Monday, 21 January 2013

Presentations on DIY archives - Rotterdam, 30 January-1 February 2013

Later his month I will be presenting a plenary paper at the "Popular Music Heritage, Cultural Memory and Cultural Identity" (POPID) conference being held in Rotterdam on 31 January-1 February. The paper, co-written with Alison Huber, comes out of the work we did for the Popular Music and Cultural Memory project and draws on our interviews and fieldwork at the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame in Tamworth, New South Wales. Prior to the conference, on 30 January, I will be participating in a round table discussion on "DIY Preservationism" at the Re/soundings Knowledge Exchange Event.

Here is the abstract for the conference paper:

Archiving affectively: Practicing DIY heritage in volunteer-run popular music archives and museums
Sarah Baker & Alison Huber (Griffith University)

This paper is based on one strand of research undertaken for a recently completed Australian Research Council funded project which investigated popular music and cultural memory (2010-12). During this international, comparative project we discovered a number of institutions (archives, museums) which had been started up by enthusiasts and continue to be run by volunteers who share a desire to preserve popular music artefacts and recordings. Places like the Museum Rock Art in Hoek van Holland (Netherlands), SRA Archiv-Osterreichischer Popularmusik in Vienna (Austria), and ARChive in New York City (USA) all established themselves in parallel to national programs of cultural preservation. They emerged from within communities of consumption, where groups of interested people have undertaken to ‘do-it-themselves’, creating places (physical and/or online) to store - and in some cases, display publicly - the material history of popular music culture. These institutions share similar goals to national institutions in regards to preservation, collection, accessibility and the national interest. However, they do so with limited financial support, relying primarily on volunteer labour, grant funding, memberships and donations to remain operational, and are often dealing with significant space constraints. 

In this paper, we draw specifically on fieldwork interviews and participant observation at one example from our larger study -- the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame and Archive (ACMHF) in Tamworth, a regional city in New South Wales, Australia, as a way of drawing out one aspect common to the different DIY institutions we have visited: that is, the function of these places as ‘affective institutions’. During some of our interviews with volunteers, we found that affect structurally underpinned how participants recounted their experiences of volunteer work; in other words, volunteers’ expression of feelings and emotions in relation to the items cared for and preserved in the archive was one of the ways that they explained their attraction to preservation work. Many also described considerable affection towards other members of the volunteer community that gave particular shape to their experiences. Despite the difficult material conditions under which a place like the ACMHF operates, it provides a fertile affective space where emotional connections between volunteers and objects emerge. The day-to-day work of the volunteers puts them in close spatial and temporal proximity to country music’s material past, a past to which they are, to varying degrees, intimately connected. In and around the project of cultural preservation and custodianship, we could identify less tangible elements of practice appear, related to both the strong sense of community and wellbeing fostered in these places, as well as to the important ways in which people feel in relation to things.

In a new project (funded from 2013-15) we want to investigate further the extent to which these DIY enterprises operate affectively as a means by which to assert control over and ownership of cultural history at a community level. Understanding how volunteers “archive affectively” will be a key consideration in thinking through why these places of preservation are so important to its volunteers, and why they see their roles as cultural custodians to be so crucial in safeguarding music’s past.