Theater Aan Zee archive management
On its 20th anniversary in 2016, Theater Aan Zee (TAZ - Theatre By The Sea) decided to celebrate its archive and collection management by creating a festive edition. This included making the archive accessible internally, with a selection made available to the general public to celebrate the festivities. It also offered young artists and successful candidates support to manage their archives. The general public could delve into TAZ’s rich history with an exhibition and special archive website.
TAZ started in 1997 as a small festival based in Ostend. Twenty years later, the 10-day theatre and music festival had grown so big – into one of the biggest performing arts festivals in Belgium and the Netherlands – that it was bursting at the seams. In 2016 it had even become so big that it was hard to imagine how it had all come about in the first place. Only the permanent staff who had been involved from the very beginning were still able to identify all the festival’s links from the past… which of course wasn’t very sustainable.
To ensure a sustainable flow of knowledge, TAZ therefore decided to manage, research and open up its own archive. Making a selection of the archive accessible would also give current and future employees a quick insight into the festival’s evolution.
The two key elements of the TAZ Archive project were support and access. What role does TAZ have in supporting artists who are just starting out? And how do they make their unique content available to the general public?
Our role within TRACKS includes helping arts organisations with their archive and collection management, for example by working as a partner on projects such as TAZ Archive, which also allows us to share our expertise and build new knowledge.
The main contribution to this project provided by PACKED, now part of meemoo, was to make TAZ’s history accessible on the specially built archive website (link in Dutch). It also made selected mixed media items available through this website to ensure each edition of the festival has its own identity. You can visit it to find newspaper cuttings, facts and figures, daily newspapers, poster images, festival brochures, photographic content and more. As a first useful step, an inventory of the many treasures available in the archives was drawn up.
The TAZ Archive project was comprised of two phases. The initial phase aimed to take a close look at the archive and collection management, and make preparations to open up a selection of the archive content. The second phase dealt with the actual valorisation and providing access to this selection.
Phase 1: archive management
Making the archive accessible for the internal organisation
To ensure good internal knowledge transfer, TAZ Archive decided to make a selection of its archive accessible and refine the document structuring for current and future employees. Its ever-lengthening history made it difficult to make all the knowledge about the festival available to (new) employees, however, because it was scattered – often haphazardly – across various documents and in employees’ heads. Making the archive accessible gave employees quick insights into:
the evolution of the festival;
the various artists that TAZ has supported in the past;
the impact that the festival has;
the values and norms that the organisation promotes;
specific knowledge about the organisation at a business, artistic, production and technical level.
Preserving and providing access to young artists’ project documentation
TAZ has been supporting young artists with intensive aftercare since 2008. The festival stores high-resolution photos, video recordings of performances, professional audio recordings for new musicians, jury reports, reviews and more – helping young theatre makers to take the next steps in their career following their stint at TAZ.
In 2015, this documentation was used primarily as promotional material, but TAZ thought this was a shame. It wanted to encourage young artists to work proactively on documenting their work and use their materials as a basis to set up an archive. Artists who are just starting out often don’t have the means to do this themselves, which is why TAZ suggested storing all the materials for them, and making them accessible on their behalf, as a provisional solution.
The young artists’ materials were not stored in optimal conditions in this archive at the time, however, and so were susceptible to becoming damaged, which has resulted in TAZ working to prevent any damage ever since. TAZ has also pointed the young artists in the direction of expert partners in the world of heritage, such as PACKED (now meemoo), Het Firmament (now CEMPER) and the TRACKS toolbox. Finally, TAZ checked the information in the database of the VTi Institute for the Performing Arts in Flanders (now Kunstenpunt - Flanders Arts Institute), and informed VTi of any shows or artists that were missing so they could be added. Bij doing so the first steps of these young talents were permanently safeguarded.
Preserving and providing access to TAZ project and winning candidate documentation
Every year, TAZ invests in several artistic projects, with the winning candidates receiving a budget to create new shows with supervision and monitoring from TAZ. It also always invests in new projects by key guests that the festival has great confidence in.
TAZ wanted to store and digitise the archive materials originating from this work, so the festival has provided access to a selection which it highlights on the archive website. TAZ also wanted to speak with the former winning candidates in this project, to see what they’re doing with their archived materials now, and support them in their activities if necessary.
Phase 2: making the archive publicly accessible
Twenty years is quite a long time, and TAZ would have missed an opportunity if it didn’t involve the general public in this special anniversary edition, which is why it set up an artistic workgroup to focus on the question: what parts of the archive should it make accessible in this special anniversary year?
The following then happened in the interests of involving the public:
TAZ’s history was made available on the TAZ archive website (link in Dutch). You can read reports and view images from each edition here.
An exhibition was set up to explain all aspects of TAZ.
TAZ documented the festival experience. After all, it is a genuinely experiential festival – every visitor, artist and worker has their own unique memory of it, which is why TAZ provided the option to share these memories on the website. A new memory wall is set up every year.