As you can see from my archives selfie, the Ruth Page Papers and the Ruth Page Foundation records in their nice new boxes have been transferred to their climate controlled home in 3A Row 42. Intrepid Newberry archivist Alison Hinderliter and I managed to move all 50 boxes and assorted items to the stacks in between rain showers today with minimum damage to ourselves and the four elevators we had to navigate between the basement of the Ruth Page Center and the Newberry stacks. This project has been a wonderful learning experience in appraising multiple types of records: personal, business, and creative works, and I’m pretty geeked to see these boxes on the Newberry shelves.
Of the two collections the materials from the Ruth Page Papers were a bit easier to appraise because the collection encompasses all of her activities until her death. All of the evidence of her individual and collaborative creative projects, which was often intertwined with records from her personal relationships, could be included. Everything in the boxes had some relevance, I only had to weed things that contained information replicated in other records (cancelled checks, daily deposit forms, duplicates), or that the Newberry deems inappropriate (medical records, moldy materials).
The material from the Ruth Page Foundation Records proved a bit more difficult to appraise. I first had to determine if the records were from the last seven fiscal years, making them necessary for audits. These records were rehoused and labeled, but left intact at the foundation. Then I had to determine if the records were from the activities of the foundation or the activities of Venetia Stifler, who has been the Executive Director for the last fourteen years. She is a dancer, a college professor at NEIU, and runs her own performance company (CDI) that rehearses at the Ruth Page Center. This already difficult task was compounded by the multiple performance entities named for Ruth Page, including the Ruth Page Festival of Dance at Ravinia, the Ruth Page Dance Series presented at NEIU, the Ruth Page Civic Ballet, the Ruth Page School of Dance, and the Ruth Page Center for Dance. Some of these entities are part of the foundation, some are partially supported by the foundation, and some involve staff from the foundation. The Ruth Page Foundation also provides office space for several performance companies in residence, rents rehearsal space to companies, and rents out their small in house theater, so varying levels of information about all of these other companies are also included in the foundation records. Whew!
The structure of arts organizations mimics other types of organizations, but there seems to be a greater level of porosity in the roles and duties of staff members. Especially in small arts organizations with limited staff, people frequently change jobs or their job title changes, they perform a wide range of tasks that might not seem to match their job title, and there can be a lot of turnover when salaries are low. Talking to staff who have long term relationships with the organization can be extremely helpful, and they usually enjoy sharing their knowledge of the organization as well as personal anecdotes that can be very entertaining. Consulting with staff at the Ruth Page Foundation was one of the most enjoyable aspects of working on this appraisal. At the beginning of the project I explained the work I was doing in their “archives” (ie: the basement) which made it easy for me to ask them to identify some items, find some records they needed and had been unable to locate, and share items I thought they would enjoy seeing. As I wrap up this project, I believe more strongly than ever in the importance of building relationships between archives and the creative community. I’m so glad I was able to help the staff use some of their hidden archival materials and I hope their positive experience influences others in the Chicago creative community to engage with the Newberry Library or other local archives.