Archive for the 'Weaving the Streets & People’s Archive' Category

Weaving the Streets & People’s History Archive

What is our “people’s history archive of street culture” going to look like?

Street culture is a ubiquitous form of expression that resists easy definition. Our people’s history archive of street culture will document the creative and complex ways in which ordinary people make use of public space. For our project, city-based street culture includes but is not limited to public performances, graffiti, painted murals, neighborhood gardens, parks, urban reclamation projects, political demonstrations, and any other public gatherings. Other suburban and/or rural “ground up” initiatives, such as farm-to-fork community-supported agriculture (CSA) projects, could also be represented in our people’s history archive. The challenge will be to find physical, hand-held materials that document these sorts of activities that we can scan and add to the digital archive. Many forms of street culture are ephemeral in nature, which creates a methodological challenge to collecting materials and reminds us why it is important to gather them before they are lost, forgotten, or destroyed.

Like archives elsewhere, our people’s history archive of street culture will represent and/or reveal the interests and values of societies, cultures, and/or subcultures from which the materials in the archive are drawn. However, materials in an archive of street culture will also undoubtedly reflect values that include commitments to civil rights, social justice, equity, and fairness for the greater good of all members of a population. A people’s history archive will put an emphasis on the benefits of shared or collaborative endeavors over actions and activities geared toward corporate, commercial, or self-interests.

Our people’s history archive of street culture will likely represent populist and democratic ideals. A populist, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “a believer in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people.” A democracy invites equal participation from all of its citizens and strives to make it possible for every individual to live up to his or her potential. Those who have fostered populist ideas in the United States include the historian and author Studs Terkel and the songwriter and musician Pete Seeger.

pete

Our people’s history archive of street culture will likely have a certain folksy quality, too, in the style of folk traditions, meaning items in the archive would be home-made, low-tech, low brow, do-it-yourself, free, and publicly available. Items would be one-of-a-kind or created in small numbers.

Our people’s history archive could include announcements, flyers, leaflets, posters, or broadsides for events that bring people together, such as community dinners, town hall gatherings, music concerts, or union, school, or church meetings. Other forms of creative expression, such as zines, stickers, and silkscreened cloth patches sewn on clothing or knapsacks could also be included. Sheila Murray ’15 picked up this small card from Café Oteca, an owner-managed coffee shop in San José, Costa Rica, in the spring of 2014. From what she told me, one can buy a drink for someone else by writing a note and pinning it to the wall in a sort of “pay-it-forward” community connection project. It would be great fun to go in, read someone’s note over a café latte, and then buy a cup of java for the next person.

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“Found” items could be handwritten notes or even something like this playing card that Raina Puels ’16 picked up in NYC last fall. I’m curious to hear how she will describe it for our Street Art Graphics digital archive.

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Examples of Other Citizen-Based Archives Projects

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has created a Citizen Archivist Dashboard that allows registered users the ability to tag images, edit and transcribe texts, and upload and share their own materials. The NARA mission is “to provide public access to Federal Government records in our custody and control. Public access to government records strengthens democracy by allowing Americans to claim their rights of citizenship, hold their government accountable, and understand their history so they can participate more effectively in their government.”

The Triangle Open Archive offers several features and functionalities in keeping with our people’s archive of street culture project. The Triangle Fire Open Archive explores “the personal, political and historical legacy of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire [in New York City] through community-contributed objects … that critically connect to issues of immigrant, women’s and labor rights.” Items are categorized by “People,” “Politics & Activism,” “Cultural Response,” and “Memorial.”

Europeana uses Historypin (“a global community collaborating around history”) for a project called Europeana 1989 that allows contributors to add photos, videos, audio files, and written stories to a collection of materials related to the fall of the Iron Curtain in Central and Eastern Europe. According to the Web site, “The project aims to create a vivid and complete picture of the revolutionary events in Europe with stories, photos, videos and sound recordings from every country affected. Personal stories, memories and experiences can help others to better understand what it was like and to see events from a different perspective. By collecting personal memorabilia and stories from this period, and combining it with institutional collections, we aim to create an engaging user experience.”

The People’s Archive of Sinking and Melting, based out of Dublin, Ireland, and San Francisco, California, is “a collection of materials contributed by people living in places that may disappear because of the combined physical, political, and economic impacts of climate change, primarily sea level rise, erosion, desertification, and glacial melting. Together, through common but differentiated collections, they form an archive of what will have been.”

The People’s Archive of Rural India documents “the everyday lives of everyday people.” The Web site is under construction, but categories include “things we do,” “things we make,” “farming and its crisis,” “faces,” “women,” “the rural in the urban,” “adivasis” (“first dwellers”), and many other topics.

Initially based out of the United Kingdom, a Peoples Archive grew out of a Science Archive project that originally video recorded the autobiographical life stories of famous scientists. This Peoples Archive expanded to include stories about the lives of famous authors, filmmakers, artists, and others. In 2008, it evolved into the Web of Stories, which today features thousands of stories from the international public on a wide range of channels such as “Love,” “War,” “Ageing and Death,” and “Inspiration and Innovation.”

The Paisley People’s Archive from Paisley, Scotland, is “a community-based project which focuses on the city’s social history of industrial heritage and related leisure activities. Consisting of digitally recorded oral history interviews, archival research, and old and new images, the Archive recreates Paisley’s history as remembered by its people.”

“The People’s Archive” instructional notes

Below are the notes I sent to the Weaving the Streets & People’s Archives team members today, focusing on the People’s Archive component of the project.

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

– Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

“The archivist, even more than the historian and the political scientist, tends to be scrupulous about his neutrality, and to see his job as a technical job, free from the nasty world of political interest: a job of collecting, sorting, preserving, making available, the records of the society.  But I will stick by what I have said about other scholars, and argue that the archivist, in subtle ways, tends to perpetuate the political and economic status quo simply by going about his ordinary business.  His supposed neutrality is, in other words, a fake.  If so, the rebellion of the archivist against his normal role is not, as so many scholars fear, the politicizing of a neutral craft, but the humanizing of an inevitably political craft.  Scholarship in society is inescapably political.  Our choice is not between being political or not.  Our choice is to follow the politics of the going order, that is, to do our job within the priorities and directions set by the dominant forces of society, or else to promote those human values of peace, equality, and justice, which our present society denies.”

– Howard Zinn, “Secrecy, Archives, and the Public Interest”

Let me begin with something John Collins has used to describe the Weave blog, which is the act of weaving together “texts” and “contexts.”  In Latin, the word textus means “1. construct with elaborate care; 2. plait (together); and 3. weave.”  Likewise, in Latin, contextus means “1. compose, connect, link, combine; 2. make, join, form; and 3. weave, entwine, braid, twist together.”

In literary theory and cultural studies, “texts” are any sort of phenomena that signify meaning, such as written publications, visual works of art, music, videos, oral interviews, etc. as well as clothing styles, architectural design, community-based murals, solidarity gatherings, etc.  Coming from a printmaking perspective, I myself tend to focus on hand-held physical texts or “artifacts,” such as street art stickers, political posters, flyers, leaflets, and photographs of these items (though in some cases, these physical artifacts are ephemeral by design).

Texts tell stories.  It’s up to you to figure out what those stories are.  One of the goals of WSPA is to identify the texts that you think are important and tell the stories surrounding those texts.  That’s the Weaving the Streets blogging component of our project, the contextualization.

The People’s Archive will also document the creative ways ordinary people make use of public space to express themselves.  The archive is intended to be a varied repository of selected texts that we gather to share with others.  It will consist of physical artifacts, as I described above, that will be scanned, catalogued, and added to the gallery’s Street Art Graphics digital archive (http://www.stlawu.edu/gallery/digitalcollections/streetartgraphics.php).  Take a look at some of the entries to get a sense of the cataloguing that’s been done.  It’s a work-in-progress, so some items are more thoroughly catalogued than others.  Non-physical artifacts, such as “born digital” documentary photographs, video or sound-based interviews, etc., will also be catalogued as texts and will reside on the WSPA group blog (http://weavenews.org/content/weaving-streets).  In some cases, physical artifacts will appear in both the Street Art Graphics digital archive and the WSPA group blog.

For each physical artifact or born digital item, you will be asked to identify:

  • the creator (artist, organization, sponsor, contributor, or unknown)
  • the geographic location where you found it (be as specific as possible).  For those of you with smart phones, you can even write down GPS coordinates for future reference.
  • a 150-200 word description (what it is about, why it was made, and who the intended audience might be).  Description fields are the most difficult but also the most fun.  You’ll do research to unlock the mysteries surrounding your artifacts or born digital items.  For examples in the Street Art Graphics digital archive, check out the description fields in the German “St. Pauli” stickers and the American “night raiders.”

Cataloguing information is known as “metadata,” or data about data.  Each artifact or born digital item will be catalogued using the fields listed above.  In addition, subject fields for each item will be populated by a university librarian.  Subject fields are tricky and need to follow certain guidelines determined by the Library of Congress and others.  That way, our work will fit into the larger body of knowledge for use by diverse audiences.

Alums can mail physical artifacts to me at the gallery, and students in the field can do the same or bring them back to campus next fall.  The gallery will scan each item and use your metadata to add to the digital archive and/or group blog.  John and I will leave it up to you to decide how many artifacts or born digital items you’d like to incorporate into your research, but we’re imagining somewhere between four to six.  This work is known as digital curation, which is like selecting artworks for an exhibition, for example.  Each of you will be curating your own show, so to speak.  You’ll want to choose your four to six items carefully so that they tell the story you want to share with others.  That is your role as an archivist/activist.

I write about street art stickers on my research blog called Stickerkitty, and for your reference I have listed four links below to posts that weave together texts and contexts.  You’ll see how I often come across some unknown thing I find on the streets and then work to uncover the story behind it.

https://stickerkitty.com/2013/01/26/white-power-and-good-night-white-pride-stickers/

https://stickerkitty.com/2012/04/28/thor-steinar-storefront-in-friedrichsain-and-other-protests/

https://stickerkitty.com/2013/05/20/barbies-not-so-dream-house/

https://stickerkitty.com/2013/05/18/mapping-right-wing-stickers/

A few other references to archivism and activism are listed below.

Lile, Grace.  “Archives for Change: Activist Archives, Archival Activism.”  http://blog.witness.org/2010/09/archives-for-change-activist-archives-archival-activism/.

“Occupy Wall Street from the Streets to the Archives” (New York Times, May 2, 2012).  http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/02/occupy-wall-street-from-the-streets-to-the-archives/.

See also Ben McCorkle’s “Annotated Obama Poster” for his analysis of the visual rhetoric behind the Obama HOPE poster at http://people.cohums.ohio-state.edu/mccorkle12/work2.html.

Weaving the Streets & People’s Archive – December 2013

Our first Weaving the Streets & People’s Archive press release.

Introduction

Weaving the Streets & People’s Archive (WSPA) is a multi-faceted, interdisciplinary collaborative project that offers St. Lawrence University students, alumni, and others the opportunity to be part of a dynamic, global, investigative blog and a digital archive that document the creative range of ways in which ordinary people make use of public space to express themselves.  The goal is to bring together examples from a wide range of cultures and experiences so that people can build bridges, explore lines of solidarity and difference, and learn from the experiences of others.  The WSPA project draws on two existing initiatives with the goal of pushing each one forward while “weaving” them together in ways that will deepen their educational impact at St. Lawrence and increase their impact beyond the campus:

  • Street Art Graphics is a digital image archive project initiated in 2004 by Catherine Tedford, director of the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery.  The archive is available through the gallery’s Web site and features nearly 2,000 examples of street art stickers and street art graphics from Canada, England, Germany, Russia, Spain, and the United States.  Items are scanned and catalogued on an item-by-item basis for in-depth online access and research.
  • The Weave, headquartered in the Global Studies Department, is an independent news media project created in 2006 with the primary mission of spotlighting stories that are not receiving sufficient public attention. The project is directed by Professor and Chair of Global Studies Dr. John Collins and Jana Morgan ’07, National Director for Publish What You Pay (USA).  The Weave features investigative blogs as well as a video archive of short, provocative responses from artists, scholars, activists, and journalists to a series of “Big Questions” (e.g., “What is today’s most underreported story?”).  The Weaving the Streets blog can be found on the Weave at http://www.weavenews.org/content/weaving-streets.

Funded by a two-year Humanities Grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, WSPA will be implemented each semester by two to four students and/or young alumni in “cohorts” starting in the fall of 2013.  We are pleased to announce that four recent alumni have been selected for cohort #1, including Derek King ’12, Steve Peraza ’06, and Jordan Pescrillo ’12, all currently living and working in Buffalo, New York, and Łukasz Niparko ’13, from Poznan, Poland.  Two students who will be participating in off-campus study programs in the spring of 2014 have been selected for cohort #2.  Carolyn Dellinger ’16 will be working in London, England, and Sheila Murray ’15 will be working in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Cohort #1

Three St. Lawrence University alumni have begun collaborating on The Buffalo Exchange, a field research and blogging project that exemplifies the philosophy behind Weaving the Streets & People’s ArchiveThe Buffalo Exchange will help contextualize the visual and aural materials the alumni are collecting as part of their fieldwork.  A selection of these materials will be digitized, catalogued, geospatially tagged, and included in the Street Art Graphics digital archive, along with a condensed version of the contextual information provided in the blogs.

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(image credit: Mike Puma from Views of Buffalo)

Steve Peraza ‘06, a Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of Buffalo, is a veteran Weave contributor who has been blogging at The Poverty Report since 2008.  For The Buffalo Exchange, he will focus on the creation of community gardens on previously abandoned land in Buffalo.  As he documents these projects photographically, he will provide investigative blog content that examines contextual issues such as community empowerment, gentrification, and urban agriculture.

Derek King ‘12, an architectural historian with Preservation Studios (a Buffalo-based consulting firm specializing in historical preservation), will bring a keen eye for architectural detail and urban planning to The Buffalo Exchange.  His work will focus on the relationship between the city of Buffalo’s large-scale urban development initiatives and the many small-scale, grassroots efforts to revitalize communities that have been shaped by poverty and deindustrialization.  As a citizen journalist, he will seek out voices, examples, and lessons that may be otherwise left out of mainstream news and official political narratives.  Derek hopes to show that it is not big development projects that are “saving” or even defining this city’s revival, but the people there who live, play, and create who are driving Buffalo’s resurgence.

Jordan Pescrillo ‘12, who is based in the education sector through her work with ABLE (AmeriCorps Builds Lives through Education) and the International Institute in Buffalo, brings to The Buffalo Exchange a strong background in working with refugees from Nepal and elsewhere.  Her contributions to the project will focus on creating alternative and more accessible means through which members of refugee communities in Buffalo, particularly young people, can articulate their own perspectives on local issues and “speak back to the headlines.”  Her investigative blogging will provide detailed context surrounding the photographic and spoken-word materials that form the core of her fieldwork.

JordanPescrillo

In addition, Łukasz Niparko ’13, based out of Poznań, Poland, will examine aspects of housing and urban development through the lens of Rozbrat, one of the oldest occupied squats in the country, and Od:zysk [From: profit], a newer squat located near the historic market center in Poznań.  Łukasz will explore the squats’ initiatives for social change through street art, workshops, and other activities in response to the privatization and commercialization of urban spaces.  Lukasz also writes on the Weave for SOLIDARITY Avenue.

Aleje Solidarnosci

Cohort #2

Carolyn Dellinger ’16 began working on the Street Art Graphics digital archive in the fall of 2013, focusing on a rare collection of street art stickers dating from the late 1980s for the Antifa Jugendfront (Antifascist Youth Front) in Berlin, Germany.  She was trained in Photoshop to create master image files for each sticker and has also begun creating metadata for Description fields.  In the spring of 2014, Carolyn will study the wide range of innovative street art murals in London by such artists as Bansky and Space Invader to see how they relate to and comment upon socio-political issues facing England, such as racial tensions and unemployment.

London-CT-IMG_3821

Sheila Murray ’15 chose to study in Costa Rica for the opportunity to pursue her interests in global studies, Spanish language, and environmental justice.  Her experience working with the local GardenShare non-profit organization and as a blogger for the Ecological Sustainability Landscape’s Summer at the Garden will be put to good use in the context of WSPA.  While abroad, Sheila will examine some of Costa Rica’s bold environmental actions, such as being the first climate neutral country in the world, from the ground up!

Antifa Jugendfront stickers from Infoladen Daneben

One of my students at SLU, Carolyn Dellinger ’16, is starting to catalogue the Antifa Jugendfront stickers from Infoladen Daneben that I scanned over the summer (see Berlin-based sticker collections in previous post).  From 79 original raw scans, I came up with a total of 48 edited image files consisting of 16 complete stickers, 4 full sheets of “pre-Photoshop” color-separated stickers, and various individual color-separated stickers and overlays.  Carolyn also created seven image files that are diptychs or triptychs to show the color separations side by side.  The 54 image files in this set can be viewed on my Flickr page for Stickerkitty’s collection (uncatalogued).

072+064+056_edited

This is the first time I’ll be working with a student on more advanced cataloguing, and so it’s sort of a trial run for future Weaving the Streets & People’s Archive (WSPA) projects.  One of the long-term goals for WSPA is to develop a process to train students and others on how to gather and catalogue examples of street art for a digital archive.  The first step in cataloguing is to create standard metadata fields and terminologies.  (Metadata is data about data.)  In many cases, fields will be populated with the same metadata (i.e., creator = unknown, time span = 1991, geographic location = Berlin, Germany, etc.).  Students will then complete the more difficult fields, such as description, subject, key words, and themes.

Below is the outline for cataloguing the Antifa Jugendfront stickers.  Information in [brackets] will be used as is for every record.  Carolyn will create new metadata for the fields marked in bold.

  • Title [Antifa Jugendfront – and all or most of the main text on the sticker using a logical, “natural language” approach in approximately 10 to 20 words].  We’re using “Antifa Jugendfront” at the beginning of each record in order for the stickers to appear together in the digital archive.
  • Title-Alternative (any additional text that doesn’t fit in Title)
  • Title-Translation (try Google Translate and see what you get)
  • Creator [unknown]
  • Contributor [Antifa Jugendfront (Antifa Youth Front)]
  • Source [Infoladen Daneben, Berlin, Germany]
  • Time Span [1991]
  • Geographic Location [Berlin, Germany]
  • Language [German]
  • Class [graphic arts]
  • Type [sticker, spucki]
  • Format/Medium [offset lithograph – black and red ink on yellow paper]
  • Description (will need to create guidelines)
  • Curator’s Statement – (CT will write – mention both sets of individual stickers and paired stickers)
  • Key Words (will need to create guidelines)
  • Subject (Arline will do)
  • Themes (see attached handout)
  • Notes [Scanned by Catherine Tedford, August 2013.]
  • Cataloguer, Date [Carolyn Dellinger, SLU ‘16]
  • Digital Image File Name (original) (use the edited image files you created)
  • Digital Image File Name (new ContentDM name) (to be determined later)

I did some research last week on Antifa Jugendfront and was surprised and delighted to find that several examples of the stickers we’re cataloguing are also available online at the International Institute of Social History, based in Amsterdam.  I’ve never come across street art graphics catalogued to this extent, and for the geeks out there, the records have call numbers, as well as super geek MARC (MAchine-Readable Cataloging) standards metadata (which stopped Arline in her tracks).

Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 11.03.34 AM

The sticker Gegen Sexismus und Frauen-Unterdrückung (http://search.socialhistory.org/Record/788102) is included in the IISH catalogue, but in this case it’s represented as a poster at 29.5 x 42 cm.  It’s also dated ca. 1989, so that confirms the time span we have listed in our database.

Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 11.09.09 AM

A full sheet of stickers is also included in the IISH catalogue, measuring 30.5 x 43.5 cm before they were trimmed to sticker size.  See http://search.socialhistory.org/Record/787803.

Infoladen full sheet

“Weaving the Streets & People’s Archive”

Stickerkitty is collaborating with The Weave: Mediocracy Unspun on a new project entitled Weaving the Streets & People’s Archive (WSPA).  John Collins, professor of global studies at St. Lawrence University and co-founder of the Weave, and I put together a proposal to create “a new blog and digital archive that will document the creative ways in which ordinary people make use of public space to express themselves” (excerpted from our proposal abstract).  We learned on Monday that our proposal was accepted and will be funded for the first two years by a grant from the Mellon Foundation’s Crossing Boundaries: Re-Envisioning the Humanities for the 21st Century initiative at SLU.  WSPA will complement the Street Art Graphics digital archive that is presented on the SLU art gallery Web site.  Street Art Graphics exists at this point as a catalogued image database.  For WSPA, however, team members will gather street ephemera, conduct research, and write about various topics in blog posts.

One of our first bloggers will be Lukasz Niparko ’13, the SLU alum I visited in Poznań, Poland, last June.  I think he is going to write about Rozbrat, the oldest occupied squat in the country.  Lukasz and I spent an entire day touring around the city and photographing street art.  “Miasto to nie firma” in the modified sticker below means, “The city is not a business,” in response to urban re-development and the privatization of public spaces in Poznań.

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Odzyskujemy miasto” in the stencil below also comments upon this issue with “We recover [reclaim?] the city.”  The sideways-looking N on the right is the international squatters’ symbol.

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On this sticker, “Przeciwko prywatyzacji.  Uslugi publiczne naleza do wszystkich.” stands for “Against privatization.  Public services belong to everyone.”

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