums, libraries and archives and artists
Funding source: SALC and Creative Manchester Cultural Engagement Award