Blog Post – Interference Archive: Documentation Strategy & Publishing as a DIY Framework for Community Engagement & Outreach

Posted by in Archives, Writing

Figure 1 – Exterior of Interference Archive. From:

Interference Archive is not your traditional archives. Situated on a street corner, lined with historic brownstones in the Park Slope residential neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York City, Interference Archive (IA) is a volunteer-run, community archives that has been in operation since 2011. The archives began from the personal collections of two of the original co-founders, Dara Greenwald and Josh MacPhee, who had amassed twenty-five years worth of books, posters, music, print ephemera, moving images, and objects documenting their involvement in various social movements, DIY and punk music scenes, political art and performance projects. IA’s beginnings resonate with the organization’s mission to “explore the relationship between cultural production and social movements” through the different types of materials they hold, and continue to acquire today; many of which come directly from IA volunteers, affiliates, and like-minded communities. IA highlights “open access” as a guiding principle and practice that shapes intellectual access to their holdings, as well as their physical space which is ground-level, open-concept with tables, exhibition displays, open archival stacks, map cabinets, and filing drawers for users to peruse through freely with the help of finding aids (Exp. Dara Greenwald fonds and subject files).

In the archival field, documentation strategy is widely discussed and taught as a methodology that guides selection and appraisal activities, however some have argued that documentation strategy can also function as “an effective outreach and public relations tool.”[1] IA embodies documentation strategy as such, not only through its mere existence as a grassroots, community-led, and community-built archives, but also through the continued success of their outreach efforts and programming. In particular, IA recognizes a direct connection between their exhibition programming and the growth of their user communities, which has also resulted in increased acquisitions and donations to the archives (Interference Archive-Our History).

IA offers a wide range of programming such as talks, screenings, workshops, performances, tours, and exhibitions, but arguably IA’s core public outreach transpires through their publishing activities, which includes print, podcasting, and mixtapes.[2] To date, IA has designed and published more than ten publications, generated by working directly with distinct communities and user groups of, and in, the archives. Many of these publications are exhibition catalogs which serve to document their distinct voices and histories. Audio Interference is a podcast consisting primarily of interviews with activists, organizers, musicians, artists, archivists, and IA volunteers. The podcast also features oral histories and thematically connected episodes, such as the series Archiving Abolition, which focuses on the work of Survived+Punished, a prison abolition organization committed to ending the criminalization of survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Additionally, IA maintains the guest-curated If A Song Could Be Freedom… Mixtapes, which invites IA associates to guest-curate compelling and obscure music that aligns with the values and mission of the organization.

Like many other archives, the effects of Covid-19 have greatly impacted IA’s on-site activities and outreach. Prior to the pandemic, IA maintained an active social media presence and following on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter, but more recently they expanded to provide online exhibition programming, such as Walkout: A Brief History of Student Organizing, to engage remote users.

True to its DIY, politically-motivated, and socially-conscious spirit, IA undertakes community engagement and public outreach in a myriad of unconventional, creative, and resourceful ways. While IA’s publishing initiatives perhaps best represent acts of collaboration between creators, user communities, and the organization, it is clear that relationships make up the heart of IA. Documentation strategy may have forged IA’s collaborative beginnings, but relationships continue to be cultivated through all kinds of outreach programming at IA; expanding audiences and user communities to acquire, preserve, and give access to under-documented and under-represented communities, and the unique histories of perseverance, resistance, and solidarity their records carry.

[1] Doris J. Malkmus, “Documentation Strategy: Mastodon or Retro-Success?”, The American Archivist 71 (Fall/Winter 2008): 284-409.
[2] Both primary users (creators) and secondary users (researchers seeking informational, evidential, and intrinsic value in records) make up the user-base of IA.