Web Archiving and Preserving the Performing Arts in the Digital Age

The following is a guest post from Gavin Frome, an intern for the Web Archiving Team at the Library of Congress.

Philadelphia Orchestra at American premiere of Mahler's 8th Symphony (1916). Source: <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Philadelphia_Orchestra_at_American_premiere_of_Mahler%27s_8th_Symphony_%281916%29.jpg">Wikimedia Commons</a>

Philadelphia Orchestra at American premiere of Mahler’s 8th Symphony (1916). Source: Wikimedia Commons

Performing artists are by necessity a traveling people. They journey far and wide in the pursuit of their respective crafts, working, learning and weaving a fabric of loose cultural connections that help bind people together. In the digital age, the role and nature of a professional performing artist has been transformed by advances in recording and distribution technologies, which have enabled a wider population of amateurs to assemble audiences and affect the artistic landscape.

In recent years the internet has increasingly become the space where performers and enthusiasts alike go to build communities and present their work or ideas.  The upshot of this development is that creative materials have never been more accessible, allowing unprecedented levels of artistic exchange and influence. Yet for the massive amount of original content being produced, very little of it is being preserved. Like so much other material on the web, performing arts sites are at risk of vanishing in the event that the party responsible for their maintenance is no longer interested or capable of seeing to their upkeep.

Portrait of Martha Graham and Bertram Ross, faces touching, in Visionary recital, June 27 1961.. Source: <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Martha_Graham_Bertram_Ross_1961.jpg">Wikimedia Commons</a>

Portrait of Martha Graham and Bertram Ross, faces touching, in Visionary recital, June 27 1961. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Library of Congress’ Music Division, with the help of the Web Archiving Team is currently engaged in a project to preserve performing arts web sites – primarily those relating in some manner to American dance, theater or music – so that the original content they exhibit will be accessible for future generations. Sites containing articles, blogs, videos, pictures, essays, discussions, interviews or any other variety of material that cannot be found elsewhere online or in the print world are collected regularly, with more being added each week.

These include not only websites of artists, but also those of musicologists, scholars, critics, fans and organizations which support their work. The archived collections aren’t available yet, but among the sites that we have received permission to crawl are broadwayworld.com, musicalcriticism.com, and americanbluesscene.com, which attract both professionals and enthusiasts with their distinct content.

Given the enormous number of sites that contain some type of original product, the Performing Arts Web Archive has a strong quality-over-quantity focus when determining which new sites to add, the goal being to create a collection that may serve as a representation for the larger population of existent sites. Granted, this selection process is fairly subjective; however, the intention is not to exclude worthy sites, but to provide the best possible resources for future researchers. If a site is rich in original content that seems significant and it has not yet been added to the collection, odds are it will be eventually – provided that the site owners grant permission, which is a requirement for all sites in the collection.

I began working on this project only a few months ago during my internship with the Web Archiving Team, but over that time I’ve become quite attached to it. As a cultural historian and lover of art in all its media, I recognize the significant power art holds in shaping one’s cultural and personal identity. To be a part of ensuring the survival of my generation’s creative output is an honor and gives me hope that the brilliant artistry I have witnessed on the internet will not be lost with the passing of memory.

One Comment

  1. Greg Bem
    July 10, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    I recently chatted with a gallery owner in Portland, Maine, about the preservation of the gallery’s performances and temporal (installation) exhibits. I’m wondering if galleries and small museums could be considered for this project, since so much that can be preserved is not in those venues/spaces.

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