How Is The Dance Heritage Coalition Preserving Digital Media?

Given the proliferation of digital media, most arts organizations can be forgiven for focusing on short-term concerns—creating and maintaining a web site, building a social and mobile presence, etc. But the Dance Heritage Coalition (DHC) is thinking long term.

The coalition is a national alliance of institutions holding significant collections of materials documenting the history of dance. Its mission is to "preserve, make accessible, enhance and augment the materials that document the artistic accomplishments in dance of the past, present, and future."

It's a tremendously important mission that's getting increasingly difficult to execute, given the depth and breadth of dance-related digital media out there. And so the DHC frames this challenge by asking two profound questions:

  • Where will scholars of the future learn about the dance of our time? 
  • How will potential audiences be engaged by and educated about the art form?

Fortunately, they have an answer. It's called "Culture Conversations," a prototype for linking born-digital media and related arts writing, and better yet, it has an ally in the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which recently contributed $35,000 to the project through its Prototype Fund.

Knight has doled out more than $700,000 through the fund, with a focus on storytelling, data, and community building. The DHC's project is one of 20 that received $35,000. Prototype Fund winners effectively address "community-based problems focused on increasing access to information, building tools for reporters, and improving participation in elections."

DHC's project, meanwhile, will create a fully searchable subject-specific online site that will present dance writing and link it to streaming videos of related dance works. By linking direct documentation of performances with context and critical viewpoints, DHC will help save the lively conversations that surround and support the creation of dance and other arts.

What's intriguing about DHC's efforts is that it addresses a ubiquitous problem—the seemingly unlimited amount of information online that can be difficult to find and/or organize. Additionally, simply replace "dance" with "theater" or "jazz" and you'll quickly see their approach can be adopted by other arts organizations looking to come to grips with information overload.

Knight is currently accepting applications for the next round of Prototype Fund grants, with a deadline of May 15.

For a full list of Prototype Fund winners, click here.