Dancing to the Reality of MAARA – The success story

In the early 1950s, research fellows like J. H. Kwabena Nketia started capturing important ceremonies/events on sound and photographic media. This collection, according to an oral history by Nketia (2013), formed the basis of the establishment of the Institute of African Studies (IAS). As part of IAS developmental plan in 1974 the Media Centre was set up to compliment the already existing Sound and Photographic Archives to capture cultural events on sound, photographic and moving image media. This expanded the collection.

Far along in 2008, IAS inherited the audiovisual heritage collections from the renowned International Centre for African for Music and Dance (ICAMD). The ICAMD audiovisual archive was founded in 1992 by Professor J. H. Kwabena Nketia. The aim was to serve the needs of scholars, researchers, and artists by collecting and producing audiovisual documentation on Ghana’s unique dance and music traditions as well as other attractive cultures around the world. The audiovisual carriers containing this rich collection spanned from quarter inch open reels, digital audio cassettes, micro cassettes, U-matics, Beta tapes, VHS, S-VHS, 78 rpm shellacs, LPs, Video8, Hi-8, audio cassettes, Mini-DVs, CDs, to DVDs. In terms of notable content, story-telling, songs, dances, and other oral and performance traditions formed part of the heritage materials that had been documented.

The greater part of the collections were essentially locked away on obsolete media formats, affected by mold and the inherent vice of sticky shed syndrome, whereby the tape becomes gummy and sheds the magnetic particles – the very particles that hold the content. The condition of the tapes is very common for archives in tropical areas and presents very real obstacles for preservation.

As the Archivist appointed to manage this important collection with such rich history and research value, but with inadequate staff, my task was a tough one. The archive had limited intellectual control over the contents of its collections and most importantly there was lack of awareness about the collection by potential users.  (more…)

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Database Modification

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After the arrival of Mona, Chris and Kara, the launch of MAARA was about to start on Monday. An in depth lecture, which lasted for about an hour by Mona paved us the way for a step by step plan. As Mona stressed on ACCESSIBILITY, it prompted me to think of how our accessible is our database system for the archive? Yes, it is accessible but researchers don’t really find it comfortable going through the layouts of the various data fields because of its few errors and unattractiveness it looks. We receive complaints and question because people think there are problems with it. I explained to Kara about how it should be to the user – friendly and easily accessible. We also later found out that there would need to be new fields added for the digitization technicians so that they could track their work.

This called for modification of our FileMaker Pro database which is using a template by Independent Media Arts Preservation (IMAP) and updated by Kelly Haydon, a former NYU MIAP student, during her summer internship at IAS in 2012. Even though I was the one who called for modification of the database which experts in the field had already designed, I was quite scared I might destroy it because am not of the same level of experience as Kelly and the people who designed the template itself.

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