• Pictured: Images of the Dance Theatre of Harlem archive room before and after an archive project.
    Use the Artist's Legacy Toolkit to learn how to safely preserve your legacy!
    Photos by Judy Tyrus.

Your Legacy

Your legacy is important. As dancers, choreographers, and artists, we have a responsibility to document and preserve our art form for future generations. Even if you are at the beginning of your artistic career, the benefits of developing your archive include improving your organization's administrative efficiency, strengthening its self-knowledge, enhancing its public image, and contributing to scholarship and public education. The Artist's Legacy Toolkit will help you organize and preserve your materials in ways that are practical but neither time-intensive nor expensive. Click on one of the three links below according to where you are in your career to learn how to use the Toolkit and preserve your legacy.

Early-career dance artists and young companies
Mid-Career artists and companies
Seasoned artists and companies

Additional Resources

Artist's Legacy Toolkit

What Gets Archived?

Not everything in your files needs to become part of your archive. However, some items you may not want to keep could be fascinating and important to researchers.

What should I be looking for? Most of your files will fall into the content categories as shown in the tool below. If you are just now developing a system, these categories can help you separate your files. If you are later in your career, see if you can locate these types of records in your files. Are you missing any documentation?
View Legacy Tool - Types of Archival Materials

These materials may be in a variety of formats that require different storage situations. Use this tool to see what formats are in your collection and continue on to the Preserve section (above) to view how best to care for different formats.
View Legacy Tool - Archival Formats

Choose What YOU Want to Save

Ask yourself the following questions when deciding what is important for your archive:
(Note - a positive answer indicates the need to save the materials)

• Would loss of the item decrease understanding of your work, company, or organization?
• Could the item be of interest to a researcher or beneficial to future generations?
• Is the item unique, or does it help bring context to another item in your archive?
• Is the item in usable condition?
• Are these records that protect the legal rights of stakeholders in your organization?

How will you need to access your materials?


Your answer to this question will help you decide what method of organization is best. Regardless of your career level, a good records management system (how documents are organized within a filing system and how information about records is kept) can improve the efficiency of your business and your ability to archive your artistry. Many systems are organized chronologically, but you may want to organize by choreographic work, material format, content, event, etc. However you organize your files, programs, costumes, media, and other objects, remember that consistency is the key for future retrieval.

1. Designate storage areas for each of the main categories of your system. This could be labeled folders, drawers, boxes, and shelves.

2. Eliminate unneeded duplicate copies, saving a small number of older items and a larger, but limited, number of more current items that you might use for reporting or development purposes. DHC recommends saving 5 copies, however you might add more or less depending on the needs of your organization.

        How long should you keep materials? Our next tool provides some guidelines. Download Legacy Tool - Sample Retention Schedule.

3. Label media, artifacts, and paper materials using a consistent system. Label items as they are created – taking the time now will ensure items are identified fully. You may not remember where a photograph was taken, by whom, and who is in it ten years down the road.

        Toolkit Tips: How To Label?
        Download the digital material data sheet and the photo data sheet, for best practices in labeling audiovisual footage.

If you are further along in your career, examine what you have and your methods for collecting and saving materials. Are you missing information or is there a discernible pattern to gaps in your documentation? Determine what you need to locate or create. Identify possible sources for obtaining missing materials such as former company members, board members, friends, relatives, venues where you performed, and videographers who may have items that belong in your archive.

Take Inventory


An inventory not only helps you locate your materials, but it is vital when calculating insurance needs, transferring your files to another organization, or developing a disaster plan. We've provided a sample document that gives you the flexibility to develop an inventory only as detailed as you need. Think about how items are already labeled and how that information can be transferred to a spreadsheet. If you need assistance with your inventory, contact DHC!

Download Legacy Tool - Sample Inventory Template

Image at top right of Dance Theatre of Harlem archive project: Video materials separated with items with unique numbers on left and unnumbered items on right. Photo by Kat Bell.
Image at left of Dance Theatre of Harlem archive project: Unsorted materials in Lib-2 before organization. Photo by Kat Bell.

The Dos and Don'ts of Preserving

DO store materials in an environmentally controlled climate, a room where the temperature and humidity are stable (68° Fahrenheit and 30% humidity are the ideal numbers). Windows and outside walls affect your ability to control those factors, so if possible, store your items in an interior room. Lights can also damage materials, so keep items in darkened rooms, closets, boxes, or cabinets..

DO use steel file cabinets and shelving. Keep folders upright and don't overcrowd drawers. Beware of wood shelving – the gasses let off by wood may damage materials.

DO scan and print or copy old newspaper clippings. Newsprint is highly acidic and contributes to decay of any surrounding materials, so either discard the original newspaper or put in a separate folder.
DO use archival-quality storage such as acid-free envelopes, folders, and boxes and mylar sleeves, however, be aware these supplies are expensive. If your materials will be transferred to an archive, the archive may prefer to rehouse your items in their own storage materials. If you plan to hold on to fragile items for a long time, acid-free storage may be purchased to better store those items that are in danger of deteriorating.

DO create a plan to save your materials in case of a disaster. Read "Before Disaster Strikes Protect Your Heritage" by Patsy Gay, DHC's Project Associate. This post provides easy guidelines to prepare your organization, plus many resource links for more information.

DON'T eat, or drink, or smoke when working with or near records.

DON'T use staples, paperclips, or rubber bands on records. Temporary use is ok, and don't try to remove these items if the material is fragile or could easily get mixed up. Vinyl-coated paperclips are better to use to keep papers together.

DON'T use adhesives such as tape or glue. However, do not attempt to remove old tape or peel off glued-on items as doing so may leave behind a sticky residue.

DON'T fold or roll documents. If you have documents that have been folded or rolled for a long time, don't immediately unfold or unroll them. Consult preservation professionals for techniques on how to relax documents.

floppy disksDON'T digitize as your method of preservation. When's the last time you looked at the old computers and hard drives you have in storage? Do you know what's on them or the technology to look at the files? It's nearly impossible to retrieve corrupt digital files. Keep hard copies of your materials and consult the Digital Files tab for more information.

View Legacy Tool - Preservation Resources

Why Provide Access?


A well-organized records system has many benefits. Easy access to your materials can help when you are creating new work, restaging an older work, applying for grants, responding to requests from researchers, loaning items for exhibitions, transferring your archive to another organization, or selling your business. If you needed to pull your lease, 501(c) status, budgets, and resumes for all your employees for an audit or grant application, how long would it take you to find these materials?

Sharing Your Materials

Policies protect your materials when accessed by, borrowed by, or transferred to outside people and institutions. Segregate sensitive files, keeping files with information such as passport or social security numbers separate so that they can be removed before outside access is given to the materials. If you are lending materials for an exhibition, the borrowing institution may have policies in places that you will be asked to read and sign. See the guidelines below for more information on lending. If you are a seasoned artist ready to part with your materials, you will need to speak directly with the institution you wish to give your archive to.

DHC can help you find a repository interested in your materials through the Dance Collections Database (DCDb). You may also want to provide access to your videos through a secure database the DHC is developing through the Dance Preservation & Digitization Project. Check out the Resources page for other ways the DHC can help you preserve your archive.

Need further assistance? View the Society of American Archivists' Guide to Donating Your Organizational Records to a Repository

The following links contain examples of policies that you may encounter:
Shambhala Acquisition Policy
George Washington University Library Policy
Northwestern University Library Policy
UNLV Loan and Borrowing Policy

Lending Your Items for an Exhibition? Important Guidelines Below.

Lending institutions bear the dual responsibility of making their holdings as accessible as possible while setting conditions and methods for lending materials that minimize the risks to the materials. In balancing these responsibilities, lending institutions generally should give priority to the safeguarding and long-term preservation of the materials requested for loan. In determining whether materials should be loaned and for how long, lending institutions may also consider the needs of users who may expect to have ready access to materials locally.

Final authority regarding whether to lend the requested materials, to provide or allow reproductions, or to accept any specific loan arrangement or terms rests with the lending institution in keeping with its ultimate responsibility as the owner or legal custodian of the materials.

1. Review requests to borrow special collections materials with due regard for the access, security, and preservation needs of the requested materials.
       a. Lending institutions should have a conservator or other appropriately trained personnel evaluate the condition of the requested materials prior to making a commitment to lend them.
       b. Individuals who exercise direct curatorial responsibility for the requested materials should be involved in the approval process. In some cases, such as those involving materials with high financial and cultural value, higher levels of institutional authority may be required for final approval.

2. Ensure that the institution has proper ownership or authority to lend the requested materials.
       a. This is especially important in cases in which loaned materials are owned by a depositor or third party, or when materials will cross international borders and be subject to customs inspections.

3. Determine the measures needed to safeguard the materials throughout the loan process and term.
       a. Such measures may include conservation repair or stabilization, special packaging and shipment, insurance, specific environmental conditions, and special instructions for handling and display.
       b. The measures should be adequately described and documented in the written loan agreement.

4. Inform the borrowing institution in writing of any legal requirements or other restrictions and conditions concerning the use, display, reproduction, or citation of the loaned materials.

5. Respond to all loan requests in a timely and professional manner.

6. Offer to provide appropriate substitutes, such as reproductions or related materials, if the original materials cannot be lent.

Source: ACRL/RBMS Guidelines For Interlibrary And Exhibition Loan Of Special Collections Materials
Image of Dance Theatre of Harlem archive project: File cabinet drawer with labeled U-Matic and VHS tapes. Photo by Kat Bell.

Are You Excited About Archiving Your Work?

David Gordon archivers

You don't have to do this alone. Here are some resources that address big factors like money, time, space, and expertise. To assess what resources you already have and what you will need, consider who is going to do the tasks described in this toolkit, where the work will be done, where the records will be kept, when the work will occur, and how long the project may take. If you are working in an organization, start building support within your organization and among your board members for the investment of resources. Hold meetings to increase awareness of both the benefits of protecting your legacy and the resources required to do it. Have any of your peer organizations or artists embarked on their own archive project? They may be a good contact for advice.

• Can you work the cost to document and preserve a grant-supported work into the grant budget?
• Apply for a grant specific to archive projects. www.danceheritage.org/fundingsources.html
• Ask your funders or make room in your budget for funds to support projects to preserve your legacy – even a small amount can get the ball rolling.
• Seek out pro bono services. Taproot Foundation can help you connect to professionals with specialized skills.

• Know you will need to spend your own time to figure out how to save time.
• Think about what needs to be done, or something that might help the project. Is this something an intern could do? Remember, you don't have to do this alone. Local dance studios or library/archive programs may have students that are interested and qualified to work with your materials.

• Seek presenters who incorporate documentation into their programs (such as New York Live Arts in New York, Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts, American Dance Festival in North Carolina, the Brooklyn Academy of Music). Encourage other presenters to do more documentation. This will help you capture quality-video of your work in appropriate spaces, saving you both money and time.
• Contact a local television station, media center, or university dance (or video) program about free, bartered, or low-cost use of equipment, recording space, and expertise.

• Form a relationship with a local library, museum, or archive; national performing arts library; the archivist at your alma mater; an historical society; or an ethnic studies institute. The DHC's Dance Collection Database (DCDb) may help you find someone interested in your legacy (and helping you preserve it).
Connect with DHC; we are happy to answer your questions. We are also able to provide assessments, and though these generally do cost your organization money, it is our first step to helping all dance organizations with their archive needs.

Image of Pickup Performance Co(s) archive project: Fellow Patsy Gay, stage manager Ed Fitzgerald, and visiting fellow Kat Bell pose with a David Gordon cutout in the PUPCS archive/office room.

Copyright Law: Essential Points to Know

Copyright law is the protection of artistic expression. These expressions may be in the form of letters, photographs, videos, and choreography.

Copyright and Art-making

Who Owns the Copyright? Generally, the person who created the artistic expression is the owner of the copyright. For example, the painter owns the rights to the painting he created. The person who wrote the letter is the copyright owner, not the recipient of the letter. However, sometimes the person who created the work is not the rights holder because of a contract or employment situation. Please read employment contracts to make sure that you are not unintentionally transferring your rights to your employer.

What Does It Mean When You Own a Copyright? If you own the copyright to a work, no one else may use, reproduce, disseminate, or perform the work without your permission. This does not, however, prevent uses that fall under the Fair Use Doctrine, such as when others use your work for teaching, scholarship, research, and criticism. Like the teacher who copies a poem to distribute to his class and the movie critic who quotes the movie in her scathing review, the Fair Use Doctrine prevents copyright law from squelching our freedom of speech. For a helpful guide to fair use, check out the Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use of Dance-Related Materials.

If I Own the Physical Item, Do I Own Its Copyright? Please be aware that ownership of the physical item does not equal ownership of the copyright. For example, if you own a Degas painting, you do not also own the rights to make copies of the painting and sell them. Under the First Sale Doctrine, you are allowed to sell physical items on Ebay or donate them to museums; you would just not have any copyright ownership in the item to transfer (and so the new owner may not make copies and sell them either).

Copyright and Collection Transfer

What Happens to My Copyrights After I Die? Like property, copyright ownership passes to your heirs. It is best to have a will or some kind of document describing the disposition of your assets, including the explicit transfer of your intellectual property.

To Whom Should I Bequeath My Copyrights? If you have many potential heirs, please rethink bequeathing your copyright to be shared among many. If one heir attempts to donate your materials to an archive, the archive might require permission from all owners. Please also consider bequeathing your copyrights to an archival institution.

Copyright and Estate Planning

Why Would an Archive Want My Copyrights? To meet their mission, libraries and archives will generally request for you to transfer your copyright in the physical materials you are donating. Libraries are interested in having the ability to give unencumbered permission to researchers and scholars. By transferring ownership, the libraries can meet their mission to make historical records accessible to the public.

How Do I Transfer My Copyrights to an Archive? Generally you will sign a Deed of Gift. This Deed includes your name, the archive's name, a title and description of the materials donated, and a transfer of ownership. You will also need to consider what happens should the archive not exist anymore. Where should your materials be transferred?

How Do Contracts Affect My Ability to Transfer Copyright? A contract you have signed previously may prevent you from later transferring your copyright. Perhaps you have transferred your copyright to your employer and only retain a license to use your own work. However, limitations on your own usage of an item do not transfer to a library's usage of the work.

Suggested Copyright Resources

Clearance & Copyright: Everything You Need to Know for Film and Television by Michael C. Donaldson
Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put Balance Back in Copyright by Patricia Aufderheide

Born Digital

Born-digital materials originate from your computer, such as emails, documents, e-books, websites, forums, communities, wikis, social media sites, and even digital sound recordings. The Library of Congress has developed Personal Digital Archiving, a set of tools to help individuals preserve their digital materials. Click on the links below to learn more about how to identify your materials, select what to save, and organize and store your materials.
         Digital Photographs
         Digital Records

         Stay tuned for more information on how to save social media

Be aware if you store your digital files on external hardware like CDs, hard drives, or flash drives. These materials don't last forever as explained in How Long Will Your Digital Storage Media Last?

It's important to backup these items to an outside source, but how many backup copies should you have? At a minimum, you need 2 copies, in 2 places, in 2 different media types.

A safer plan is to keep 3 copies in 2 places and media types. Make sure to keep an inventory of the location of all the copies. Your organization's needs and resources will determine how much backup you have. For more information, visit the National Digital Stewardship Alliance's Levels of Preservation.

Archiving Your Website

The Library of Congress' Music Division has just announced a new initiative to collect and preserve websites about the performing arts. As more institutions see the need to archive websites, you may be able to find a repository to help save your website. Use the resources below to learn how you can archive your own website.

         Wondering why you should save your website? This article explains why and provides an overview on how to do it.
         Building Archivable Websites

         Here you'll find helpful guidelines on how to create your website in a format that is easily preserved.
         Designing Preservable Websites

         Think your website is ready for archiving? Take this test.
         Is Your Website Archive Ready?

Perhaps your website has been archived by Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. If not, make sure you check the guidelines and add your website to the Internet Archive through "Save Page Now" on the Wayback Machine's homepage.

Special thanks to Nicholas Taylor, Web Archiving Service Manager at Stanford University, for sharing these helpful resources!

Digital Reformatting

Digital Reformatting is the process of digitizing non-digital materials. However, digitizing is not preserving! To digitally preserve non-digital items, the material must be captured in uncompressed files during digitization. The creation of these lossless files ensures the quality will not decrease as the preservation file is reformatted and migrated to prevent obsolescence as technology changes.

Protect your preservation files. Create compressed access copies for use.

Uncompressed files are large. For example, 1 hour of lossless video is about 100 GB of data. Form partnerships to help maintain safe storage for your large digital files.

Planning to digitize your AV materials? Download our guide for AV Digitization Best Practices and the AV Metadata Template.