The Seattle Public Library and Seattle arts organization Wa Na Wari are partnering on a project to advance racial equity in American archives, as part of the Digital Public Library of America’s Digital Equity Project, funded by the Mellon Foundation.

In June, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) announced $850,000 in new funding from the Mellon Foundation to support its efforts to advance racial justice in American archives. With this funding, DPLA has launched a Digital Equity Project to provide support for underrepresented, under-resourced archives and expand DPLA’s capacity for supporting and partnering with diverse archival projects.

The Seattle Public Library is part of the initial cohort of three organizations that will form a Digital Equity Project Community of Practice for this work. Other participating organizations include the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library of Charlotte, North Carolina and DPLA’s Recollection Wisconsin Hub / University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries.

“Each of these organizations will receive sub-grant awards to pursue a project dedicated to furthering equity in American archives. In addition, representatives from each group will take part in our Digital Equity Project Community of Practice, which will work together to create a collaborative model for partnering with diverse archival projects and providing direct financial support for the development of people, projects, and new practices,” said Shaneé Murrain, Director of Community Engagement at DPLA, in an announcement.

Wa Na Wari is an arts organization, based in Seattle’s Central District, which creates space for Black ownership, possibility, and belonging through art, historic preservation and connection. The DPLA project, funded at $100,000 for two years, will support the continuation and further development of Wa Na Wari’s Seattle Black Spatial Histories Institute, which trains community members in the techniques and best practices of oral history and Black memory work.

“The Seattle Black Spatial Histories Institute is one way, among many, that Wa Na Wari seeks to build collective power towards a future of Black ownership and belonging by rooting our work in a legacy of Black resilience, creativity, and self-determination,” said Inye Wokoma, Co-Founder of Wa Na Wari. “Training community members in the techniques and best practices of Black memory work is an important step towards shifting power around whose stories are told, how they’re told, and what place those stories hold in the shaping of Black futures. Wa Na Wari is thrilled to further this work through our collaboration with SPL.”

According to Andrew Harbison, interim Director of Library Programs and Services for The Seattle Public Library, the goals of the project include increasing representation of Black experiences in Seattle’s cultural and historical record; supporting ongoing community history work conducted by a Black-led organization; and making Black oral history publicly accessible in ways that are ethical and accountable to the community.    

“We are very, very excited to be a part of this important project in partnership with Wa Na Wari and DPLA,” Harbison said. “By gathering and preserving local voices and stories, we can ensure that Seattle’s rich heritage of Black history and culture is part of our city’s historical narrative for generations to come. As a library system, we want Seattle communities to feel well represented by our collections, and this is a great opportunity to advance these efforts.”

The Digital Equity Project supports two other projects. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library will grow its Living Archives Project, an initiative to document the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities in Mecklenburg County. The Recollection Wisconsin Hub and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries will fund a Milwaukee Women’s Art Library community ambassador who will engage with Milwaukee’s women’s and non-binary art communities to identify new contributors and break down barriers to access and participation.



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