Archiving for Artists: Tips and Resources

This fall Creative Capital is launching a new series of workshops on career documentation and archiving for artists, with a specific focus on Black artists. These workshops address the challenges artists face around preservation and legacy-making, particularly in the wake of larger systemic and historical erasures. In advance of this series, we interviewed our workshop leaders, legacy specialists Antonia Perez and Steven G. Fullwood, who shared some helpful advice.

Where to Start Archiving with Antonia Perez
After receiving training from the Joan Mitchell Foundation to become a Legacy Specialist, visual artist Antonia Perez has learned to archive her work cohesively and strategically. She shared some general advice about how artists can start incorporating archiving into their practice.

  • Before you start archiving your work, think about how a complete and ongoing inventory of your creative output can serve your practice now and in the future. Antonia advises that “Career documentation encompasses not just what an artist creates but also all related documentation, such as printed material, digital reviews, correspondence, etc. As an artist ages and their careers progress, these kinds of materials continue to accumulate. All that is of value must be archived in a system that makes such things easy to locate and retrieve. Artists need to be able to do that all the time for such things as grant applications, curatorial visits and so on.”
  • Start by taking note of where documentation of your work already exists—for example, museums or theater venues may have already documented it for their own promo. Or, a press outlet may have covered your work, photographed it in action, and written a review of it. This existing material can help inform how you can go about building your own archive, and where you need to fill in the gaps.
  • Set up time throughout the week or month to dedicate to this work. If you make physical work, create a consistent organization and authentication process, like signing and dating each piece. If you make more ephemeral work, like digital art or performance, start cataloguing the essentials about the work in a simple spreadsheet. Note items like the duration, the time you completed it, the materials involved, dimensions, and where it was shown. Photograph, record, and take videos of everything you create, and add the location of these photographs to your spreadsheet. It can also be helpful to explore how other artists have gone about archiving their work by checking out their websites, or visiting libraries, artist estate websites, gallery websites, and special collections. After you build up a process it will become second nature to your practice.

Antonia leads the first workshop of our Archiving Series on September 29, with an additional follow-up session specifically for visual artists on October 6. Sign up to take Antonia’s workshop here!

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Archiving for Black Art with Steven G. Fullwood
Archivist, writer, and editor Steven G. Fullwood leads our upcoming two-part workshop “Black Art is Eternal” specifically-designed for Black artists. “Sometimes when we’re researching artists of African descent, we only know them from their works. We don’t have their contracts, letters, or exhibition catalogues,” Steven reminds us, which is why archiving can be a radical practice.

More than just an overview about how and what to archive, Steven will work directly with participants to deal with the specific challenges Black artists face as they preserve and communicate their artistic practice. Artists will walk away with a personal plan to start building and sustaining their archive.

Artists in general, Steven cautions, often don’t even know what an archive does or how it can help them augment their artistic life. “Some of the more specific challenges for artists of African descent involve knowing what to do with their artistic legacies.” In the workshop, he will share insights and conversations with artists, curators and researchers who have done research into Black art, what archival resources were found, and what was missing. “When Black artists intentionally archive their personal and business records,” Steven emphasizes, “they secure their artistic, economic and political legacies.”

Steven’s two-part workshop, “Black Art is Eternal” runs on October 27 and November 10. Sign up to take Steven’s workshop here!

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Resources and Publications
We collected some links and resources that may be helpful for artists interested in building their archives. Have a suggestion about something to add to the list? Email: [email protected].

Artist’s Legacy Toolkit, compiled by Dance USA, provides guidelines and tips for preserving artists’ histories. Tools include templates for how to label and keep inventories can be adapted for use.

Artist Studio Archives has collected resources and worksheets on inventories and database, digital preservation and storage, digitization, legacy planning and rights usage, physical storage and more.

The Blackivists provide professional expertise on cultural heritage archiving and preservation practices to document historically under-documented communities.

Creating a Living Legacy (CALL) — a program by Joan Mitchell Foundation that provides support to visual artists in documenting their artworks and careers. CALL offers a comprehensive suite of resources to help artists create usable documentation of their artworks and careers, manage their inventory of artworks, and start the legacy and estate planning process. Their publications include a Career Documentation Guide, Estate Planning Workbooks, as well as a DIY Archive.

Creative Legacies: Artists Estates and Foundations provides a nuanced investigation of specific topics relevant to artists’ legacies. Unlike a “how-to” guide or an instruction manual, Creative Legacies illustrates that there is no singular or standard approach when working with artists; it highlights a spectrum of issues and considerations essential to understanding how a creative legacy is perceived and maintained economically, curatorially and critically.

National Museum of African American History and Culture, a division of the Smithsonian devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture.

The Nomadic Archivists Project is an initiative that partners with organizations, institutions, and individuals to establish, preserve, and enhance collections that explore the global Black experience. Their central objective is to archive local histories from a grassroots perspective.

Rhizome’s preservation program advocates for social memory for net art and networked cultures by ensuring ongoing access to digital artifacts in their care. Rhizome supports free and open source software tools that foster decentralized and vernacular archives, and builds partnerships and relationships with community groups and organizations who share their goals.

RB Kitaj Studio Project hosted this free webinar for artists and executors on the legal aspects of legacy planning.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is one of The New York Public Library’s renowned research libraries, a world-leading cultural institution devoted to the research, preservation, and exhibition of materials focused on African American, African Diaspora, and African experiences.

Studio Museum is a hub for artists of African descent for work that has been inspired and influenced by Black culture. Even though they don’t have an archive, Steven suggests checking out the Studio Museum, to help artists think about their archival process.

XFR Collective provides a growing list of informational materials, tutorials, as well as other useful resources on basic video preservation.

Check out our upcoming workshops on archiving, or sign up to receive our newsletter about future programs about archiving or other professional practice workshops.


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