Interference Archive (IA) is a Brooklyn based community archive of cultural works created through and for the power of social movements. IA was founded in 2011 by Kevin Caplicki, Molly Fair, Dara Greenwald, and Josh MacPhee. Our initial collection grew out of the personal accumulation of Dara and Josh, who amassed an extensive collection of materials including books, prints, music, moving images, and ephemera through their involvement in social movements and political art projects over 25 years. Since then, our collection has grown substantially through donations from over 200 donors.
IA is rooted in the belief that our shared histories should be held in common and accessible to all. We are a community of archivists, activists, and cultural workers that collaborate to preserve the cultural histories of communities working for social transformation in order to provide tools and resources to communities seeking their own empowerment. Volunteers curate several exhibitions per year, create publications, produce a bi-weekly podcast, host regular events, catalog our collections, and assist researchers. Through all our work, we use this cultural ephemera to animate histories of people mobilizing for social transformation. We consider the use of our collection to be a way of preserving and honoring histories and material culture that is often marginalized in mainstream institutions.
Over one hundred sustainers support the archive financially through donations of $10 to $50 monthly, in addition to one-time donors and financial contributions from visiting school groups. We are committed to growing this financial base as a way to cover operational costs. Our sustainer model developed in a unique way. We know of a lot of other great organizations who have started up similar sustainer programs just by asking folks to sign on to cover operational costs. At Interference Archive, ours came out of a health fund set up for one of our founders. When Dara Greenwald was diagnosed with cancer shortly before she and others came together to set up Interference Archive, many of her friends set up recurring payments as a health fund to assist with her medical expenses. After she passed away in early 2012, many of those individuals indicated that they wanted to support her legacy by having that monthly donation redirected to Interference Archive. Some of those donors still give each month; some of them have dropped off over the years, and have been replaced by others who have decided to become sustainers to support our current work. This legacy of community care is an incredible reminder of why we exist and who we exist for.
Small grants from family foundations, arts councils, and humanities organizations support exhibitions and programming; in kind donations of second-hand supplies from other archives support collection maintenance. We pass a jar to collect donations at our events, all of which are free to attend. We also host regular class visits from local schools, and we charge for these visits using a sliding scale — well-resourced institutions pay more than local high schools. We understand this relationship as an exchange of the resources each of our institutions has at their disposal: our archive provides access to materials in a way that many institutions cannot offer, and these institutions in exchange have access to financial resources that we do not.
Sustainable People Power
We operate along similar lines to the organizational structures of many of the social movements represented in our collection: these are largely non-hierarchical, consensus-based groups from the political left. We are an all-volunteer organization, and our goals and priorities are determined by the members of our community. There are no strong distinctions between donors, researchers, catalogers, educators, cleaners or curators. All of these roles are filled by members of our community, in overlapping and ever-shifting configurations.
Our volunteer community is an important component of our organizational sustainability: in the context of our budget, it means we do not need to focus as much labor on fundraising because we do not pay salaries. In the broader framework of sustainability as a growing and vibrant community who do this work together, our organizational structure means that volunteers work on projects they are excited about, managed through a network of working groups that focus on a different projects or tasks. These include the administration, cataloging, born digital, education, and audio working groups, as well as working groups that form around each exhibition. Our non-hierarchical model means that we share skills and engage in horizontal mentorship. Knowledge about our processes and practices is not concentrated in one person. These factors allow for flexible volunteer commitments, based on an individual’s availability. We do not require a minimum number of hours or a set volunteer schedule. This flexible and informal model has allowed us to develop a large and growing community of long-term volunteers.
All of this is what sustainability looks like at Interference Archive in 2018. As a growing and evolving community archive, we recognize that this is not exactly what sustainability looked like for us five years ago, and it may be very different again in another five or ten years. As a counter-institution that works intentionally to create space for a thriving community of people who care about this work, one of the most exciting things for us is that we are allowed to continually dream up new ideas and better ways of reimagining the world.
This post was written by Bonnie Gordon, Jen Hoyer, and Maggie Schreiner, volunteers at Interference Archive.