SIS alumna recounts summer volunteer work at Music Hall
Mary Claire Krzewinski is a 2016 SIS graduate, with a focus in preserving graphical works and producing digital libraries. She currently works at Cengage as Director, Web Marketing.
2018 marks Wayne State University’s sesquicentennial and with it the Warrior 150 Challenge, which has its purpose to “engage and activate Warriors in meaningful community service across the metro Detroit area.”
In early May 2018 I attended a meeting led by Kim Schroeder, Lecturer and Career Advisor, that kicked off a summer of volunteer opportunities for hands-on work supporting the preservation of local cultural heritage. From a wide range of projects, I chose to help Detroit’s Music Hall with a project to organize and classify historical materials. This volunteer service supported my interest in preserving graphical artwork, especially by organizing it in digital libraries. I was also interested in learning more about the Music Hall.
The project kicked off with a meeting at the Music Hall with the team of Kim Schroeder (advisor), Vince Paul (Music Hall President and Artistic Director), Julie Gervais (Director of Capacity Building), Catherine Nicolia (SIS student) and me, an SIS graduate. We learned that Music Hall staff wished to clear out a storage area that contained posters and other artifacts. We focused our volunteer efforts on organizing posters and providing descriptive metadata. As part of this project, we drew on our SIS expertise to guide the Music Hall team in areas such as materials handling and descriptive metadata. The Music Hall team was responsible for photographing the posters.
The Music Hall’s goal in undertaking the project was pegged to the unveiling of its first-time ever archive exhibition, scheduled to take place on the Music Hall’s 90th anniversary on December 9. This would be done by positioning the posters in Music Hall common areas using Meural Canvas, a digital display canvas built to showcase artwork and photography, which allows the rotation of multiple images.
We started by creating a framework for collecting descriptive metadata and loading it to Google Drive. Since we would be working asynchronously, it was important to reference an up-to-date list of the processed posters. A document for recording progress was also created.
We then began removing materials from two storage spaces to large tables set up in the fifth-floor entry way in the Music Hall. Over the years, posters and other materials had been deposited in the storage rooms without an organization system. They were piled in, on and around flat file drawers, and many others had been rolled up and held together in upright boxes and grouped in corners. With so much material, it was difficult to even access parts of the rooms. Catherine and I spent our June and July Saturdays moving and documenting posters at the rate of about 50 per session.
As the summer progressed, it became clear that more resources were needed to clear out the many items in the storage, especially the oversize posters, which required two people to maneuver and stack. The Music Hall team organized an “all hands-on deck” effort to bring all material out of the rooms and relocate large items of furniture in order to clear space. The momentum continued with the Music Hall team photographing the posters and loading the digital files to an internal drive.
The posters became a window into the Music Hall’s rich history of variety programming, spanning many cultures and genres. These ranged from dance (“Dance Theatre of Harlem”), comedy (“Dame Edna”), music (“National Arab Orchestra”) and theater (“The Extraordinary Black Light Theatre of Prague”). Most of the posters found during this exercise date from the 1970s to present. One unearthed treasure was a poster for a 1974 performance of “Victor Borge with Marlyn Mulvey” signed by Victor Borge.
We encountered challenges and considerations, which included:
- Prioritizing the assets. While posters were the primary focus, other materials surfaced: Playbills, press clippings, architectural renderings of the building, flyers, wayfinding signage, audio tapes, costume items. The non-poster materials are an opportunity for further classification.
- Approach to classification. The initial idea was to arrange posters by decade. This was rethought to arrange the posters by genre, then date within genre.
- Attribution metadata. Many posters lack the year and other key information which required additional research. In addition to the Music Hall team’s subject matter expertise, online resources were helpful to cross checking dates of performances. Filling in these metadata gaps is an opportunity for further exploration.
- Physical condition of items. Many items were in good condition—unbent, free of adhesives and not faded. Some were damaged by the effects of adhesive tape glue spreading to other documents and binding them together.
On our last day in late August, Kim Schroeder provided an on-site inspection and made recommendations for improvements to the physical space. While the rooms appeared dry, exposed pipes on the ceiling presented a risk, and she recommended these be covered with plastic, in the event of leaks. She also shared some options for archival software when the Music Hall team is ready to take the project to the next level.
Conclusion. This project began work toward documenting the Music Hall’s historical materials. Much work remains, and volunteers are needed to support this and other efforts to preserve local cultural history in ways which will make them available to the community. For information on continuing preservation efforts at the Music Hall, contact Kim Schroeder at email@example.com.