Activist-Curator Fellowship FAQs

If your question isn’t covered here, check out the replay of the applicant info session.

Q: Do I have to live in Philadelphia to apply?

A: No, BUT your organizing or activism must take place in Philadelphia. The Free Library of Philadelphia plays a major role in this fellowship, and one of the objectives of the fellowship is to deepen local knowledge and understanding of local history by showing Philadelphia’s continuum of resistance. Organizations and foundations in Philadelphia who fund arts, culture, and heritage projects have been known to fund national or international consultants to do a 1-2 year collaboration with a local community, then bounce. Chronicling Resistance values the expertise of the Philadelphia region, and specifically of local activists and organizers. We also want to highlight the rich archival collections held in special collections libraries throughout the city. Valuing what’s here also means we have not asked for money for organizers and activists to travel to Philadelphia by ground or by air, and there is no money to do that.

Q: Do you accept applications from groups?

A: The fellowship technically is open only to individuals, but you may apply as a group. If you do apply as a partnership, team, or group and you accept the invitation to the fellowship, you and your collaborators will need to decide how to divide the work and the stipend amongst yourselves. Additionally, all collaborators will need to attend the Fellows Orientation on October 19, 2020. Each individual should submit a separate application and use the question at the end asking for anything else we should know to specify this is a group application.

Q: When is the orientation?

A: Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, from 9:00 a.m. –  1:00 p.m.

Q: I don’t organize in a specific area of the city. Is that something you’re looking for?

A: This answer is isn’t so straightforward. Yes, it’s ideal if you organize in a specific geographical location of the city. This is because some of the exhibitions and programs will take place at neighborhood libraries. Also, you’ll notice the application asks, “What communities does your activism or organizing involve?” and “How would you describe the ways in which you belong to this community?” Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods, and often, one of the ways we belong to a community is to live or work in it, to know our neighbors, and to know something of the neighborhood’s history. Philadelphia is also still a racially and ethnically segregated city. To that end, diversity of geographies may also provide a diversity of representation and perspectives.

BUT diversity of representation isn’t dictated by geography, so organizing in a specific area of the city isn’t necessary.

Q: I’m an academic, librarian, curator, or scholar-activist already. Is this project right for me?

A: One of the project’s priorities is bringing new audiences to the archives and opening them up to people who may not feel like the archives are meant for them. But, we expect applicants will have different levels of comfort and experience within these spaces, and these different comfort levels can be helpful in when we have small-group meetings about how the research is going. If you’re looking for a post-doctoral fellowship, however, this is not the opportunity for you.

Q: I’m already a Mellon Fellow in another program. Can I still apply?

A: Yes, you can still apply.

Q: I submitted my application through the portal before having the opportunity to learn more in the info session. Is it possible to make changes at this point?

A: No, but you could begin your application anew. If you had a copy of your application emailed to you, you can copy and paste the answers you want to keep. Also, in the space for anything else you’d like us to know, please note that you want us to discard the previous application.

Q: How do you plan to make this a safe environment for activists and organizers?

A: We have listed on the application guidelines several commitments to making our libraries and archives good working environments for fellows. While we haven’t used the word “safe,” we hope the stated commitments and actions create environments that eliminate discrimination and the threat of retribution for speaking out about it and that allow Fellows to bring their full selves to their research.

Q: How do you plan to keep us safe from the coronavirus?

A: Several events have pushed back the start of the project, so it’s looking more realistic now to have this be 100% virtual for the rest of the year. This means that instead of an in-person, half-day orientation, we will have it over Zoom. Every special collections library that is currently open requires appointments right now. All materials have a 96-hour quarantine hold on them. (So if you go to City Archives to look at something , and you finish with it at noon on Monday, the librarian puts it on a quarantine shelf, and no one else can touch that material again until noon on Friday.) Every library is requiring patrons and staff to wear masks.

We would still have bi-weekly check-ins, but they would happen virtually and would be mostly about the preliminary research, secondary sources that lead back to the archive, defining a central research question, doing things that will make digging through boxes and boxes of materials easier and faster. Then in January or February, work would begin in person.

Q: Can I spilt the hours between two days?

A: Sure! Everything in the archives is by appointment right now, so you’ll have to work around that.

Q: Can the exhibit be done with photos and video?

A: Yes.

Q: Would you help our group start an archive?

A: Yes. A portion of the project focuses on capacity-building for community-based archives. That could mean assistance with building an archive from scratch, organizing or preserving existing papers or items, figuring out the best way to make the items available to more people who might find them useful, or something else we haven’t thought of yet.

Q: Where would our projects be exhibited?

A: The culminating exhibition in August will be held at the Free Library of Philadelphia, Parkway Central, in the third-floor gallery area. There is also space in the West Gallery on the first floor and in the lobby. Smaller exhibitions /programs will be held at neighborhood libraries.

Q: Will we be producing individual exhibits or one group exhibit?

A: Fellows will collaborate with curator Yolanda Wisher to produce one culminating exhibit. This exhibit will be shown at Parkway Central Library, in the Dietrich Gallery. Leading up to that, each fellow will be working individually on an exhibit narrative and some community programming at neighborhood branches.

During a pilot fellowship program in the spring of 2020, Fellows found that biweekly meetings or check-ins with the project director were very helpful when done in small groups, so we will attempt that format again. For an idea of how those small-group meetings went, you can check out our podcast, Research Revelations, either on our blog or on SoundCloud.

Q: Can I work on more than one issue?

A: If you want to work on more than one issue, you’ll need to explain in question 5 how they’re interconnected or why both or however many are your fields. If you have difficulty answering question 5, ask yourself what issue you spend the most time organizing around or fighting for, or which one you would like to spend the most time on and why. And then ask, what is it about that issue that I’m focused on?

Q: What happens to my application after the selection process concludes, whether I’m selected or not? How do I know my application will remain confidential?

A: We will share application material with the selection committee only, and the considerations of the selection committee will be conducted confidentially. We will publish only the names and research topics of those fellows who are selected and accept the invitation. Applicants will remain on Formsite through September 2021, when the first grant report is due to the funder. This is in case we need to refer back to application materials to give the funder anonymous data (i.e., topics of interest, zip code, comfort with libraries and archives) about who applied for the fellowship. After the funder has accepted our report, applications will be deleted from Formsite.

Chronicling Resistance is a partnership among archival institutions, so it would be odd if we deleted every trace of the applications. The Project Director will keep a hard copy of each application but will delete names and contact information from applicants who do not go on to accept an invitation to participate in the fellowship.

Q: If I create original work for this project, does the work belong to me?

A: Yes, original work belongs to you. Work that is exhibited or performed belongs to you and the Free Library of Philadelphia on the work’s first date of public presentation and for 90 days thereafter. Then the copyright or intellectual property rights are yours alone. If you create a derivative of something that belongs to an archive, we’ll work with you to acquire permission to use that work. For example, let’s say you want to create found poetry based on letters from Frederick Douglass held at Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP). You would get permission from HSP to use copies of the letters as works of art. The poems you create are yours. You then exhibit the poems at the Blackwell Regional Library on September 1. At that point, the poems are exhibited in the Free Library system, so the poems are still yours, but the way the exhibit is displayed is the library’s, and because your poem is part of the exhibit, you’ll need to wait until December 2 before you publish the poems in a literary journal or on a blog, or make another piece of art from them. You may also need to get permission from HSP to make another piece of artwork not a part of this project.

Here’s how we wrote the full copyright policy in the grant proposal:

We recognize that there may be complex, inherent intellectual property rights concerns in a project with such a large number of creators drawing on materials from a wide variety of institutions. Groups or individuals may hold rights over historical or archival materials that Fellows wish to use in their research or public presentations. As such, the Chronicling Resistance project team will work with Fellows, holding institutions, and rights holders to obtain the necessary permissions whenever possible. If Fellows work with materials related to Indigenous Nations, we are committed to following protocols in which those Nations would approve uses of materials.

Fellows will retain intellectual property rights over the materials they create, with the stipulation that there will be a public showing of that work as part of the Chronicling Resistance project. Future use of that work would need to be negotiated between the Fellow and the institution in question. Rights for any photographs and film of events, public presentations, installations, etc. will be shared by the Fellows and the Free Library.
Any digitization and conservation work undertaken as part of this project would be in support of Fellows’ projects; to support educational programming related to installations, such as “traveling trunks”; and to allow for community engagement with materials chosen by Fellows as important to their work. Conservation and digitization decisions will be made in conversation with Fellows and holding institution staff. Materials would be designated for digitization and conservation if Fellows are using these pieces in their research or public presentations, and the materials are designated by staff as in need of care prior to travel, display, or sustained use. Materials will also be digitized if Fellows wish to present their public project in a digital format or have a digital component for this part of their work. Digitized materials will be added to holding institutions’ digital asset management systems whenever possible. If there are intellectual property rights issues, the Chronicling Resistance team will work with holding institutions and rights holders as described above to help ensure that materials are made freely available online.