Arts & Culture

AS220 archives made public

Providence Public Library opens archives of arts organization following two-year restoration

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, September 6, 2018

The archives were prepared over a two-year period by Janaya Kizzie. Federal grants helped to pay for the project.

This summer, the Providence Public Library opened the archives of AS220, a Providence-based community arts non-profit, to the public. This release concludes a two-year effort by the library and AS220 to house and preserve the organization’s archives. According to the press release, the archives include over 110 linear feet of records and 700 gigabytes of digital files that represent the organization’s lifespan.

AS220, founded in 1985, works “to provide an unjuried and uncensored forum for any Rhode Island artist working in just about any medium imaginable,” said David Dvorchak, communications director for AS220. The organization provides gallery spaces and performance venues that are open to all artists producing original work, he said. AS220 owns three buildings in downtown Providence, which accommodate the gallery spaces as well as private housing for artists and a restaurant. The nonprofit also offers a youth program geared toward young adults ages 14 to 21 in the custody or care of the state of Rhode Island, Dvorchak explained. Put simply, “it is a multifaceted organization that tries to provide support for artists in Rhode Island,” he added.

Following previous requests for the use of AS220’s materials, an archival effort began about two years ago, said Kate Wells, curator of the Rhode Island Collections at Providence Public Library. AS220 sought a “permanent home for their archives,” which they found across the street at the PPL.

“We’ve been trying to build collections … since the library’s beginning, and this collection fits in with a lot of what we have,” said Jordon Goffin, head curator of collections at the library. This is a new type of collection for the PPL, as the library has not housed many large archival collections in the past, he added.

The library acquired a federal grant from the National Historical Preservation and Records Commission to hire a project archivist, Janaya Kizzie. Kizzie has worked with the collection for over a year to both determine the “high-level philosophical” organization of the collection — as it must be usable by potential researchers — and work out the smaller details, such as removing paper clips and rusted staples. “You can’t have a collection that is a complete mess in an intellectual sense, and you also can’t have a collection that’s covered in things that are slowly destroying it,” she said. Otherwise, “you won’t have a collection at all.”

The archives are meant to appeal to people with varying goals, just as AS220 supports individuals in “creating art, … viewing art or appreciating art,” Dvorchak said.

Wells said that people are already utilizing the collection for “a lot of creative works that would be serving as an inspiration point for new artwork.” The archive is also being used by those “interested in the social justice aspect of AS220,” she added. This includes organizations hoping to provide access to underserved communities’ perspectives, she said.

“AS220 is more than an arts organization — they built a community from the ground up and they did it in a way that very few other organizations could,” Kizzie said.

One popular element of the collection is the posters, documenting events spanning the 33 years of AS220’s existence. This collection not only chronicles the “great artists who have been in Providence and are in Providence right now,” Kizzie said, but also recalls the designs that at once, “seem so ubiquitous, but then all of sudden, they’re gone.” The archive also includes episodes of AS220’s cable access show, TV220, which ran for 15 years and showcased the breadth of AS220’s work in that period, Wells said.

The growth of AS220, as illustrated by the collection, coincides with the revitalization of downtown Providence. “When we were first founded back in 1985, Providence was not the most welcoming or supportive place for artists,” Dvorchak said, noting that people who studied urban art often looked to bigger cities — such as New York and Los Angeles — for opportunities. AS220’s efforts to make creating and viewing art accessible allowed them “to open up those opportunities for the community here in Rhode Island,” Dvorchak added. AS220’s history is a “core component of what makes Providence a really creative city,” Wells said.

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