Battersea Arts Centre is well known for ‘inventing the future of theatre’, but it is also engaging with the past by developing a comprehensive, accessible archive.
Battersea Arts Centre Digital Archive, launched in November 2013, unites two collections: the historical collection dating from when the building was a Town Hall (1893-1974), and the theatre archive of Battersea Arts Centre (1974-present). The unified physical archive, stored at Wandsworth Heritage Centre, is a great resource for researchers and provides opportunities for local communities to learn more about their heritage.
Heritage activities are taking place at Battersea Arts Centre, including heritage-themed tours of the building. The Waiting Room at Battersea Arts Centre houses exhibitions based on the archive and a ‘theatre jukebox’ that plays audio stories. For the 2013 heritage season to mark the building’s 120th anniversary, the producers worked with four artists and theatre companies who developed shows based on their research in the collections.
Battersea Arts Centre’s Capital Project, in partnership with Haworth Tompkins, aims to create a 21st century theatre in a 19th century Town Hall. Battersea’s former Town Hall is Grade II* listed by English Heritage and has been Battersea Arts Centre’s home for over 30 years. The three year Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) award will enable Battersea Arts Centre to celebrate the building and the organisation’s rich heritage, making it accessible to thousands more people every year. The development of the archive project is part of the capital project.
Battersea Arts Centre is working in collaboration with Wandsworth Heritage Service, which houses the two physical collections (the historical archive and the theatre archive). Battersea Arts Centre borrows materials from Wandsworth Heritage Service for curated exhibitions.
The digital archive amalgamates the two previously separate catalogues and is a single, online access point for content drawn from both collections. It will also act as a repository for future, digital Battersea Arts Centre materials, and for user-generated content from the community.
£70,000 was allocated for the Archive project from the overall HLF budget.
Challenges and opportunities
- integrating the project within the organisation’s core activities, as the organisation’s main activities are focused on the theatre
- lack of staff and restricted budget: the whole project is run by the digital collections manager who has been employed on a two-days-a-week basis
Responding to the challenges and opportunities
- engaging a lot of volunteers in the project by offering archive volunteer placements (one person every three months) and engaging people from the U3A. The volunteers helped with the box listing and re-boxing of the collections
- giving the archive a public face with the exhibitions in the foyer helped to engage and inspire Battersea Arts Centre staff
For the month of April 2014 there were 3,752 users of the digital archive and 2,955 page views.
What went well?
Great feedback from other theatres. They loved the digital archive, its flexibility, the visualisation of the collections and the crowdsourcing functionality.
What didn’t go quite as well?
Applying a collections policy within the organisation, engaging the community to contribute online user generated content. It’s always a challenge to engage people to contribute online personal memorabilia for public use.
Developing the work in the future
Securing funding for the sustainability of the project.
Find out more about the project.