SOUNDS OF OUR TOWN
COMMUNITY CUSTODIANS OF POPULAR MUSIC'S PAST
From 2013–2015, Sarah explored the do-it-yourself approaches to the collection, preservation and display of popular music’s material past being undertaken by volunteers in community archives, museums and halls of fame. ‘DIY institutions’ of popular music heritage are much more than ‘unofficial’ versions of ‘official’ institutions; rather, they invoke a complex network of affect and sociability, and are sites where interested people – often enthusiasts – are able to assemble around shared goals related to the preservation of and ownership over the material histories of popular music culture.
Sarah’s fieldwork involved interviews and observations with founders and volunteers of DIY institutions in Australasia, Europe and North America. The names of these institutions often point to the importance of regions (e.g. Sound Preservation Association of Tasmania) or nation (e.g. Nederlands Jazz Archief) in understanding the drive of enthusiasts founding these places. The project highlighted the potentialities of bottom-up, community-based interventions into the archiving and preservation of popular music’s material history. It revealed the kinds of collections being housed in these places, how they are managed and maintained, as well as exploring the relationships DIY institutions have with mainstream heritage organisations.
A key focus of the study was the labour of volunteers in DIY institutions. Publications emerging from the project argue that while these are places concerned with heritage management and the preservation and display of artefacts, they are also extensions of musical communities in the present in which activities around popular music preservation and curation have personal, cultural, community and heritage benefits. By exploring volunteers’ everyday interventions in the collection, preservation and display of popular music’s material past, the project highlights how DIY institutions build upon national heritage strategies at the community level and have the capacity to contribute to the democratisation of popular music heritage.
In addition to the findings of the project being published in the book Community Custodians of Popular Music’s Past: A DIY Approach to Heritage (2018, Routledge), Sarah has collaborated with other members of the Sounds of Our Town Collective to further the lines of enquiry of the original research. Example publications are below.
Zelmarie Cantillon and Sarah Baker
DIY archives and museums of popular music are cultural institutions that also serve important social and affective functions. In this article, we examine how DIY heritage institutions create a sense of community and promote wellbeing for their volunteers, operating as informal gathering spaces, or 'third places'. Using the Australian Jazz Museum as a case study, we explore how volunteering is a kind of 'serious leisure' activity which provides opportunities for caring, community, and enhancing wellbeing.
The full text of this article can be accessed here.
Zelmarie Cantillon and Sarah Baker
While the article mentioned above focuses on some of the benefits associated with volunteering in DIY institutions, this article concentrates on the potential costs or drawbacks of this activity. We discuss some of the tensions, dislikes and disappointments reported by volunteers in 13 DIY popular music heritage institutions. Types of costs included tensions that were interpersonal, relational, financial, temporal (work, family, leisure), and related to well-being (emotional, physical); dislikes centred on shortages of dependable volunteers, volunteers who demonstrate a ‘lack of care’, and ineffective leadership; and disappointments focused on being let down by others, unsuccessful funding applications, and organisational change. We find that recognising the costs involved for career volunteers is crucial for understanding motivations, rewards and perseverance.
To learn more about the DIY approach to collecting, preserving and curating popular music’s material past, check out the resources below.
Baker, S (ed) 2015, Preserving Popular Music Heritage: Do-It-Yourself, Do-It-Together, Routledge, London.
Baker, S 2018, Community Custodians of Popular Music’s Past: A DIY Approach to Heritage, Routledge, London.
Baker, S, Cantillon, Z, Istvandity, L & Long, P 2021, ‘The values and value of community heritage: visitor evaluation of do-it-yourself museums and archives of popular music’, Journal of Heritage Tourism, DOI:1743873X.2021.1888957.
Baker, S & Collins, J 2015, ‘Sustaining popular music’s material culture in community archives and museums’, International Journal of Heritage Studies 21(10): 983–996.
Baker, S & Collins, J 2017, ‘Popular music heritage, community archives and the challenge of sustainability’, International Journal of Cultural Studies 20(5): 476–491.
Cantillon, Z, Baker, S & Buttigieg, B 2017, ‘Queering the community archive’, Australian Feminist Studies 32(91–92): 41–57.
Cantillon, Z & Baker, S 2020, ‘Career volunteering as good work in do-it-yourself heritage institutions: a serious leisure perspective’, Journal of Sociology, DOI:10.1177/1440783320911450.
Long, P, Baker, S, Istvandity, L & Collins, J 2017, ‘A labour of love: the affective archives of popular music culture’, Archives & Records 31(1): 61–79.
Fieldwork for this research was made possible by grant funding from the Australian Research Council (DP130100317). The project emerged from, and incorporated data and findings from, an earlier Australian Research Council grant (DP1092910). Sarah’s co- and partner investigators on DP1092910 who were involved in undertaking some of the interviews that were incorporated into the dataset for DP130100317 were Shane Homan and Alison Huber. A huge debt of gratitude goes to all the community custodians in DIY institutions that gave their time to speak at length about their DIY approach to heritage.