Volunteering at Interference Archive: curating, cataloguing, and conveying history

June 20, 2016

image credit: Photo by Sena Yang
image credit: Photo by Sena Yang

For those of you who don’t get to visit Interference Archive regularly, we thought we would start a series of short posts about what we do as volunteers. This post was shared by Rob Smith.
If you’re interested in volunteering at Interference Archive, check out our website for info on how to get involved, or email info@interferencearchive.org. You can also support the amazing work of all our volunteers by making a financial donation.
I first found out about Interference Archive in the winter of 2015 through an article about the Documents from the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp exhibition.  That piece led me down a rabbit hole of additional articles and websites about IA’s collection and its all-volunteer setup.  Working as a lone librarian and archivist in a corporate setting for a living, almost everything about IA was antithetical to my own experiences, from the open-stacks policy allowing everyone a chance to shuffle through the items in the collection, to its commitment to providing a platform for those striving unflinchingly for change from the ground up.  Intrigued, I sent an email about joining the volunteer ranks, and within a matter of days, had made my way to Gowanus to check out the Greenham exhibition myself. Soon after, I attended my first meeting as a volunteer.
It was there at my first meeting that I offered to work on an exhibition with the Art Handlers Alliance of New York acting as the point person for IA.  What began as a mostly go-between position turned into a co-curatorial role, working intently with my two Art Handlers Alliance cohorts on things like researching early artist unions, titling the exhibition, writing press releases, and reaching out to artists, among many other things. Helping to put together Just Cause : Bad Faith – Art Workers’ Activism and Organizing in New York and Beyond was an exuberant experience that not only  taught me a great deal about the subject matter, but reminded me of the power of collaborative action.
Outside of the exhibition, I have also done some cataloguing with Michele Hardesty, and worked with others to refine our taxonomy (librarian-speak for how we classify items in the collection). Its all an effort to expand and improve our digital archive, the online portal for accessing a fraction of what’s available in the physical space.
More regularly, I’ve worked with Louise Barry and others to coproduce Audio Interference, learning the nuts and bolts of recording, editing, and mixing 15–25 minute podcasts from interviews and panel discussions. Conveying someone’s story compellingly, while staying true to their message is challenge but quite fun.
While the projects I’ve worked on at Interference Archive have varied, one thing has remained consistent: getting to work with others who are equally unafraid to create imaginative experiences for the public.