Friday, 4 January 2013

What is a DIY institution?

As part of the research undertaken for the project 'Popular Music and Cultural Memory' (DP1092910, 2010-12), I visited a number or popular music archives and museums which encapsulated the spirit of DIY (do-it-yourself). Working with my colleague, Dr Alison Huber, we came to call these places 'DIY institutions' which we define as follows:

DIY institutions are places of popular music preservation, archiving and display that exist outside the bounds of ‘official’ or ‘national’ projects of collection and heritage management. These projects emerge instead from within communities of music consumption, where groups of interested people have, to some degree, undertaken to ‘do-it-themselves’, creating places (physical and/or online) to store -- and, in some cases, display publicly -- the material history of music culture. In these places, people (largely volunteers) who are not expert in tasks associated with archiving, records management, preservation, or other elements involved in cultural heritage management, learn skills along the way as they work to collect, preserve and make public artefacts related to popular music culture. These places are, we argue, suggestive of broader desires from within communities of popular music consumption to preserve popular music heritage. (Baker & Huber, forthcoming)

Our published findings from that project are currently forthcoming (see the 'Project Library' at the bottom of the blog for details). This research, out of which the current project has developed, involved visits to six DIY institutions and interviews with 28 DIY practitioners. The archives/museums involved in the project were:
  • Australian Country Music Hall of Fame (ACMHF), an archive and museum located in Tamworth, a regional city of New South Wales, which claims status as Australia’s ‘Country Music Capital’;
  • Victorian Jazz Archive (VJA) in the outer-Melbourne suburb of Wantirna, Australia, an archival facility housed in a refitted mechanics’ shed including three shipping containers that hold the collection, and a volunteer workforce numbering close to sixty;
  • TónlistarsafnÍslands, a music history museum in Kopavogur, a town outside Reykjavik in Iceland, which, since opening in 2009, has held special exhibitions focusing on everything from Iceland’s punk scene and rock, blues and jazz guitars to classical composers;
  • The ARChive of Contemporary Music located in New York City, USA, which houses an enormous collection of recordings from all genres, as well as a small collection of books and ephemera, and boasts famous patrons such as David Bowie and Keith Richards;
  • Museum RockArt on the outskirts of the small coastal town of Hoek van Holland, the Netherlands, which, in addition to collecting objects related to Dutch music, also focuses on international artists who have influenced the Dutch scene;
  • Archiv Osterreichischer Popularmusik (SRA), an archive founded in 1993 and housed in MuseumsQuartier of Vienna, Austria, which aims to collect all forms of Austrian popular music under the tagline, ‘if it's not in here it did not exist’.
I hope to make return visits to all of these DIY institutions as part of this new project, as well as visiting other archives and museums elsewhere in the world.