AAHC Forum: Digital Preservation of Jazz Film Creates a Unique Internship Experience

This post is a part of the AAHC Forum. In the coming months we will invite current and past grantees to contribute their project experiences via blog posts on our UpNext Blog and then ask you to respond through the AAHC Virtual Forum. We hope you will add your voice and share your needs and opinions so that AAHC can continue to help African American museums thrive. Please visit the AAHC forum to continue the conversation.

By Gregory A. Carroll
Chief Executive Officer, American Jazz Museum

While watching the 85th Annual Academy Awards last month, I was again reminded of the powerful connection between film and music. The American Jazz Museum exhibits one of these connections in its John Baker Jazz Film Collection exhibition. Originally amassed by John Baker, an Ohio attorney, the collection contains over 700 hours and 1.5 million linear feet of film dating from 1927 through the early 1970s. The films provide new insights into the evolution of jazz, film, and American culture.

After expanding our permanent exhibition to include highlights from the film collection in 2009, we continued to place a high priority on digitization and preservation of the films. In 2010, we received funding through the IMLS African American History and Culture program to begin a robust internship program.

jbfc - large projection screen corner wall view (web)

The John H. Baker Jazz Film Collection exhibition showcases the films in a small theater with four view kiosks. Visitors can choose from four volumes of film: Duke Ellington, Women in Jazz Films, African American Dance in Early Films, and Big Bands.

The museum hired Zachary Hoskins, a 2009 Master’s graduate in Media Arts from the University of Arizona, in Spring 2010 and Ryan Harrigan, a film studies student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, in Summer 2011. Both fellows remained employed in the program until August 2012. As young professionals, Hoskins and Harrigan gained valuable experience with film preservation and research through work completed during the internship.

With the help of the film fellows, we accomplished the following:

  • Inventoried all films in the collection
  • Moved all films into proper preservation storage materials
  • Cataloged all digitized films
  • Created a priority list for digitization and preservation of films
  • Generated brochures to highlight films in the exhibition
  • Selected films for two new volumes of content in the permanent exhibition
  • Integrated films from the collection into temporary exhibitions in our Changing Gallery

These efforts have opened new opportunities for partnerships with other museums. On February 15, the David C. Driskell Center opened the exhibition Convergence: Jazz, Films, and the Visual Arts. This exhibition features several films from the John Baker collection and highlights from the visual arts collections of both museums. After its run in College Park, MD, the exhibition will open in Kansas City on December 7.

We learned several valuable lessons during the project. Two in particular stand out:

  1. Digital preservation is expensive and time consuming. We found that inventorying, repackaging, and cataloging the collection took a lot of time. We addressed this by prioritizing our needs. Currently, 100 percent of the collection is inventoried and repackaged. Now we have the basic information and security of mind that the collection will remain in good and stable condition as we continue cataloging efforts.
  2. We realized very quickly that qualified candidates for internships would be more limited than we originally expected. We had hoped to have a larger team of interns working on the collection but found our need to have a candidate interested in film history and jazz history limited the number of interested and qualified applicants.

Ultimately, we extended the project timetable to allow extra time for the interns to complete the project objectives. How has your organization been able to build a passion for your collecting area while nurturing qualified candidates for digital preservation projects?

Gregory A. Carroll is the Chief Executive Officer of the American Jazz Museum. Carroll is a celebrated jazz vibraphonist, percussionist, and pianist. He is a passionate and consummate music teacher, clinician, educator, and advocate. He has served as director of education for the International Association for Jazz Education for ten years and remains active as an education consultant globally, including work with LRS Media and the “Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis” TV series.

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