Paper Digital Humanities Australasia 2018

A Distributed Database of Performing Arts Archives (55)

Andrew Fuhrmann 1 , Rachel Fensham 1
  1. University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC, Australia

The dispersed nature of performing arts archives – where material related to a single performance may be spread across multiple institutions, with varying levels of discoverability and accessibility – impacts the ability of researchers to explore new and creative connections between assets for research. Many cultural heritage organisations have digital and non-digital assets related to the performing arts and many performing arts groups are concerned about the preservation of their legacy. There should, of course, be a concerted effort to fully document and digitise more of these collections; but digitisation by itself is not sufficient. Researchers do not only need more and bigger digital archives: they also need stronger links between existing digital archives. This paper examines two projects developed through the Digital Studio at the University of Melbourne that have extended the capacity of AusStage – a performing arts database developed by a consortium of universities, government agencies, and industry organisations – to function as a linked index connecting digitised performing arts-related archives. First, the Theatre and Dance Platform, a repository for digitised assets from public collecting organisations (such as the University of Melbourne Archives and the Art Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Museum) and private archives of individuals and independent companies (such as the Melbourne-based contemporary dance company Lucy Guerin Inc). And, second, the Visualising Venues project, a collaboration with Digital Heritage Australia that aims to map the development of major production venues across Melbourne over a fifty-year period. Through these two projects, the Digital Studio is working to make a significant volume of new digital content available online; and it is also working to curate connections between databases, researchers and arts organisations, each of which may have their own hierarchies of relevant or meaningful information (data). We will briefly introduce some of the richness and complexity of this work and also reference the archive of the Pina Bausch Foundation, which uses a linked data paradigm as a principle of archive design, as a key influence. Both our projects prioritise interoperability with the AusStage platform and other databases, forming a larger performing arts research assemblage, a dynamic constellation of archives and databases capable of revealing multiple narrative associations between assets. For example, by reading across multiple archives, material related to the Union Theatre at the University of Melbourne can unfold either as the story of the development of the Melbourne Theatre Company, one of Australia’s largest performing arts organisations, or as a record of experimentation ranging from modernist theatre to avant-garde productions, comedy revues and early forms of indigenous theatre; it can be used in the emplotment of the careers of major figures in Australian arts and entertainment or it can be used to reveal minoritarian narratives that are fragmented, suppressed and partially erased.