Archives Images, Credit Kirsten Millar, Photos supplied by Mull Museum (1)



Why are archives important for creative and cultural growth?

Archives are often thought of as storage spaces for disused documents, relegated to the damp basements of public libraries, occasionally used by someone researching their family tree. A place of cultural gatekeeping where select histories are revered and preserved. But this is a very limited vision of the archival space. The organisation, production, curation and archiving of cultural knowledge is a shared responsibility.

So how are archives relevant? What can they offer?

-Archives can be a way for people to engage with the past to better understand the cultural and historical context of spaces, places and heritage; a way to strengthen our knowledge and understanding, enabling us to apply critical thinking and observation to our current social and cultural climate. 

-Archives can be a space in which to reclaim history through finding hidden and diverse narratives, along with adding new cultural documents into the archive not previously included, such as The Black Cultural Archive

-Archives can be an ‘arena’ in which communities can take a lead and reimagine how they will document their past and their present lived experiences to better understand and respond to the future, such as Collective Coasts

For the CHARTS network, archives are massively important. Many members understand them as an integral part of their work. Our heritage members may use physical and digital archives as a way to engage the public with collection and work towards the preservation of knowledge in the local area. For artists and makers, archives might take the shape of a personal archive, through documenting their processes, work and past projects through the use of photography, videos and written documentation. 



How our place makers used and engaged with archives

During the Microcluster Networks, our three place makers - Dunoon Goes Pop, Eco Creative Cluster and SO:AR - explored different ways of interacting and engaging with archives and archiving. 

Eco Creative Cluster are working on building an archive from the soil up. Their Place Makers project involved reclaiming disused space at The Rockfield Centre to create a community dye garden. Eco Creative Cluster have now begun work on establishing and creating a public and artistic archive for their newly created dye garden and are also working towards making a plant dyeing archive. 

SO:AR closely documented their Place Makers project resulting in an excellent model for how others can archive and capture their own creative practices. They did this by not only documenting the outcome of specific projects but by creating rich storytelling documentation through recording the whole artistic process. Their work and artistic process has now become a resource to be shared in dialogue with island artists, communities across Scotland and beyond.

Dunoon Goes Pop directly sought to create new value from archives and stories of place-based heritage, but did face issues with access during their Place Makers project. Due to a lack of funding, a dependency on volunteers and pandemic restrictions, archives in remote regions like Argyll and Bute can be rendered inaccessible. By developing strong digitised archives and finding ways for more people to engage and see the relevance of archives, we can work to bring our wealth of heritage to life.

Video links to our place-makers insights and discussion can be viewed in our Place Makers webinar series.

What is the value of archiving for creative and cultural growth?

Argyll and Bute benefits from a wealth of cultural assets and yet some aspects of these are fragile parts of our communities and economies. At CHARTS, we aim for deeper collaboration in order for archives to thrive as part of working life in the region, as recommended in our Place Makers reportBy preserving and investing in our archives, we can encourage new ways of engaging with knowledge, stories and details of our past, and appreciate these spaces as exciting and accessible living cultural assets. Through encouraging and supporting a culture that uses archives and heritage to celebrate life and work in the region, we can introduce new narratives, perspectives and people into the archival and heritage space, generating sustainable networks for CHARTS members. 

One of our aims in Heritage Horizons, which helps young people gain skills working with heritage organisations and projects, is to encourage new generations to use and be involved in heritage interpretation and archival processes. In this way, we can help to build a better understanding of local heritage and culture to support insightful creative discussions and practices. 

Personal forms of archiving, such as documenting process and evaluation, are not only good practice but also of great value for creative and cultural growth in the region. This is especially true when it comes to gaining funding, linking with other creatives/organisations, or helping to fuel interdisciplinary exchange. Individually, having a grasp on archives and archiving allows you to better understand where your practice sits in relation to other works being produced.  Methods of archiving, such as the storing and labelling of materials or archive curation, can also help you to see how your practice functions and works. Your way of archiving work may differ if you are enquiry driven or enterprise-driven. Enquiry-driven members may focus on documenting their physical making process, final outcomes and written explorations into a subject, to acknowledge their role in the production of knowledge, such as a site-specific artist. Whereas enterprise-driven members may focus more on creating accessible portfolios with high-quality photos and clear narratives of past client projects designed to be accessed by future clients, such as the case with a graphic designer. The value of understanding archiving at a personal/professional level enables creatives to build strong self-curated archives, such as online portfolios, text documentation of work or methods of making. This personal documentation can be utilised and shared with others to enhance their creative practice and increase knowledge exchange in Argyll and the Isles. This is something CHARTS now encourages through the member directory, by offering a more effective space for valuable stories, resources and cultural assets to reside. Yet, it will likely be by building stronger collaborations, services and collective approaches to archives that skills and resource gaps will more sustainably be bridged for the region. 

Developing CHARTS archive will enable improved documentation of projects and greater strength in making strategic funding bids such as developing digital archives, storytelling through videography or collaborative showcasing. Aiming for multiple member benefits and enhanced capacity for regional promotion, we look forward to greater collaboration with members over the coming months to explore how this might best happen.

Photo supplied by Mull Museum with the kind permission of Anne MacLean, Tobermory

Photo supplied by Mull Museum


Additional reading on archives: 

Art 360 Foundation 

What are Archives? | Animating the Archives

Art Basel: Curator Talk | Archives and the Digital Dark Age

Tate: Perspectives: Negotiating the Archive

The National Archives: Digitisation

Digital Scottish archives:

Demarco Archive 

Canmore: Historic Environment Scotland digital archives

Creative Commons

Resources for helping to document your practice: 

Learning resources such as photo editing can be accessed through Linkedin Learning   

Look at what places expect from you as a creative? Have you recorded this information ie do you have good quality evidence of previous works: Measuring these against organisations commissioning Guidelines.  

Understand how others archive their work to enhance your documentation skills. 

Understanding writing is an important way to document your work. 

Examples of practices with good archives: