Background

The Rambert Archive was established in 1982 to collect material from around the world with support from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the Pilgrim Trust and the Radcliffe Trust. In 2007 a part-time professional archivist post was created to manage the archive, accessions, and to provide access for researchers and staff.

Lack of suitable storage space for collections, including VHS tapes of performance, and research facilities were inhibiting collection and access to the material. Lack of resources restricted the development of outreach and learning activities.

When the Rambert company considered moving its entire operation, including dancers, the artistic team and archives to a new base, this provided the opportunity to develop the archive through an ambitious project to:

  • create new bespoke facilities for the archive with the guidance of the Rambert Archive
  • undertake a major cataloguing project of the material
  • create a new Learning and Participation strand combining dance with heritage learning

Funding

The project took place over a two year period from spring 2012 to spring 2014 and attracted external funding to build a new bespoke archive, catalogue the collection and support learning and participation activities.  A £360,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund funded the learning projects and cataloguing and digitisation of material. It also contributed to the development of the new facilities which received funding from ICAP, an investment company, the Nureyev Foundation and the Foyle Foundation too.

The Heritage Lottery Fund grant funded two project archivist posts to catalogue the majority of the collections, to conserve the moth damaged costumes and to digitise the VHS tapes.

Working in partnership

Working in partnership was key to delivering the learning and participation strand of the project and the Rambert Archive worked with the London College of Fashion, Lambeth City Learning Centre, Southwark Council, Albany Theatre and Coin Street Community Builders.

Outcomes

  • Opening up the collection through major cataloguing  projects means the archive material is more accessible to researchers both from within Rambert company and externally.  The archive is now consulted by the marketing team, chief executive, artistic director, development and technical teams and dancers. For example Rambert have used archive material to restage historical works, using archive costumes, technical files, audio recordings and images
  • The new reading room has considerably improved access to the collections, with space for up to 12 researchers, and facilities to watch digitised footage of performances. With its display cases to exhibit the archives, the reading room has now become a focal point for development and marketing events
  • Learning programmes have attracted participants from a wide range of ages from 11 to 80 years old. These participants have used the collection to learn about dance history and create dances based on the archives
  • The new accommodation allowed for the development of bespoke archive store designed to meet PD5454, a standard for record repositories  
  • The archivist post has been increased from two and a half days a week to four and a half days a week. The project has embedded the service within the company to the extent that the archivist is now seen as an essential.

What went well and what didn't go quite as well?

  • digitisation of the video material proved complex and therefore took longer than originally expected
  • building delays made planning the archive move more difficult and therefore impacted on the availability of the archive to the company and researchers, and the learning activities
  • archive learning is new to Rambert and it was a challenge to manage the logistics of planning projects and workshops that use both dance and archive collections

Developing this work in the future

  • digitising other moving image formats, and developing a digital preservation workflow to look after the digital files, and other born-digital items from the company
  • developing a system for accessing the footage from desktop computers to make it easier for dancers and staff to use the footage, while keeping the files themselves safe from accidental deletion or editing
  • targeted fundraising to cover the cost of the archivist role
  • improving collection information, including planning research to release the revenue potential of the collections

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