How we keep things going at Interference Archive

April 18, 2022 by

It takes a lot to keep a place like Interference Archive up and running! Back in 2018 we shared a breakdown of the financial cost of running our space; we’ve also reflected more broadly on finances as part of the bigger picture of sustainability in our work. Somehow we’re now in 2022, and we thought it was time to share an update!

What keeps the archive going?

Volunteer Power

More than ten years after our founding as an all-volunteer project, Interference Archive remains an all-volunteer space. Functionally, we operate through a series of working groups that each take responsibility for different kinds of work at the archive. This work includes:

  • Staffing the archive to keep it open three days per week
  • Opening the archive to host events, including educational visits with community groups
  • Planning and mounting exhibitions
  • Creating our podcast
  • Producing resources about social movement history
  • Continuously reflecting on and building our relationships with our community members

We organize ourselves with an online project management platform for sharing and collaborating. We also have a listserv, where we share info about things we’re working on and need help with; our volunteer coordinator compiles and sends out requests for help every week. Interested in getting involved? Feel free to send an email.

Community Support

Interference Archive was formed with donations from the collections of co-founders and hundreds of collection donors since. This means that everything we have in our archive comes from our community. Anyone is welcome to donate materials to the archive; you can read more about the kinds of things we accept. Some of the donations we receive are duplicates of items already in our collection, and are accordingly moved to our dollar-book cart or redistributed elsewhere. This means our collection continues to grow at little to no cost.

We also have community partners, including friends at Shoestring Printing, Common Notions, and Justseeds, who offer material and labor support to strengthen our work. And, approximately $1000 of our rent each month (around 20% of the monthly rent) is subsidized by coworkers who have designated work space at the archive, including IA partners, Justseeds and Common Notions. 

Community Sustainers

The core of our financial base at Interference Archive has always been our individual sustainers: friends and comrades who sign up to give $10 to $50 each month to help keep the archive going. This community of supporters reminds us that folks want Interference Archive to exist, and it holds us accountable to the people who believe this kind of archive is necessary.

In 2019, support from individual donors was $23,500; in 2020 it was $27,300, and in 2021 we received $25,700 from our community of sustainers. 

Beyond this sustainer base, we receive approximately five to ten thousand dollars in other individual donations each year.

Become a sustainer today
Institutional Resourcing

Interference Archive occasionally receives support in the form of grants from a variety of funders; historically, these were project-based funding that helped us organize exhibitions and programming, or supported infrastructure for specific collections of archival material. For example:

  • In 2020, we received project based funding from Brooklyn Arts Council for the exhibition Walkout and its related publication. We also received support from the NYC Discretionary Fund for A/V equipment, and a Vision Grant from Humanities New York to help the Audio Working Group plan out future podcast work.
  • In 2021, we weren’t focused on a lot of specific projects (because many of them were put on hold), but funding from the Mellon Foundation helped with expanded functionality on our new website (which was originally developed with support from the Revada Foundation in 2019/2020). 
  • In 2022, we will be using $10,000 of project funding from the Mellon Foundation (part of our Community-Based Archives Grant) to publish exhibition-related resources, as well as a portion of a $49,500 organizational grant from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) that has been designated for exhibitions and programming.

More recently, we have begun receiving operational support from a few funders. This has included 

  • Support from a Mellon Foundation Community-Based Archives Grant, which provided $20,000 operational support in each of 2021 and 2022, in addition to $10,000 for project work in each of those years. 
  • $10,000 in operational support from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation for each of 2022, 2023, and 2024. 
  • $5,000 in recovery funding from Humanities New York, fall 2021.
  • $10,000 in recovery funding from NYSCA, fall 2021.
  • We also received a large 2022 organizational grant (totaling $49,500) from NYSCA, a portion of which will be used to help with organizational planning.
Active Labor (a.k.a., Hustling)

The archive also receives financial support, which ebbs and flows throughout the fiscal year, from other types of work we engage with:

Our Education Working Group provides virtual and in-person class visits in exchange for donations from educational institutions. This is an area where our work has really grown over the last few years. In 2019 and 2020 we brought in approximately $2800 in donations for class visits; in 2021 we earned over $4500 this way.

We also generate approximately $5000 to $6000 each year through a range of other services, such as

  • Selling resources that we have created, usually through organizations like Justseeds or Booklyn, or at our physical location
  • Giving talks or running programs for other institutions
  • Occasional loan of material to institutions for exhibition purposes

What are the costs of keeping the archive open?

Financially…

Our biggest cost is rent and utilities; this is the core expense that is covered by all money from our sustainers and from any funders who give towards operational support:

  • In 2020, we paid $59,472 in rent (after negotiating with the landlord to delay of some of our rent payments), $4,465 in utilities, and $2,678 for insurance.
  • In 2021, we paid $63,072 in rent, $4,576 in utilities, and $2,657 for insurance.

In a normal year, with no other special programs or projects, we spend approximately $5,000 to $10,000 on costs such as:

  • Archival supplies
  • IT systems for bookkeeping, project management, etc
  • Shipping costs
  • Financial processing fees
  • General office supplies
  • Legal fees (to file our taxes)

Beyond this, when we receive project-based funding (as described above), that money is budgeted for the exhibitions, public programs, or other projects that were specifically described in the grant application that we received those funds for.

Logistically…

Our volunteer ecosystem, which began with our core founders and has grown to dozens of active volunteers as well as hundreds on our listserv who help out when they’re able, is what sustains our work and specifically Interference Archive’s physical space. Each of us offers our own available time to participate in the responsibilities detailed above, meaning that a volunteer can spend between 20 minutes to 20 hours supporting Interference Archive in duties ranging from programming meetings to taking out the trash. For example, we have roughly 6 volunteers each week who dedicate 2.5 hours of their time to staffing at Interference Archive.

We also try to gather as a full volunteer community at least 3 to 4 times a year to reflect on our relationships and work flows, continuously refining our approaches to democratic organizing and strengthening our commitment to critical compassion. Since we are all co-learners in this process of community organizing, we also try to skill-share in as many ways as possible, making it more sustainable for our labor costs to be met internally.

Volunteers often donate small snacks and other items to sustain each other and guests at the space; for example, you can find coffee, tea, and a microwave in Interference Archive’s “kitchen”, most of which is from volunteers and community members. Stop by to have a cup of tea with us and learn more!

Relationally…

Our Interference Archive ecosystem needs constant tending to, which is why internal and external relationships are central to how we do this work. 

We describe our “internal” ecosystem as contained by our eternally and intentionally amorphous volunteer collective. In these spaces, we work on building and maintaining relationships within, across, and beyond our working groups through regular meetings, volunteer retreats, collaborative skill-sharing and creating, and just hanging out and catching up. Being in relationship with each other isn’t just about building relationships to do the work of maintaining an archive, but also building relationships to support each other through whatever else is going on — this means covering shifts just as much as it means sharing meals. Our Audio Working Group has done some especially amazing work over the last year and a half to rethink how they work with each other, with other volunteers, and with non-volunteer community members to strengthen the non-hierachical and person-centric aspects of Interference Archive, which we’re using as a starting point for reflection on our growth. 

Externally, we know that building relationships with ally organizations, including but not limited to archives, is integral to the goal of our work. We are so grateful to have relationships with community spaces and movement organizations in our neighborhood, borough, and more broadly across New York City, and we also really value relationships with other radical environments — makerspaces, infoshops, radical archives, community centers, and free-flowing collectives — both in New York City and around the world. Building relationships with people outside the volunteer network is an intentional practice, and we move to strengthen these ties by centering our belief in owning our politics, being non-hierarchical, centering skill-sharing and collaborative work, sharing space, and using the archive as a generative resource. We work with allied communities to co-create relationships that speak to and elevate our shared visions for change.

All of this takes constant reflection in order to understand what’s working well and what we can improve. We are always learning how to care for ourselves, each other, and our community in better ways, and welcome you to join us in this process.

This post was co-authored by Jen Hoyer and Sruti Suryanarayanan. Do you have feedback or ideas to share? Send an email.