Last week, Chicago audiovisual preservation organization Media Burn Archives was recommended for a $15,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts “Art Works” program.
According to the NEA’s website, Art Works is a “principal arts program” that supports engagement, education, and integration of the arts “into the fabric of community life.”
Media Burn achieves many of these artistic goals while preserving vital sources of history along the way. Since its founding in 2003, the nonprofit has collected more than 8,000 pieces of traditional media, of which some 3,000 or so have been converted into digital formats and can be viewed for free.
“The NEA is interesting in that they do support archiving,” says Media Burn Executive Director Sara Chapman, who helped prepare the nonprofit’s grant application. “They find value in the process.”
With the funding, Media Burn intends to hire two artists-in-residence to help fulfill its newly created “Artist Engaged Archiving Program.”
The Artist Engaged Archiving Program will immerse two individuals in Media Burn’s standard archiving process. Besides supplying footage for digital conversion, the artists will provide specific details — names, places, context, etc. — of the work. The program’s compensation includes a stipend and travel funding to/from Chicago.
Normally, the Media Burn staff supplies this information along with a shot-by-shot description that occasionally requires a degree of investigative research.
“There are often people and places on screen that we aren’t able to identify,” says Chapman. “The artists can provide that information.”
With direct access to the content creators, Chapman believes that the program will help create “a layer of richness that can help people understand the work better.”
“We really want to utilize the artists’ knowledge and expertise to help us describe the material as well as digitize it,” she continues. “The artists who create the work are experts in their own work.”
Media Burn’s other current projects include a program with the Documentary Program at Skidmore College.
Although Media Burn plans to contact a few specific candidates for the Artists Engage Archiving Program, the organization is enthusiastic to review work by artists who may not be on the short list.
According to Chapman, anyone interested in the opportunity should be equipped with “a body of work that is significant or cool or interesting that hasn’t been preserved, that’s still on videotape.”
For anyone interested in the archiving process, Media Burn will be co-hosting a “Media Archiving Workshop” with the Studs Terkel Radio Archive and the Chicago Film Archives at the Museum of Broadcast Communications, 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 21.