Protestors gathered in the streets of Denver’s Capitol Hill on a cold November morning in 2016, mourning the direction the country was taking. Donald Trump had been nominated as the next president of the United States, and the world felt as though it was suddenly spinning backwards.
Progress seemed like it had immediately halted, a country at a standstill and gridlocked in fear. Within the crowd of thousands, two friends gathered and marched with the protestors, deciding that history was not going to repeat itself any longer. These stories, these voices, the marginalized and the oppressed, would no longer be kept silent.
Sigri Strand and Jessie De la Cruz were those two friends, and as they walked the protest route, they brainstormed through their collective angst and desire to make immediate change. From that very day, ArtHyve, the nonprofit, community-built artist archive, was born.
“I’m an archivist, and archives traditionally represent the voices of the dead; it’s almost like you have to be dead to get into an archive,” said Jessie De la Cruz, creative executive director and founder of ArtHyve.
“No one is actively working to archive and preserve our contemporary history and contemporary culture,” said De la Cruz.
De la Cruz came from a background in preserving and archiving art at a local Denver museum, and she and Strand began to contemplate what this new project could become as the gaps in representation and narratives become too glaring to ignore. Far too many stories that strayed from the cis, straight, white, male perspective were being withheld, while entire groups of voices were omitted from historical record altogether.
“Archives are supposed to be the site where we build and reflect upon our history, but it’s a very limited viewpoint of history,” said De la Cruz. “it’s really only representing one perspective. A quote that I always go back to is, ‘If history is written by the victors, how much do we know about history?’”
“What has been omitted are people of color, queer voices, women. It feels harsh sometimes to say that it’s just been a cis, white, male voice we’ve heard from, but in reality, that’s kind of been the case,” added Strand, ArtHyve co-founder, board member, and artist.
As ArtHyve began to develop, the pair made an intentional decision to focus on those pockets of the community that have been left out of the privileged opportunity of representation and documentation. With De la Cruz’s art archiving background, they decided to develop a system which provides members of the creative community a chance to preserve their own stories in their own, unique ways.
Through the use of a time capsule, anyone who deems themselves a creative can submit a box of materials as a medium of recording their own history and experiences. From poets to dancers, musicians to chefs, however a person creates is qualifier enough to offer a submission.
In a single box, artists and creatives can assemble an array of materials in ArtHyve’s archiving lab that relate to their creative process, reflecting an aspect of their personal biography.
“We work with artists and creatives on that process, and then the artist creates a video diary that walks through their process materials, contextualizing these items for the public. Those time capsules will then be on-site for researchers to access,” she said.
Having officially acquired a permanent space to process and preserve these artifacts and stories, ArtHyve Lab will be hosting their first open house June 26 – 28. From 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. they will open their doors to the public at the Sherman Street shop located directly above City O’ City.
“We’re really inspired by the ONE Archives Foundation and the work that they’ve done to preserve queer culture throughout the years,” said Strand. Based out of the University of Southern California since 2010, the LGBTQ history archive has been community-led and curated since its humble inception in the 1950s.
While still in its infancy, ArtHyve strives to engage the community to counter the narratives that are overwhelmingly prevalent in the current age of archives. Tapping into their current resources to seek out those voices, their approach is grassroots and word-of-mouth.
“We like to say that we are who we archive, so our board represents a wide spectrum of voices,” said Strand.
“We have queer people, trans people, people of color, and then we build out through our community to find new people that need to be heard and documented,” said Strand.
While some may feel like they don’t have a story that is worth documenting, an interesting enough life to put in a capsule, De la Cruz urges people to challenge that notion.
“I feel like everybody has some story, some narrative, some voice. I think StoryCorps is a really great example of that,” she said. StoryCorps, a weekly program on NPR, captures the oral history of a diverse range of people, and those audio recordings are then placed in the National Archives.
“Those are stories of a mother speaking to her son, or a neighbor speaking to another neighbor, or a husband and wife, and the beautiful part is, they’re stories of everyday people. When we listen to the stories, we hear our own stories reflected, and we feel represented, because these are the stories of our collective humanity,” said De la Cruz.
In less than three years’ time, ArtHyve has gone from an acknowledgement of what should be, to an idea of what could be, into a collective that is. While there have been many barriers along the way, primarily a lack of understanding of what archiving is as well as the never-ending struggle of funding a nonprofit, the results have been worth the long nights and working weekends.
“It’s been a really amazing, exhausting, challenging, wonderful experience starting this nonprofit from scratch,” said De la Cruz.
“Giving voice to communities that are typically under-represented is my life’s work and where my heart is,” said De la Cruz.
“Sigri and I are still blown away by the shape it’s taken, and it really is beyond Sigri and I at this point. It’s no longer just our project; it is really built by the community.”
Photo by Sigri Strand