Artwork by Brandon Odums www.bmike.com. Photograph by Jon Voss

Architecting Sustainable Futures: Exploring Funding Models in Community-Based Archives

Community-based archives hold some of the most valuable materials documenting the lives of marginalized people and they mostly exist independently of other traditional academic or government-run cultural heritage institutions. But while these archives continue to collect and preserve these histories, many of them face difficulties growing their operations, keeping their doors open, and enhancing their programming and collections activities because of a lack of funding opportunities. This is why I’m excited to help lead a new opportunity that will directly address funding for community-based archives.

With support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Shift will host a symposium in New Orleans on September 13th-14th, 2018, that will focus on helping to equip community-based archives with tools to address one of their most pressing needs for self-sufficiency: sustainable funding. The target audience for participation in the symposium will include people who work in and who advocate for community-based archives, cultural heritage funders interested in supporting community-based archives, and scholars whose research helps to support community-based archives. We’re committed to ensuring the record of our shared cultural heritage becomes more inclusive and to that end, the organizations invited to participate in this symposium will be limited to community-based archives that primarily document the lives of marginalized people and communities, including people who identify as LGBTQIA, Indigenous people, African Americans, Latinx, immigrants, and victims of police violence and incarceration, among others.

While the symposium will be by invitation only, we will publish the proceedings in late 2018. Additionally, the symposium sessions will be guided by a series of essays commissioned from community-based archives practitioners and those will be shared here on this blog.

Work during the 1.5 day symposium will be centered on information gathering and analysis, knowledge sharing, and developing recommendations, all aimed at capacity building and ensuring the long-term sustainability in community-based archives. An overarching goal is to bring together a broad base of international and U.S based practitioners to better understand funding practices and to begin envisioning new models for the future. Key objectives of the symposium will be to:

  1. Map the broad field of Community-Based Archives, their diversity of scope, intent and capacity
  2. Examine current funding models
  3. Map the available funding landscape
  4. Identify gaps and opportunities where we can grow support and build capacity
  5. Make recommendations for new ways Community-Based Archives can be funded

This symposium builds on important work previously carried out by advocates and practitioners in community-based archives including the Diversifying the Digital Historical Record national forums and the Cultural Heritage and Social Change Summit. These projects addressed important issues affecting community-based archives and they produced valuable knowledge we can use to better support these spaces moving forward, including the DDHR report and the CHSC report. But with this symposium we aim to take a more focused approach on funding, one of the most challenging issues facing community-based archives. Jon Voss and I have addressed some of the funding issues here and with this symposium we hope to broaden that conversation and produce some actionable solutions.

We’re excited for this first of a kind opportunity and we look forward to sharing the results with you. More information will be shared soon on the forthcoming symposium website and here on the Sustainable Futures blog, a space where we (and hopefully you) will frequently write about capacity building and sustainability in community-based archives.


Shift is a global non-profit that creates products for social change. Based in New Orleans, LA, Shift Design, Inc is a US 501(c)3 non-profit corporation that was established with a specific focus to “support libraries, archives, museums and state and local cultural heritage organizations in efforts to increase access to and discovery of photographic, sound, and video collections.” Through our work on projects like Historypin and Storybox, we are committed to an inclusive record of our shared cultural heritage.

The Andrew Mellon Foundation endeavors to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies. To this end, it supports exemplary institutions of higher education and culture as they renew and provide access to an invaluable heritage of ambitious, path-breaking work. https://mellon.org/