Balancing content creation with serving core audiences
ONE Archives Foundation is an independent nonprofit and a community partner of ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California. The foundation produces educational programs, exhibitions, and events drawing from the archives’ vast multimedia collection, anchored by a gallery space in West Hollywood and administrative offices in Los Angeles.
Four months before the pandemic, Umi Hsu joined the foundation in the newly created role of Director of Content Strategy. Designed to provide an overarching view of programs, the director was to coordinate archival initiatives, as well as digital projects and communications. When the pandemic necessitated closing the physical gallery space, foundation staff had to quickly change gears. Using existing content from their exhibition Metanoia: Transformations through AIDS Archives and Activism, as well as commissioned submissions, the team created an online Zine, What does a COVID-19 Doula Do? Simultaneously, the foundation began organizing online events, developing series to build community among repeat attendees and fostering intergenerational dialogues through teen-led audio storytelling series. This work meant rethinking staff roles.
Interpretation and communications remained vital activities, while in-person gallery assistants morphed into a media production team. Staff cultivated skills to operate webinars, edit audio and video content, and use social media as both a delivery mechanism and communications tool. Explorations across media forms have led to multimedia initiatives such as Pride Publics, a multisite outdoor installation coupled with a website featuring videos of artist conversations, mixtapes, readings, and more. The foundation also produced a Webby-honored virtual reading of Larry Kramer’s play The Normal Heart. Across 2021 events and exhibitions, the foundation reached over 70,000 in-person and online visitors and participants.
Educational programs shifted online as well, with webinars for teachers on incorporating LGBTQIA+ histories into curricula, serving 180 educators and administrators in the past year. Hsu likens these workshops to watching someone cook. Educators work on “turning a piece of history into a lesson plan” in real time—brainstorming and refining exercises and discussion frameworks for specific grade levels. Initially, the foundation supported such efforts by reallocating funding from in-person programs. While budgets remain a struggle, Hsu observes that online educational programs can potentially open new funding streams, in addition to filling curriculum gaps for teachers routinely strapped for time and resources.
Reflecting on ONE Archives Foundation’s lockdown-era programming and strategies going forward, Hsu notes both challenges and possibilities, commenting that, “Content is like air. It’s everywhere now.” This means creating both in-depth programs at the core of the organization’s mission as well as regular, bite-sized content to “feed the machine” to be consumed as social media. Considering the capacity limitations of small organizations to generate regular content, Hsu notes the potential of collective avenues, such as pooling resources through digital content repositories, collaborating, and highlighting one another’s work.
With so many demands placed on organizations to constantly generate new content and grow audiences, Hsu provides perspective. They emphasize staying true to values and providing meaningful content and connections while actively addressing barriers. Hsu explains, “We can’t serve everyone. Let’s make sure we serve the people we really care about, finding ways to elevate their work and giving them a space to organize, build relationships, and community. That’s an ongoing process.”