Wednesday, 30 January 2013

"Do-it-together" - a round table on DIY heritage practices

This afternoon I participated in a round table on “DIY Preservation” that was held as part of the ‘Re/soundings: Documenting music and memory’ event in Rotterdam. The round table was billed as a “knowledge exchange” and this turned out to be a very accurate description of what ensued.

Chaired by Arno van der Hoeven (Erasmus University), I was joined on the panel by Amanda Brandellero (University of Amsterdam) who talked about Museum RockArt in Hoek van Holland (a place I visited on my last visit to the Netherlands in 2011) and two DIYers: Bas de Koning, the founder of (an online magazine and encyclopedia for European pop and rock music), and Stan Rijven of the Ritmundo Foundation and who was a founding member of  the Pop Archief Nederland (which unfortunately lost its funding at the end of 2012, at which time the collection was deposited in the Beeld en Geluid). There were also contributions to the discussion from DIYers in the audience, namely Joop van den Bremen, the founder of Streektaalmuziek in Nederland, and Jez Collins, an activist archivist who runs the online Birmingham Music Archive.
The aim of the session was “to reflect on the meaning and implications of this DIY preservationism for the construction and preservation of popular music heritage” and so the panel addressed questions such as: “What is DIY preservationism? What is preserved? How does DIY preservationism relate to professional heritage institutions?”
In my opening address I described DIY heritage practice as “a way of life” and this resonated with the other panellists in regards to the level of personal commitment required of DIYers -- the time and money and, indeed, emotion involved --- and the support and patience of friends and family who watch (and, in some cases, pitch in themselves) their loved one labour under difficult circumstances --- lack of funding, space and enough volunteer hands to help in the preservation activities. It was agreed that DIY preservationism was a labour of love (something I will be talking about two days from now in a paper I will be presenting at the POPID conference).

There was some interesting discussion, too, around the term ‘DIY’. From the floor, Jez Collins made the point that while what we are talking about is DIY, these heritage practices are also fundamentally about “do-it-together”. More often than not, these are not solo projects of preservation but involve people working together to safeguard the material history of popular music cultures. As the work I’ve done with Alison Huber puts it, in these DIY institutions people “collect collectively”, and they often do so with the intention that those collections be housed in locations that are in close proximity to the people for whom the artefacts are (or are narrativised as being) most valued. This is, then, very much about “togetherness”. I’m currently in the process of exploring these ideas further in an article-in-progress about DIY institutions as communities of practice --- more on the blog about this at a later date...