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UNC Librarian Will Lead Grant To Ensure Future of Artists’ Archives in North Carolina

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L to R: UNC grant recipients Carol Magee, JJ Bauer, Richard Marciano, and Heather Gendron will launch a project to provide training in the management of artists’ archives.

A grant of $491,908 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) will help a team of UNC researchers prepare future librarians and archivists to identify, organize, and care for the complex records of visual artists in North Carolina.

The three-year grant is called “Learning from Artists’ Archives: Preparing Next Generation Art Information Professionals through Partnerships with North Carolina’s Artists’ Archives.” It will support a comprehensive training program for six fellows enrolled in the dual master’s degree offered by UNC’s School of Information and Library Science (SILS) and the Art Department’s art history program.

The grant will also fund two free training events on personal archiving for up to 50 North Carolina artists, to take place at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh and the Mint Museum in Charlotte. The grant program will culminate in a major symposium about collecting and preserving artists’ archives in the South.

The principal investigator will be Heather Gendron, head of UNC’s Sloane Art Library and adjunct professor at SILS. Co-investigators for the collaborative effort are Carol Magee, associate professor and director of graduate studies for art history in the Art Department, College of Arts and Sciences; JJ Bauer, visual resources curator and lecturer, Art Department; and Richard Marciano, professor, SILS.

At the heart of the grant will be six practice-intensive fellowships—two beginning in fall 2014, and the remaining four starting a year later. In addition to coursework at UNC, each fellow will complete two internships. One will expose participants to the current state of best practice by placing them at a museum, library, or archive that manages the records of artists. The other will be with a North Carolina artist and will provide first-hand experience with the legacy needs of artists.

Artists’ archives present unusual challenges for long-term preservation, said Gendron. In addition to paper documents and computer files, they may contain actual works of art, as well as materials, that blur the line between art and archive, such as illustrated letters, sketchbooks, photographs and video, even brushes and paint.

“These archives are either misunderstood or can be difficult to manage, which means few libraries and even fewer museums actively seek them out,” said Gendron. “They tend to fall through the cracks.”

That neglect is a significant loss for researchers, according to Magee. “Artists’ archives are vital to the work of art historians,” she said. “These archives are often the only places that students and researchers can find primary source material about a particular artist or other related documents critical to broader historical projects.”

“This training program stands to be unique in offering interdisciplinary, project-based scholarship opportunities and rich, immersive experiences,” said Marciano. “The combination of art history, information science, and practical fellowships will be critical in training the next generation of art information professionals for work in many settings.”

Potential fellowship candidates or artists who would like to participate should contact Heather Gendron at hgendron@email.unc.edu or (919) 962-2397.

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