Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Visit to the Nederlands Jazz Archief

Over the last two mornings I've been at the Muziekgebouw aan't IJ to visit the new office of the Nederlands Jazz Archief, a DIY institution founded in 1980. The NJA is still in the process of setting up their office following the closure of the Music Centre Netherlands at the end of 2012 (the NJA had been part of the MCN for the past 4-odd years). The cessation of the MCN has led to a separation of the people at the heart of the archive's activities from the archive's collection which will now be housed at the University of Amsterdam (where Ditmer Weertman will continue its curation). This is a very new situation and as Paul Gompe described it, the NJA is in something of a "twilight zone" as they start figuring out how the "new" enterprise will move forward.

In addition to speaking with Jan Brouwer and Paul Gompe, who are key figures in the envisioning of the NJA's new, publically oriented future, I also had the opportunity to meet Ditmer Weertman (the curator) and three long-term volunteers --- Egbert Tillema, Ben Zwanink and Bart de Neeve --- who continue to believe in the importance of the collection and are keen to start contributing again to the institution in the next few months (volunteer activities ceased in mid-2012 with the winding down of the MCN).

One thing all the interviewees stressed was the social atmosphere of the archive --- an atmosphere that is "jovial" and "jazzy". The volunteers painted a picture of robust discussion about politics and social affairs as well as lots of "lively chatter", all taking place around a long table. This is a similar story to that found in the other DIY archives I have visited and confirms the observations I made with Alison Huber that these places are partially formed around functions related to sociality. In our forthcoming article in European Journal of Cultural Studies we write that:
"Our observations in this area lead us to interpret these places as ‘social institutions’, where members of the workforce produce a collective identity around the enterprise of music preservation, but where individuals in that collective also find benefits and pleasures that are connected only by association to the tasks that are undertaken related to archiving and curation." (Baker & Huber, forthcoming)

The 'good feeling' produced in the Nederlands Jazz Archief enabled it to attract a wide range of volunteers, including some who aren't especially connected to the genre of music being collected. Desite the current uncertainty and state of change, I observed here a a real sense of vibrancy as the volunteers spoke about their work at the archive.

I hope to return to the NJA in a year or so from now to see how things have panned out. By then the collection will be well on its way to being integrated with the other items at the University and hopefully fundraising efforts are by then well underway so that the NJA Visitor Centre imagined by Jan and Paul, a Centre that will showcase some of the highlights of the collection, might become a reality.