Prompted by Jessie de la Cruz
On Medium: “Could Archives Democratize Art History?,” by Kealey Boyd, in response to the Tilt West Roundtable: Art in Time: Permanence, Ephemerality, and Preservation.
Permanence, Ephemerality, and Preservation
By Jessie de la Cruz
The arts have always been and continue to be a great mediator, the lens through which we understand our collective humanity over time. However, if history is written by the victor, how much can we actually know about our history and, furthermore, our arts history?
As an arts archivist, I’ve been consumed by questions relating to preservation and permanence. How many artists and artworks have slipped through the cracks of our historical record? Who has documented thriving D.I.Y arts scenes, street art and public performances? What artworks, created in an ephemeral state, have been lost forever? And, more importantly, what voices and perspectives have been omitted from our arts history?
We exist in a born-digital culture—every second of every day, thousands of images, videos and documents are created and transmitted across digital platforms. The chances of an artist’s shoe-box of sketchbooks, diaries and correspondence being discovered into the future is miniscule. How will historians and scholars tell the story, interpret the past and research an artist if no paper trail exists?
Answering these questions is vital to understanding the potential of archives in contemporary art and local history. Artists’ archives are more than just piles of paper in a dark basement; they are the documents of human existence, providing a window into understanding the artist’s intent, process and sources of inspiration. Contemporary archiving is not a passive act; rather, it is a radical one, in which the people play an active role in who and what is archived and what is deemed “history.”
—Jessie de la Cruz, roundtable prompter
Ybarra‐Frausto, Tomás. “Imagining a More Expansive Narrative of American Art.” American Art 19, no. 3 (2005): 9-15. doi:10.1086/500227.
Held, John. “A Living Thing in Flight: Contributions and Liabilities of Collecting and Preparing Contemporary Avant-Garde Materials for an Archive.” Archives of American Art Journal 40, no. 3/4 (2000): 10-16.
Caswell, Michelle. “Seeing Yourself in History: Community Archives and the Fight Against Symbolic Annihilation.” The Public Historian 36, no. 4 (2014): 26-37. doi:10.1525/tph.2014.36.4.26.
Wigley, Mark. “Unleashing the Archive.” Future Anterior: Journal of Historic Preservation, History, Theory, and Criticism 2, no. 2 (2005): 10-15.
Lozano-Hemmer, Rafael. “Best practices for conservation of media art from an artist’s perspective.” GitHub.com, September 28, 2015.
Fino-Radin, Ben. “Digital Preservation in the Artist’s Studio.” Medium.com, October 29, 2015.
Moseley, Rachel and Helen Wheatley. “Is Archiving a Feminist Issue? Historical Research and the Past, Present, and Future of Television Studies.” Cinema Journal, Vol. 47, No. 3 (Spring, 2008), pp. 152-158.
Nesmith, Tom. “Seeing Archives: Postmodernism and the Changing Intellectual Place of Archives.” The American Archivist, Vol. 65, No. 1 (Spring – Summer, 2002), pp. 24-41.
About the Prompter
As the executive director and founder of ArtHyve, Jessie de la Cruz is an archivist and community arts organizer with more than a decade of experience. Through ArtHyve, de la Cruz aims to preserve and document the creative processes of living artists and cultural heritage in Metro Denver. De la Cruz has a myriad of skills pulling from her background and education in art history, exhibition design, and library and information science. As the archivist at the Clyfford Still Museum, she is the only full-time arts archivist in the state of Colorado.