Archive / Counter-Archive


All sectors of Canadian archives have suffered from decades of funding cuts and austerity policies, but moving image archives have experienced these injuries most acutely.

Meanwhile, digital media archives, apparently both ubiquitous and accessible, are even more vulnerable (European Commission 2011). Library and Archives Canada’s 2016 “Canadian National Heritage Digitization Strategy” (LAC 2016) covers only a small fraction of audiovisual material held by “memory institutions” and does not innovate around cultural protocols for either preservation or public access. This is a global crisis,
but Canada is in a unique position, at a crucial moment. Specifically, the robust and internationally renowned federally funded community arts sector faces a twin crisis:

Our moving image cultural heritage may become both extinct and/or forever inaccessible to the Canadian public. With no policy in place for this sector, few media artworks created over the past fifty years have been systematically preserved. Those that have been preserved are virtually inaccessible due to onerous distribution and display processes in new media environments. Preservation should be merely one step toward public access, activation, renewal and remediation of Canadian cultural memory and creative life, not its end point. The proposed Archive/Counter-Archive: Activating Canada’s Moving Image Heritage (A/CA) is a six-year research-creation partnership that seeks to redress the crisis facing Canadian audiovisual heritage through a systematic, multi-institutional plan for facilitating public access and policy.

Subtended by the desire to amend the unevenness of Canadian preservation and public access efforts to date, the A/CA further seeks to activate Canada’s most precarious audiovisual heritage by studying and engaging with a selection of case studies, archives that encompass media arts made by women, Indigenous Peoples, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, two-spirited and queer (LGBT2Q) community, and archives from Canada’s immigrant communities. Using a practice-based approach, the A/CA partnership will foster a creative engagement with archives, one where preservation does not oppose access (Millar 1998), but flourishes from new media practices of “remediation” (Grusin and Bolter 1998; Lievrouw 2011). We call these forms of practice “counter-archival.” Political, ingenious, resistant, and community-based, “counter-archives” historicize differently; they disrupt conventional national narratives, writing difference into public accounts. Working collaboratively, four universities (York,
Ryerson, Queen’s, Concordia), numerous archival organizations, and policy advocates will advance counter-archival approaches to achieve four objectives:

1. Create new, practice-based knowledge and methodologies through seven case studies of community and/or independent archives in Canada, each tied to specific problems and community interests.

2. Train and mentor the next generation of curators, archivists, cultural activists, scholars, digital humanists, artists, HQP, cultural policy and IP specialists to advance Canadian moving image heritage preservation, accessibility, and presentation.

3. Build a sustainable multilingual digital archive, an open access, 3D digital platform called Counter-Archives, where visitors can encounter, interact with and travel through different archival case studies, with a view to advancing next-generation metadata standards and presentation interfaces.

4. Foster an audiovisual archive network in Canada, linking community archives to citizens, researchers and policymakers to identify the needs of audiovisual preservation across different community contexts, and illuminate the challenges and epistemologies that surround 21st century archives.