Friday, 20 November 2015

Crumbling investments and the death of the archive: reflections on sustainability

At the "Death and Life" workshop that was held at University of Technology, Sydney today, a paper presented by Maryanne Dever included a very memorable line relevant to thinking about sustainability of archives generally, but which resonated with my presentation on the challenge of sustaining community music archives in the long-term. Dever said, the nature of investments in the archive are "destined to crumble but at least for the present endure".

I'm currently co-authoring an article with Jez Collins from which my presentation at the Death and Life workshop drew inspiration. In the article we examine the challenge of sustainability for at risk archives. Our purpose is not to suggest that DIY institutions at risk of closure should necessarily be rescued from oblivion, though there are clearly implications when community archives close. Some community archivists may understand these to be organisations that have a limited lifespan, but for many other community archives, particularly those that have been long-running initiatives, these are not always perceived as being time-limited ventures or at least were never intended to be short-term (see the work of Andrew Flinn in this regard). What Maryanne Dever's words point to is the precarity of this kind of heritage work. To consider the 'crumbling' of community archives is important in that the 'death' of a community archive places in jeopardy the 'organic relationship between a community and its archives'; a relationship which Anne Gilliland and Andrew Flinn argue to be 'central to community well-being' due to such archives being an important mechanism for supporting the construction as well as the complexification and problematization of community identity' (2013, pp. 17-18).