“It’s thrilling,” Executive Director Gerald Seligman said, to be able to publicly launch the foundation. He cited White and foundation board members as extremely committed to preservation.
“Here we have a whole nation of cultural heritage in recorded sound [and] a lot of it is in precarious shape,” Seligman said. “Some was recorded on very fragile media — like old cylinders, acetates, reel-to-reel tapes — and it’s turning into shards.”
Now that preservation is underway, he said, time is of the essence: “Some of these things have got to be saved quick.”
The foundation is the third component of the National Recording Preservation Act, which involves a partnership with the Library of Congress, which has long worked to preserve recordings.
The act first established a national recording registry for music, radio broadcasts and sounds on any media — including recordings of the “NBC Chimes” and AOL’s “You’ve got mail” — that have become part of the cultural consciousness.
The second component, the National Recording Preservation Board, debates the registry. The board issued its plan in December after conducting research and consulting with experts.
The foundation was chartered in 2010 as an independent, nonprofit charitable organization that is authorized to raise funds for nonprofit groups, archives, libraries and cultural institutions. As part of this mission, Seligman said, “I even see where a commercial collection” might be included — especially if it has significant cultural importance and funding is needed to preserve it.
Seligman said that the foundation can secure private funds and that it has a government commitment to match. “It’s kind of an ideal middle ground,” he said, “where we have this collaboration, and we have independence.”
Seligman, who heads an international arts consulting firm, has worked part time with the foundation, but expects to go full time within six months. The foundation’s board and executive-director appointments are made and approved by Librarian of Congress James Billington.
The gift from White — the Detroit musician who formed the White Stripes and the Raconteurs — shows a serious “commitment by a really busy songwriter and performer donating both his time on the board, and money to preserve our national song recording heritage,” says Eric J. Schwartz, the founding director and board member of the National Film Preservation Foundation, upon which the National Recording Preservation Foundation was modeled. Schwartz’s group has raised nearly $6 million to fund about 2,000 film preservation projects across the country.