University of Bristol: Grant will help preserve theatre and live art records at risk of being lost due to pandemic

A project to save valuable theatre and live art records from being lost during the pandemic, has received funding from The National Archives.

The grant of £25,179 will allow the University of Bristol Theatre Collection to identify collections under threat across the spectrum of British performance practice – from companies, individuals, and backstage professionals – so that they can be safely stored and recorded.

The performing arts sector is under immense pressure due to coronavirus, and important archives are in jeopardy of being overlooked. The Theatre Collection is seeking to identify theatre and live art items that could be at risk, and ensure they are preserved in collaboration with the wider sector. Digital as well as analogue material in immediate danger will be saved.

The Theatre Collection also plans to raise awareness of the value of performance archives among record-holders, developing an ongoing response to the situation, and sharing its findings with curators and practitioners.

The Theatre Collection, an accredited museum and an Arts Council Designated Collection, is one of the world’s leading collections relating to the history of British theatre and live art. It documents life on and offstage and contains archives of actors, designers, photographers, playwrights and theatre companies.

Karla Pollman, Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Bristol said, “We are grateful to The National Archives for awarding a grant to the University of Bristol Theatre Collection in response to this urgent situation; the project has the potential to make a material contribution to the history of theatre and live art in Britain which might otherwise disappear.”

The Covid-19 Archives Fund, which was allocated £500,000 from HM Treasury, will allow archives to secure physical and born-digital records that are at risk of being dispersed or lost. This government support comes at a time when many organisations are struggling to deal with issues related to their collections which have arisen as a result of the pandemic.

A total of 25 archives from across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have each received up to £50,000 from the fund.

Jeff James, Historical Manuscripts Commissioner and Chief Executive and Keeper, The National Archives said: ‘We cannot underestimate the importance of this funding and the support it gives to the successful archives. Records which were under threat will now be saved and preserved allowing future generations to research and learn from them. This is a very practical demonstration of our support to the wider archive sector.’

The fund was open to both recognised collecting institutions and other archival custodians and will help them safeguard their vital records or re-home other vulnerable collections. The government grants will offset some of the practical costs of the planned interventions, such as storage, conservation, transport and expertise.

Further information
The Theatre Collection was founded in 1951 to support the establishment of Drama as an academic discipline in the UK and has grown to become one of the world’s leading collections relating to the history of British theatre and live art. The Theatre Collection comprises over 140 named collections and archives, including actors and collectors Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson.

It also holds artworks, audio visual material, costumes, designs, set models, playbills and programmes of this most ephemeral of art forms. The collections are particularly strong from the late 18th century onwards and document the onstage and offstage life of theatre. It provides a unique insight into theatre and live art, their creative processes and broader cultural contexts. The Theatre Collection’s holistic approach to collecting across archives and objects, and the interconnectedness between the collections, make it an outstanding research resource.

Last year it was awarded Designated status by Arts Council England in recognition of its national significance.

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