Above: Groundwork: Revisiting Philadelphia Media Activism Through Archiving, created by the fall 2021 BFA Curatorial Studies Methods class.
A class project last fall to archive digital video for a Philadelphia nonprofit was so successful, it has continued into this semester.
Graduate Program Director Daniel Tucker’s BFA Curatorial Studies Methods online class worked remotely last semester with the Movement Alliance Project (MAP) to contribute to the group’s ongoing efforts to archive raw footage from a series of short films. The students are creating a usable catalog of the videos for community groups and media organizations to access and repurpose.
Above graphic courtesy of Movement Alliance Project.
Olivia Downs, Shannon Ferrari, Lily Feinstein, Laila Islam, Bay Warner, Courtney Warren and Carolina Marin cataloged over 600 items in the digital archive, noting location names, subject names and writing sentences to describe scenes. Tucker said MAP was so impressed by their work that they agreed to extend the project with his spring class. Archive work this semester is being done by Emily Burke, Josh Archer, Corinne Ross, Jen Schneck, Seven Franklin and Jay Sydorko in Tucker's Expanded Documentary and Storytelling course.
"By continuing this partnership, we contribute to cataloging their videos and also show students vital lessons about file management for documentaries before and after production," he said. "The students used the material to make storyboards to start thinking about how to structure narrative sequences when working with footage shot by someone else, a skill essential to documentary editing."
“Video is really hard to organize, and if you can't find the clip you're looking for it becomes like looking for a needle in a haystack,” said Helyx Horwitz, MAP information systems and technology manager. “Then our video is essentially useless. And so we're working on catalog design and then building in better practices going forward.”
The video footage the students are cataloging is from a project called Groundwork: Justice in the Birthplace of America, a documentary series about activists in Philadelphia and what brought them to stand up for their rights on issues such as raising the minimum wage. Horwitz said the cataloging process relates to artistic practices like curating.
“The intimate engagement with raw material I think is a useful experience, especially if you’re going to curate galleries or content in any way,” said Horwitz.
Left: Exhibition poster by Bay Warner '22.
Tucker said for curators, there is always a question of how to work with archives.
"That was particularly challenging in the pandemic because most were inaccessible, so having a partnership with a digital archive solved that problem," said Tucker. "Beyond that, there is a specific opportunity to think about how to work with living archives that document media happening right here in the city of Philadelphia. And finally, there is an essential skill related to the ethics of working with partner organizations, which is that you have to contribute something before you can ask for something. In this case the course cataloging allowed students to support their work while concurrently becoming familiar with it so that they could then make an exhibition inspired by it."
The students in the fall Curatorial Studies Methods class designed an exhibition of posters, using information from the videos. They came up with a community engagement plan to make the public aware of the archived footage and of the issues covered in the series. Their curatorial methods included building a project timeline, establishing a budget and creating a course of action.
The exhibition, Groundwork: Revisiting Philadelphia Media Activism Through Archiving, is on display on the Philadelphia Wall of The Galleries at Moore.