The Association of Performing Arts Collections was founded in 1979 as the Theatre Information Group London, an informal network of librarians who met to exchange information about theatre resources. In just a few years, the membership had expanded to include collections outside the capital, and so ‘London’ was dropped from the name.
In 1985, the group became the UK national branch of SIBMAS, the International Association of Libraries, Museums, Archives, and Documentation Centres of the Performing Arts. It was therefore officially known at this time as SIBMAS/UK. By 1988, the group had 42 members: 16 institutions in London, 19 institutions outside, and seven individuals. It was the largest and best organised national chapter of SIBMAS.
Approaching its ten-year anniversary, the group re-evaluated its operation. It decided to move from being an informal network to become a formal organisation with an executive committee. The first Annual General Meeting was held on 5 May 1990.
The name ‘Theatre Information Group (TIG)’ was adopted as the official name (it had been unofficially in use since 1985). Membership fees were raised a little above the SIBMAS subscription to provide some funds for TIG. Meetings began to be hosted by a range of member institutions, with the goal to have one meeting a year outside London.
In the late 1980s, TIG began to offer an annual conference, and this continued through the 1990s. TIG hosted the biennial SIBMAS conference, entitled ‘Performing Arts Collections: Virtual, Dead or Alive?’, in London in 1989.
That same year began the practice of inviting a speaker to meetings to talk on a current issue. In the late 1990s, talks ranged across Heritage Lottery Fund applications, the Data Protection Act, the Performing Arts Data Service, and the British Library’s Full Disclosure report into retroversion of paper catalogues.
By 2000, the membership had grown to 64. Members embarked on their first major collaborative project, Backstage, an online database of UK performing arts collections launched in 2002.
In conjunction with the Society for Dance Research, TIG set up an email discussion forum in 2001. This proved an ideal means of communication among members and is still in use.
In 2003 it was decided to change the annual event from a conference to a study day because practical workshops were more useful to members. Since then, study days have covered topics such as copyright, multimedia collections, oral history, photographs, costumes, and celebrating anniversaries.
In 2005, the group became the Subject Specialist Network (SSN) for performing arts and received its first of three SSN grants from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). This allowed TIG to carry out a feasibility study for a national performance database. With a second MLA grant in 2007, TIG developed a prototype of the database.
In 2006, membership hit 70, and the UK continued to have the largest national representation within SIBMAS, although no longer officially a ‘national affiliate’. Over the years, several APAC members have served on the SIBMAS executive committee. Claire Hudson of V&A Theatre & Performance was the first TIG member to become president of SIBMAS, serving two terms from 2004 to 2010.
In 2008, TIG hosted the SIBMAS conference, ‘Capturing the Essence of Performance’, at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow. The following year, the TIG website was launched under the auspices of the Collections Trust, which offered standardised websites for SSNs.
With the now out-dated technology of the Backstage website making it difficult to maintain, TIG worked again with the Collections Trust to migrate the data into Culture Grid. The UK Theatre Collections database launched in 2011.
In 2012, TIG received the first of three SSN grants from Arts Council England, funding the creation of a new website. With the launch of the website, TIG changed its name to the Association of Performing Arts Collections (APAC) and extended its geographic brief to include members from Ireland. APAC’s first event under its new name was the 2012 SIBMAS conference, ‘Best Practice! Innovative Techniques for Performing Arts Collections, Libraries and Museums’, held at the V&A.
In 2015, an SSN grant funded a symposium, offered free to members, and this inaugurated the current practice of offering two events a year: a study day and a symposium. Also around this time, APAC began to form working groups focused on areas of interest to members, such as digital preservation.
In the 2010s, membership reached as high as 90 in some years. In 2016, APAC restructured its relationship with SIBMAS to offer members a choice of joining APAC only (National membership) or joining both associations (International membership). This allowed APAC for the first time to set its own membership rates and gain an income stream (previously most, if not all, of the membership fee had gone to SIBMAS).
In 2017, APAC applied for charity status and is awaiting the outcome.