Preparations/Context

Building an online prototype takes considerable resources and we would like to be transparent about the conditions that have allowed us to advance our project thus far. First, we have been able to obtain grant funding from the NEH, which not only helps pay for the work, but also validates the project in a way that makes it easier for us to connect with other scholars and institutions. Dancing Digital and No Boundaries are also led by tenured faculty members at two large public universities. Both of these conditions together create a much more highly-resourced situation than that of most artists, organizations, or collection-holders. That having been said, we are still in need of significant additional funding to both complete the No Boundaries archive and to demonstrate the potential of its replicable digital framework – one goal of which, ironically, is to lower the threshold costs for this type of project. 

Our NEH budget is roughly allocated as follows: 40% for our software developer, 40% for key personnel (project directors, graduate student assistants, technical specialists), and 20% in indirect costs (overhead) that flows back to the recipient universities. 

Our academic affiliations have helped us in the following substantial ways: 

  • Gesel’s appointment in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Texas at Austin has connected her with the Harry Ransom Center (HRC), which will serve as the archive of record for No Boundaries. The HRC will preserve and hold the physical items, such as costumes and programs, as well as the original images and recordings in Digital, MiniDV, VHS, and DVD formats. They will also hold archival-quality digitized copies of the images and recordings.
    • This is a tremendous benefit! An independent artist, organization, or collection holder would need to secure space to store their materials. Depending on the extent and condition of the materials, they might also need to hire someone with archival preservation expertise.
    • The HRC also has an extensive digital collections platform. We are building a separate No Boundaries digital archive in addition to what is available via the HRC because we are interested in exploring features, search vocabulary, and an aesthetic specific to dance and to Gesel’s vision for her collection.     
  • We are in conversation with both The College of Fine Arts at UT Austin and the Alabama Digital Humanities Center to determine the digital home of the No Boundaries online archive. During this building process, the prototype archive lives on the servers of our software developers, Whirl-I-Gig. 
  • Rebecca’s academic appointment at the University of Alabama has allowed us to work with the Alabama Digital Humanities Center (ADHC), which hosts this progress blog as well as participating in its design and maintenance.  
  • Both Gesel and Rebecca have been able to tap into their universities’ talent pools to connect with graduate research assistants Carlson Coogler and Molly Roy, who continue to be significant and essential contributors to the project. 

The expertise contributed by colleagues at our home institutions, in particular Dr. Eric Colleary, Cline Curator of Theatre and Performing Arts at the HRC, Dr. Rachel Winston, Black Diaspora Archivist at the University of Texas Libraries, and Dr. Anne Ladyem McDivitt, Digital Humanities Librarian for the University of Alabama Libraries, is another invaluable benefit of our faculty status. And, while our reliable full-time academic positions sometimes present their own obstacles, they also provide us with living wages – a condition that cannot be supported within our limited grant budget.  

As part of the first phase of Dancing Digital, we assembled a list of ingredients/conditions that we understood to be necessary when planning for a sustainable online resource. Now, in the implementation phase of our project, we are attempting to assemble these ingredients and to satisfy these conditions. Below is the list with comments explaining what this reality is looking like during the process of building a No Boundaries online prototype archive. 

People: 

  1. Scholarly/educational staff dedicated to developing and updating content in conversation with the resource’s users and stakeholders. 
    • Our current NEH funding, a 2-year grant, compensates our research staff to develop content for the No Boundaries working prototype. We are in the process of seeking longer-term funding.  
  1. Software developers to build both the front end (user interface) and back end (server, application, and databases). 
    • Again, our current NEH funding allows us to work with a software developer to build a working prototype for what the finished online archive should look like. Longer term funding to finish the archive is not yet secured.  
  1. Information technology staff to maintain, update, and migrate all of these components to prevent digital obsolescence. 
    • While we are not yet at this stage, we anticipate working with staff in the College of Fine Arts at UT Austin and at the Alabama Digital Humanities Center at the University of Alabama on these maintenance and migration tasks. 

Other resources: 

  1. Physical servers on which to house the resource.
    • As stated earlier, we are in conversation with both UT and UA about this question.
  1. Regular backup systems (to restore data to how it was at a certain point in time).
    • This will be provided by whichever institution provides server space.  
  1. A plan to archive the resource (a snapshot of the digital framework and data).
    • The Internet Archive, the Library of Congress, and a variety of collections and museums regularly archive web resources.  We plan for the HRC and the Library of Congress to archive our online resource once built.