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Workshop May 2 with Ellen Gruber Garvey ‘Writing With Scissors: Scrapbooks As Archive And Activism’

May 1, 2013 Events Comments Off

Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies at New Jersey City University, Ellen Gruber Garvey, will be leading a workshop based on her new book Writing With Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance.

The workshop Writing With Scissors: Scrapbooks as Archive & Activism is Thursday May 2, 6:00 – 8:00 PM at 19 University Place, Room 222. FREE and open to the public + refreshments!

Join us!


REMINDER: Third World Newsreel 2013 Spring Evening Workshop with Activist Archivists THURSDAY!

April 24, 2013 Events Comments Off

Tomorrow evening, Thursday April 25, please join us at Keeping your Films and Original tapes/Files – How are you going to Save them?, the second in what we hope will be an ongoing series of workshops for Third World Newsreel.

ActArcs member Rufus de Rham will be leading a workshop on considerations for filmmakers and videomakers of all levels in regard to media storage practices. The workshop will be held at 6:30 PM at El Barrio Firehouse Community Center and is FREE.


The Storage Unit Archive: Organizing Third World Newsreel’s 40-year-old Collection

April 23, 2013 Blog, Projects Comments Off

Saturday, April 6, Activist Archivists members and friend (thanks Joe!) came together with Third World Newsreel’s J.T. Takagi, Herman Lew, and MIAP intern Dan Finn for the first phase of our assessment project: shelf building!

Our task was simple enough: remove all boxes from storage unit, build two shelves, put all boxes back in storage unit. We anticipated an all day event. With seven of us, we managed to knock it out in five hours with some afternoon to spare.

From Left to Right: Herman, Marie, Kelly, JT, Dan, Joe

From Left to Right: Lindy, Marie, Kelly, Dan, Joe

A majority of our pre-planning for this day’s work involved searching for shelves. When considering shelving for our purposes, we all had to let go of the notion of “archival shelving.” Here are examples of what generally qualifies. Ideal points to consider:

  • 16-gauge steel open shelving

  • 18” deep (standard archive boxes won’t hang over)

  • 36” wide

  • lowest shelf 6” off the ground

  • Wood (particle board, plywood), paint and shellacs give off acidic gases

  • Wood sealed with inert polymer finish can be passable with magnetic media

Aside from shelves made from a material that will not rapidly deteriorate and infect the items you are storing, you want to be able to fully maximize shelf space, meaning they should allow for a significant amount of weight. Be it books, manuscripts, film or video; in bulk you’re looking at hundreds of pounds.

Based on the measurements we took in the storage space, archival shelving would have cost nearly $1000. Considering that the shelves we need are for a temporary storage unit, it was easier to acquiesce the ideal. We chose Shelflinks Custom Storage System shelves. The price fell under $500, and included the shelving links, lumber and delivery. These shelves satisfied our most important need for sturdy storage of heavy boxes, and can be sealed in the near future. They would not and should not be implemented in an archive, but they are fantastic in allowing for easy size customization, simple transport, and assembly not requiring top notch carpentry skills.

Ideally, film would be stored in separate cans, and video in proper cases directly on to shelves:

Film in archival cans on archival shelves.

Video in cases on archival shelves

This allows for air circulation to keep microenvironments (i.e. mold!) from developing, and allows easy access to material. Ideals are pretty, but in the real world archiving situation we are dealing with, our main concern was the safety of people going in to the storage space (heavy boxes can fall) and the need to keep excessive weight off of material whenever possible (heavy boxes crush or warp fragile formats). Currently material is stored in medium to large cardboard moving boxes, also not ideal due to degradation issues, but not apocalyptic.

Other important work materials to consider: work gloves (for wood handling and dusty boxes), optional face masks (no one bothered), a broom, power drills, a table saw (used on the floor), flat bed carts (available at storage facility), a wet/dry vacuum, and doughnuts.

Herman and Joe take no prisoners

We managed to get the oldest, most fragile boxes onto the shelves, but were a little disappointed at how many boxes remained off of the shelves. This overestimation can be avoided if you know in advance the size of all of the boxes you are dealing with. Regardless, working in the unit is safer, and our next phase in which we will perform an inventory and replace worn out boxes will be easier. Just by moving boxes in and out of the space, we got a clearer sense of the type of content we are likely to be dealing with, and even how to group the content by subject, which makes grant writing easier.

Cue 80s montage

We also learned that it is best to check for outlets in the area, as well as if those outlets have power before assuming you will be able to use a table saw. Acrobatics and a long extension cord may remedy this, but also keep in mind that you may not be allowed to use said discovered outlets.

Totally legal and safe improvisation...

Though if you’re lucky, storage space employees won’t discover your activities until you are almost finished. Return their lack of hostility with a nice once over with a shop-vac in the space you used. And share the leftover doughnuts.


Wilson Center Launches Digital Archive of Declassified Documents

The Nuclear Proliferation International History Project recently announced a launch of the “new, improved” digital archive. The archive is maintained by the Wilson Center (as in Woodrow Wilson) in DC, a research hub for scholars of public policy. The archive primarily makes accessible documents for issues relating to the Cold War, North Korea, and Nuclear Proliferation.

“Constructed and maintained by the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program, the Digital Archive contains newly declassified historical materials from archives around the world—much of it in translation and including diplomatic cables, high level correspondence, meeting minutes and more.”

The ‘documents’ available appear to be mostly second generation English text translations, with decent side-bar metadata on where to find the original source material (although some are PDF scans of original documents). While there is little visual or dynamic media, the information is rich and the interface easy to use. My knowledge of cold-war Budapest is practically non-existent so reading this telegram from 1956 was quite an eye-opener.


Activism in the U.S. Exhibition

April 20, 2013 Events Comments Off

The Digital Public Library of America is exhibiting the United States’ history of activists seeking social, political, economic, and other changes. The exhibit, Activism in the U.S. is organized by themes (i.e. Civil Rights Actions, Women’s Activism). Check it out.



The Legacy of the ‘Freex

April 13, 2013 Blog No Comments

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting – Milan Kundera

New York, NY – Friday, April 5th, I was able to catch the last two seminars and the final screening at the “We’re All Videofreex!” symposium held at the SVA Theatre. If you aren’t familiar with Videofreex, there’s a handy webliography at the end of this post for your perusal. In brief, Videofreex was an activist video outfit that operated from the late 1960′s and throughout the 1970′s. After a failed flirtation with CBS executives who considered a Videofreex series on their network, the group pirated an airwave in the Catskills and for years produced raw, provocative material as an unlicensed TV station. Their legacy stands out from a scene that includes the Raindance Corporation and the People’s Video Theater thanks to the collective efforts of the members to preserve and archive the material they produced.

The panel discussions were engaging if predictable. The members reminded us of what a hassle video production was in the early days, how home video democratized journalism, and articulated insights on video activism then vs. video activism today. The final panel was comprised of several academics who had written about Videofreex, and introduced a term I hope to hear more as the history of media activism expands: radical remembering. The term was applied by documentarian Elizabeth Coffman to works of art that challenged our notion of memory in the digital age. But “radical remembering” is broad enough to describe any project that recontextualizes the past into a tool for advocacy. From the brilliant remix “Right Wing Radio Duck” to the very presence of Interference Archive, “radical remembering” has the potential to be not just a description, but a movement; nostalgia in action.

The highlight of the evening was a 60 minute “mash-up” of clips edited by Skip Blumberg. After spending several hours getting to know the members on stage, it was a delight to see them as their younger selves, stomping onto soundstages uninvited, goofing off in their Lanesville studio; long hair exploding in every direction. The “important” parts were all there: the interview with Abbie Hoffman, with Fred Hampton; demonstrations, police brutality, Woodstock; a rather surreal clip testing special effects on the bemused face of Arthur C. Clarke. Videofreex members refer to themselves as artists as much as activists, though their humorous experimentations with dissolves and quick-cuts lacked the pretensions that often characterizes media art.

But the most surprising clips turned out to be those taken in and around the rugged hamlet of Lanesville, NY. A program on local hero “Frankie the Fist Farkle” in a boxing match with a Lanesville fireman captures a winking machismo that could only exist in a community that doesn’t take itself too seriously. And Bart Friedman pushing his “newsbuggy” down a dirt road to their neighbor Helen’s house where she is pent up with a broken leg is firmly in the canon of my new favorite things. Videofreex members fell in love with the local characters, and by all appearances the feeling was mutual. Watching this conjunction of nationwide issues with community color, one can’t help but feel that the latter might be what is missing from the Occupy Wall Street movement.

I was surprised to see the audience was mostly 60+ in age and white. I had expected a younger and more diverse crowd, knowing how linked the ‘freex are to the Black Panther narrative, and the recent renewed interest in their work as forefathers of Occupy-style media outlets. But from the shoutouts of the panelists to their friends in the audience, it was clear this was a family affair, an aging community evaluating its legacy in a public forum; we should all hope to be so lucky.

Videofreex Webliography:

Official Website

Tumblr Page

Youtube Channel

Video Data Bank: VDB took on the task of archiving and making accessible most Videofreex productions. This is still the best place to catch clips.

Mock UFO sighting news report a great example of how dedicated Videofreex were to the community in Lanesville.

Video Days: What We Saw Through the Viewfinder Videofreex member Nancy Cain’s memoir of her time with the group.

Videofreex: America’s First Pirate TV Station & the Catskills Collective That Turned It on
Videofreex member Parry Teasedale’s book on the history of the group.

Activist Television
Well-written article by Eric Freedman on the video activist scene that proliferated in New York after the Sony Portapak hit the market.


REMINDER: We’re All Videofreex!

April 3, 2013 Events Comments Off

Reminder that the Videofreex Symposium at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) is this Friday, April 5 from 4-9 pm. Free and open to the public!


Third World Newsreel 2013 Spring Evening Workshop with Activist Archivists

March 28, 2013 Events Comments Off

Keeping your Films and Original tapes/Files – How are you going to Save them? is the second in what we hope will be an ongoing series of workshops for Third World Newsreel. ActArcs member Rufus de Rham will be leading a workshop on considerations for filmmakers and videomakers of all levels in regard to media storage practices. The workshop will be held on Thursday, April 25th at 6:30 PM at El Barrio Firehouse Community Center and is FREE.

Come one, come all.


Last Call for The Center For Book Arts Exhibit: Brother, Can You Spare a Stack

March 28, 2013 Events Comments Off

Pardon us for not sharing this sooner, but for those not already in the know these are the last few days to check out Brother, Can You Spare a Stack which presents thirteen art projects that re-imagine the library as a force for social change! The exhibit ends Saturday, March 30.


New hope for sustainable digital preservation efforts in Africa (and everywhere)

March 28, 2013 Blog No Comments

George and Kelly try to get online in ICAMD, the University of Ghana's music and dance archive.

What many archivists think of as “best practices” for digital preservation can be a liability in locations where there is no reliable infrastructure to support those practices. A new technology called “white space networks” may empower off-grid communities with the ability to safely develop digital archives.

Last year, I spent three months interning in a music and dance archive within the University of Ghana, assisting APEX (Audio-visual Preservation Exchange) in their efforts to create an electronic catalog of the collection. While Ghana is one of the most economically and politically stable countries in West Africa, it still suffers from an electrical grid that is difficult and expensive to stabilize. Wi-fi is available on campus but almost useless due to frequent power outages. Ethernet connections are rare (the archive staff had to walk to another building to use a wired connection), and prone to environmental damage. Those who can afford it purchase charge-by-the-minute thumb-drive modems that draw from the cell phone network. I spent around $20 a week eating cell phone minutes with my internet usage, not exactly chump change in a country where the minimum wage is $240/month.

Due to the unreliability of the infrastructure, archive staff were understandably reluctant to install their new database on the university server. In fact, mere weeks after my convincing them to do so for the benefits of security, campus-wide access, and off-site redundancy, the server was damaged during an outage. Three months of cataloging would have been lost if there was not a copy stored locally on a donated external hard drive.

So, it was with great cheer that I received the news from arstehnica that Microsoft is testing a technology that makes use of solar power and unused airwaves to bring the internet to remote areas of Kenya. “White space networks take advantage of spectrum in unused TV channels, typically in the 600MHz range. These lower-than-Wi-Fi frequencies allow signals to pass through walls and are ideal for long-range wireless networks.”

If this technology passes through all the expected hurdles in funding, government support, and implementation, it will go a long way to democratizing archival “best practices” for all communities.


Watching Syria’s War: Video

March 19, 2013 Blog Comments Off

Yesterday a new video piece was posted on The New York Times’ site, Watching Syria’s War,  highlighting the fact that amateur video has been central to our understanding of the ongoing Syria conflict. This week marks two years since the uprising began:

“Digital video uploaded by amateurs has never been so pivotal to the way a conflict is understood…”

Photo taken from


Video Footage Acquits Occupy Protester

March 13, 2013 Blog No Comments

Jury Finds Occupy Wall Street Protester Innocent After Video Contradicts Police Testimony 

Video evidence presented during this trial, in which the defendant was accused of running toward police and violently resisting arrest, directly contradicted the version of events claimed by police and prosecutors alike, resulting in all charges against the defendant being dropped. This article also mentions a previous trial in May 2012 in which another Occupy protester was acquitted due to video evidence contradicting police testimony.

This is an excellent recent example of the invaluable tool that video can be in voicing truth, and clearly demonstrates the importance of saving video (both analog and born-digital) as it is not always immediately apparent what the long-term value may be. The methodology behind recording and storing material is essential in rendering the content discoverable, and not just for the creator. We don’t know who may someday benefit from the content.

In addition, we’d like to point you toward this WITNESS blog post by Yvonne Ng in which she details best practices in strengthening the trustworthiness of video documentation.


Timbuktu: “The manuscripts are safe.”

February 26, 2013 Blog No Comments

A major story last month, particularly in the realm of cultural heritage (which in my mind covers a large range of professions), has been the survival status of Timbuktu’s ancient scrolls. There have been several articles chronicling the plight of these artifacts , including a great piece on the WITNESS blog posted by our own Yvonne Ng. For another good overview, I recommend this globalpost article by Tristan McConnell.

The immediate significance of this situation is the initiative taken and the courage exhibited by these individuals to preserve their cultural heritage not only for themselves, but for their fellow citizens and the world. What has occurred in Mali isn’t the norm when one takes on the role of archivist or librarian, but it is a role many have valiantly faced, often without being assigned such a task. Beginning with the recent events affecting Timbuktu, we hope to continue highlighting such efforts by archivists, librarians, activists, historians, and citizens all around.


Archivo 15M Exhibition @ Bluestockings

February 18, 2013 Events Comments Off

Only 10 days left to view the Archivo 15 exhibit at the Bluestockings Bookstore in New York City. More details on their website:

15M Exhibition in NYC
On Display at Bluestockings January 9th – February 28th
Prints, art, and materials from the Archivo 15M in Madrid will be exhibited at Bluestockings from Jan 9th thru Feb 15th. The show was prepared by the caretakers of the archive of the 15M encampment in the square of Puerta del Sol in Madrid. This camp sparked the 15th of May movement throughout Spain, the strongest European echo of the Arab Spring, and the forerunner of the Occupy Movement.

On February 23rd, there will be a discussion @4pm on “The 15M Movement,” an activist movement that has changed the political landscape in Spain.


April 5th, 2013 @ SVA: We’re All Videofreex Symposium

February 7, 2013 Events Comments Off

ActArcs could not be more excited about this all-day symposium of former Videofreex members, the New York City-based collective that started in 1969 and used some of the first portable video systems available on the market to form an independent media outfit. Their work is currently archived by Video Databank, with duplicate VHS copies stored at Interference.

The event will be held at the SVA theatre on 333 West 23rd Street. It is free and open to the public: