“Masters of our own destiny”
cultures of preservation at the Victorian Jazz Archive in Melbourne, Australia
Keywords:cultural memory, DIY archiving, jazz preservation, social institution, vernacular knowledge
This article introduces the work of a volunteer-run, ‘DIY institution’: the Victorian Jazz Archive (VJA), located in Melbourne, Australia. This archive was set up in 1996 by a community of enthusiasts who saw a need for an archival facility to house the growing volume of jazz ephemera otherwise in danger of being lost from the public record. The VJA survives on a small budget that relies on grants, donations and membership fees, and remains open and accessible only through the generosity of an army of volunteers dedicated to preserving this music’s material history. Drawing on fieldwork conducted at the archive, including in-depth interviews with fourteen volunteers, the article explores some of the cultural and social functions of this informal institution. It describes the ways in which volunteers perceive the importance of vernacular knowledge to the task of archiving jazz, and what this might mean for the sustainability of the VJA.
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