Preserving the artist's heritage
Artists Archive Information

Senior Artists Initiative encourages all visual artists to create an archive that documents their careers. Our reasoning and information about the archiving process follows. Please review it and then watch our brief video on the topic by following the indicated link.


What is an artist’s archive?

An artist’s archive (or the personal papers of an artist) is a collection of materials, selected to keep permanently, that were created by an artist over the course of their career.  This might include letters, news clippings, photographs, catalogs, financial records, notebooks, journals, diaries, subject files or research materials, audio-visual recordings, and other types of documents. To archive is to store materials in a place that allows people to access and use the collection in order to understand the artist and his or her work. 

Why create an artist’s archive?

An artist's records document his or her life and work. Properly collected they become a historical body of related materials that offer insights into that artist’s career and work.  The significance of records depends upon context. By being related to activities and purposes for which created and used, the records preserve their original character and relationships thus providing better insights into content and context.  By providing an insight into an artist’s life, thoughts, business dealings, relationships, an archive adds a new dimension to appreciating the artist’s art.

What should be included in an artist’s archive?

Generally, an artist’s archive should be composed of materials that provide greater insight into the artist’s life and work. Those materials ought to be both personal and/or work related. A letter received from a loved one, gallery, or client might have inspired or discouraged the artist, and that condition might be evidenced in the artist’s work during a particular period. Listings of exhibits, speaking engagements, publications, and achievements portray a depth of success and acceptance. Correspondence received as well as corresponding replies not only offer a look into the day-to-day affairs of the artist, but also can relate the more monumental experiences in an artist’s life.

If a document, record, image, etcetera has an illuminating relationship to the artist’s life then it ought to be included in that artist’s archive regardless of the medium in which it exists.

Is it better to archive in paper or digital form?

Today curators, educators, and archivists find themselves looking at documents that date back thousands of years. Before paper existed clay or stone tablets were used.  Since the invention of paper the vast majority of the world’s historical evidence has been recorded on it.  The value of paper is that the medium is unaffected by technology. If you had information on an eight track stereo tape from the 1960s, you would be hard pressed to find a way to play it today.  If you had the same information on paper, it would be simple to access and read it.

It is true that digital technology has its conveniences and efficiencies. It can and does play an important role in creating an archive. Generally, the advantages of digital materials are that they can be made available to many people at one time on the Internet, on kiosks, computers, tablets and smart phones. Most artists will not have that kind of demand for their information. If that demand exists along with the resources, a paper archive can always be scanned into digital format.

Another value of a digital archive is its use as a secure backup to a paper archive. Using ‘Cloud’ storage a digital archive can be stored in redundant systems safe from fire and theft and other hazards.

A paper archive can be copied to digital formats at any time. It is a time consuming and often expensive endeavor. If a paper archive is stored properly it will be safe from fire, weather, water, heat, humidity, and other hazards. The cost of that storage might be much less than the cost of making a digital copy of the archive.

In the end, the medium is up to the artist and the archivist.

Does Senior Artists Initiative have any archiving expertise in the organization?

Senior Artists is fortunate to have an expert on its Board of Directors.Susan Anderson an Archive Specialist with Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Susan has recommends that artists who want to create an archive download a copy of
Artists’ Studio Archives: Managing Personal Collections & Creative Legacies
The complete PDF document can be downloaded from the Artists' Studio Archives website by following this link: