Sharing Open Access Through the Art of Dance: New Film from Columbia and Barnard

by Davis Erin Anderson, Community Engagement Manager, METRO

We were excited to see the concepts of Open Access presented in a new context when, a few weeks ago, the short film Open Access Movement: a philosophy, a dance, a practice was launched. A joint production of Columbia University's Center for Digital Research and Scholarship and Barnard Library and Academic Services, this video shares the experience of openness through movement.

To learn more about the making of the film, we interviewed the creators Megan Wacha and Amy Nurnberger.

Open Access Movement: a philosophy, a dance, a practice from Columbia CDRS on Vimeo.

Happy Open Access week! What aspects of this movement drew you to work on a project of this scale? (Creating a well-produced video must have been time consuming!)

To start with the production quality of the video, we owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Video Services Manager at Center for Digital Research and Scholarship (CDRS), Vin Aliberto. The project looks and sounds so wonderful today because of the time, care, and attention that he and his team lavished upon it.

As librarians, we believe making information accessible is a core value of our profession. As such, we strongly support the basic principles of Open Access, and felt that although these principles were formed with online literature in mind, they could be communicated effectively through other media. We also felt that a video could present an interesting entree to a subject that may be unfamiliar or unpalatable to some. We are so happy that it’s being used as an outreach opportunity for many Open Access Week participants!

Tell us a little bit about the process of defining the concept of this video. How did you decide to portray the value of Open Access through dance? What are you hoping to convey?

The idea started with a conversation about creative ways of communicating the ideas of Open Access with disciplines that engage in the exchange of ideas and produce output in mediums other than those of the traditionally recognized publication processes, such as articles and monographs. During this, Megan quipped “I know, Interpretive Dance!,” and the project took off from there. Dance is such an expressive medium, with a strong history of adoption and adaptation, that it turned out to fit very well with the ideas of Open Access.

Drawing on Peter Suber’s work we wanted to focus on the ideas that OA is a type of access and that it serves the interests of many groups. We also wanted to highlight how this type of access allows work to be shared, adapted, and transformed, and ultimately increases the visibility and impact of the original work. Hopefully these ideas came through the visual and aural aspects of this work.

We also wanted to make sure that the idea of credit and citation came through, which is why there is such an explosion of orange accessories throughout the video! You can watch these get passed from scene to scene, and person to person, illustrating the concepts or provenance and citation. The video also demonstrates how information is transferred between people and communities. In our work, we've found these relationships are core to the success of the open access movement and we were glad to illustrate them here.

The collaborative nature of this project really shines through. Did any of your collaborators need to pick up a new skill to produce your video? Tell us a bit about the steps you went through to move from conception to realization.

As with any collaborative project, everyone has their strengths and we all had the opportunity to learn from each other. Although we both have dance backgrounds (and associated experience with physical therapy), we had never filmed movement before. We both learned a lot about the intricacies of video production, and again, without Vin’s guidance, what you see today would not exist.

When we started, we wanted to bring out the idea of adaptation, and also leverage the idea of moving from a traditional and audience restricted venue to a more accessible one. With those two things in mind we knew we wanted to start with classical ballet and end with a transformative use of those movements. Megan, in collaboration with the two principal dancers Liana and Hana, worked the choreography in a kind of ‘start with the end, continue with the beginning, and end with the middle’ way, using some physical therapy exercises as their starting point.

In parallel with this, we were also considering possibilities for musical accompaniment, and how it could add to and support the message we were attempting to communicate. We ended up going with the base Satie track, which was found and recommended by Nick Patterson, a Music Librarian at Columbia University Libraries/Information Services (CUL/IS). The number of variations the team was able to locate on Satie’s theme was inspiring, and we could not have accomplished this without SoundCloud, and the excellent artists who make their work accessible there.

Once we had the music and choreography in place, it was a matter of scheduling, organizing, and, again, impressive video and editing work. It must be said, that all of our ‘dance class participants’ did learn some new steps!


Many thanks to Megan Wacha Research and Instruction Librarian for the Performing Arts, Barnard Library & Academic Information Services and Amy Nurnberger, Research Data Manager, Center for Digital Research and Scholarship, Columbia University Libraries/Information Services for their gracious participation in this interview.

Video shared with permission. Without sound, the film is CC-BY; see the end credits for copyright information regarding the soundtrak.