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Hello! I am Kirsty Fife – a DIY cultural activist, organiser and producer and archivist based in Leeds, Yorkshire.

I have a background in DIY cultural activism and organising. I am a founding member of the Yorkshire Rad Fat Collective, a fat positive community collective which organises clothes swaps, swimming trips and other events in Yorkshire. I have organised several zine fests (Weirdo Zine Fest; DIY Space for London Zine Fair) and spoken at panels about zines, organising, fat activism, femme identity and class politics.My creative projects include Make It Work, Move Under Yr Own Power and Hard Femme zines – publications which cover intersections between fat, gender, class, queerness and DIY cultures. Until 2014 I also ran Fatty Unbound – a skinflint fat fashion blog – which has been featured on platforms including the BBC, The Times and Bitch magazine.

I am a also qualified archivist with experience of working with cultural, community-led and charitable organisations. My career history incorporates roles working in cataloguing, collections care, digitisation and outreach for organisations including Hoxton Hall, Screen Archive South East, and National Media Museum. I am particularly interested in collection development, diversifying archives and their users, outreach and engagement, and public programming. I often work in partnership with other heritage organisations and can organise grassroots and community engagement events (talks, panels, screenings, zine fairs) for yours too!

Current projects include Archive Fever: What to do with your queer feminist archive (zine, forthcoming); Light Light Sleep #1 (a perzine, forthcoming); playing in Cat Apostrophe and Suggested Friends; research into entry routes into the archive profession and organising fat positive clothes swaps at the Cardigan Centre in Leeds.

Hiya! Last night I spoke at DIY Space for London about identity and playing music. I had a lot of fun and got so many feelings about the complicated experiences and histories that everyone shared. I thought I would post the text of my talk here for anyone who couldn’t make it (I think they’ll be making it online soon, so I’ll update this with links when that happens too).

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I play in Actual Crimes, Suggested Friends, End Men and a first timers band without a name.

I think that growing up as a woman, and particularly for me as a working class queer femme and a survivor, you are socialised into seeing the stuff you make (whether that’s music or writing or art) as inferior to anything that was produced by men or middle class people. When you’re brought up to believe that you aren’t worth much, whether the person tells you that does so through abuse or through institutional education, it gets so much harder to write anything, and you easily become full of self-doubt and sadness and you give up before you’ve even started. That’s what abusers and what patriarchy want you to do.

I started playing music as a teenager. I didn’t think that what I had to write was good enough so I started playing in indie bands as a bass player with men. In the four years I did that I was spoken over more times than I can count. I got asked if I was someone’s girlfriend, or if I was the keyboard player, or the backing vocalist. As a woman I had to be an accessory somehow, I had to be there for some reason other than as a musician. I quit because it made me miserable.

I came back to music a few years later through zine culture and social media. I make Hard Femme zine, which started as a personal rant about my connection to femme identity, my body and class. I didn’t think it was any good when I first made it, but I put it out anyway and people were really encouraging and told me that there was power in my writing. That was probably the first time I understood the power of DIY cultural production as a means to create counter narratives and speak out from a position of marginalisation.

I also went to this amazing workshop about singing at a queer fat activist conference in Oakland, which was called “Singing as Social Justice” and run by Nomy Lamm, who is incredible. We all sat in a room, shut our eyes and started singing independently of each other. It’s really hard to describe but it made this visceral anarchic guttural racket, and it was so powerful, and also I felt safe singing in that space.

I started going to DIY shows around in Leeds then in London. I remember going to a Power Lunches show and watching a queer punk band and simultaneously thinking they were really amazing and also really technically shit. I’d always told myself that I had to be technically good to play music, that I wasn’t good enough so I shouldn’t try, then I saw a bunch of queers making a racket in a basement and I knew that was bullshit. It made me completely re-think what music had to be, and instead of framing it around being a competent musician, I saw it as a way for women and queers to take up space, to make noise and to be visible and powerful.

I was really unsure about my voice and my ability when I started playing in Actual Crimes. At our first practice I got really shy and had to turn around when I started singing. The majority of bands we play with are dominated by women and queers, and I’ve built up friendships with other musicians based on mutual respect and enthusiasm. Through playing in that scene around those people, I got more confident and comfortable as a musician, and I stopped giving a shit about what it means to be a “good” guitarist or a “good” vocalist and just made stuff anyway. Basically, what are you gonna lose by making stuff?

I think being on stage will always be a radical thing for me. Particularly as a fat woman, you’re not supposed to be there, up front. As a survivor, I’m not supposed to be open about the stuff that happened to me, I’m supposed to shut it away somewhere. As a working class person, I’m supposed to feel that culture isn’t made by people like me or for people like me. But I make it anyway. And that’s why DIY is radical for me.

If you’ve been to an archives conference recently, you’ll have heard all about the importance of diversity and inclusion in archive services, the records we collect, and the archive profession as a whole. The need for representative services and collections is talked about extensively, and for good reasons – however, often these terms are banded about like buzzwords with not enough transformative change happening to enable us to work towards these goals.

I’m a working class, white, queer, able bodied, cisgendered woman. I have intersections of identities that lead me to experience oppression on a daily basis, and others which mean that I benefit from a level of systematic privilege. I started working in archives six years ago as a nearly full time Photographic Assistant at a national museum, and I’m now a qualified Archivist currently more than two years post-qualification. As I graduated about two years ago now, I thought this might be an interesting point in time to reflect upon the journey I took to get here, and the implications of that journey on the goal of achieving a more diverse workforce.

At this point in time, to become an Archivist you need to have an undergraduate degree (in order to be accepted onto a postgrad course), at least a year (ish, this varies) entry level work experience, followed by a vocational postgraduate MA qualification. Twenty years ago, when tuition fees didn’t exist (and helpful grant funding did), this was arguably a more achievable goal. However, over those twenty years, tuition fees have been introduced, and increased from £1,000 to £9,000 a year (due to increase again next year). To apply alone to UCL, you now need to pay £75, which is an amount I would have found hard to find when I applied in 2011.

At the same time, postgraduate funding for MA qualifications has dwindled to virtually non-existent. The funding which is and has been available is inaccessible to anyone who has dependants or debts or other circumstances which make living on national minimum wage harder. There is often a stubborn lack of flexibility around taking funding on anything less than a full time basis (which often excludes those with dependants and/or caring responsibilities, or disabilities which make full time study harder, as well as those only able to enrol on distance learning courses).

Here’s an itemised list of costs I’ve incurred in order to become an archivist:

2005-2008       Undergraduate degree, c. £24,000

2009-2010      First entry level job in archives, which paid £1k less than national minimum wage, £1,000

2010-2011       Cross-country move to take up a contract post, £1,500

2012                Cross-country move to start MA at UCL, £2,000

2012-2013       MA qualification, c. £20,000 (funded by AHRC scholarship, fees + maintenance)

2009 – 2014    Periods of no work due to contracts finishing,  c. £6,400 (estimate based on equivalent benefits)

By my reckoning, that’s £54,900 (and counting). This is without having had to volunteer or do unpaid labour, which many of my peers have done and would undoubtedly push this up quite a lot.

My journey to qualification was tough, and I think I lost count of the amount of hoops I had to jump through in order to get my study paid for (because I couldn’t do so myself). Alongside needing to fund every academic move I’ve made, I’ve also been unable to do volunteering and unpaid work (like many of my contemporaries) because I’ve needed to earn a wage to pay my bills. The assumption that we are all able to find spare time (especially alongside full time paid work) to bolster our skill set and acceptability by volunteering is unfair. This logic fosters the idea that working class people should be capable and willing to “go the extra mile” or work harder than their more affluent peers, in order to achieve goals and reach an equivalent point in their career, which is massively problematic, not to mention impossible if you have other reasons for not being able to work 60 hour weeks in which you juggle paid work, unpaid work, scholarship applications, conferences and professional development, and sleeping!

I enjoyed my MA study, and I have benefited from discussion and prolonged research time. At some point in time I would like to go back to education again to continue the work I started. However, professionally, I would say that I have benefited and developed as much (if not more) through participation in peer networks, through my involvement with radical spaces and activist and community groups, and my exposure to an alternative information politics which is not centred around the concept of qualification and the acquisition of authority (through qualification), which is something I disagree with in the first place. These networks of informal skills and knowledge sharing have helped me to develop my professional skills and my understanding of the diverse user groups and communities that the sector wants to engage with more.

As qualified professionals in institutions, we need to re-examine the role that qualification via MA plays in our recruitment and profession. If we want to diversify our profession (and going by the conferences I’ve been to, I think we do) then we need to make it possible for people from different backgrounds to enter the profession. It is not possible to do that and insist upon postgrad qualification as the minimum entry requirement to professional roles. We need to de-centre academic knowledge as the only valid route to qualification, and reposition it as one of the routes to becoming an archivist. This does not devalue the knowledge gained in postgrad study, but rather creates the necessary space and flexibility to open the profession to other modes of knowledge, particularly that gained through learning on the job itself.

We can do this by:

  • Changing personal specifications so that the MA is not mandatory (“or equivalent professional experience”)
  • Changing funding criteria for scholarships and traineeships to include support for part time and distance learning applicants.
  • Adapting our traineeships to incorporate funding for study (alongside part time work perhaps).
  • Using our qualification (if you have it) to disperse our knowledge and skills (about things like cataloguing, preservation, packaging, collections management and development, and digital preservation particularly) to those who need it – here I’m thinking about schemes like the anti-university of London. If you don’t have the time to do this, your institution might have space you can provide to groups who can.

These are steps we can take to diversify our workforce and share our knowledge and skills without devaluing the work we do (which is important in a climate of austerity measures). The ringfencing of qualified archivists and non-qualified archivists is something I see and hear constantly (especially on social media) – it’s time to revisit this and think about how questioning this concept of authority and qualification can lead to a more suitable workforce for the archive services we are aspiring to create. Talking about diversifying archives is not enough – it’s time to see our aspirations shaped into practical steps and routes into the profession, even if these are done a tiny step at a time.

 

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Hi folks! I’m organising a zine fest in January 2016! WEIRDO ZINE FEST is a new zine fair privileging radical and marginalised voices. It’s happening at DIY space for London. The facebook event is here.

Preference for tables will be given to women, queers, POC, trans, genderqueer, non-binary, disabled, working class and otherwise marginalised folks.

If you’d like to table please email fattyunbound[at]gmail[dot]com with answers to the following questions:
• What is the name of your stall?
• What are your zines about and how do you think they fit with the ethos of this zine fest?
• How much do they cost?
• Are you up for trades?
• Do you have a website or link to online examples of your zines?

Tables will be £10. APPLICATIONS CLOSE 30TH NOVEMBER 2015. There’s a limited amount of space, so we’ll select the tablees after all applications have been submitted.

We’re also up for hosting workshops and talks on the day! Get in touch and let me know if you’d like to run something.

There will be a communal zine table for single zines – get in touch to let us know if you’d like to bring a zine along.

More details once stallholders and the programme are announced!

 

Republished from another blog in January 2015:

On Sunday I organised a clothes swap – it was the third swap I’ve organised in London (and I helped organise a bunch more in Leeds between 2011 and 2012), and as always (bar some venue issues) it was a really exciting experience for me. I’ve written a little about my experience running swaps before on my old blog here, and I thought I’d continue this experience of reflecting more.

I’m into swaps because they’re a form of culture and community building that requires little money. To me, they’re a sort of hand-me-on culture that connects right through to my working class roots and rummaging/scavenging as a radical praxis. To me, there’s amazing stuff there to do with sharing resources, making connections and forging community that feels very connected to where I came from as a working class person.

I care a lot about facilitating everything I do through sliding scale and/or for donation culture. There have been times in my life when I’ve had no money – when I’ve not been able to buy anything, feed myself, pay bills and go out or socialise. These times have been some of the most isolating in my life so far, even as someone who values a lot of alone time and really enjoys hanging out at home by myself.

Particularly since I’ve moved to London, I’ve noticed about much spending is involved in participating in communities. Participating in the queer community, for instance, often involves going to film screenings, gigs, club nights, performances, talks, etc etc. These things all cost money, and there aren’t many which have unwaged rates (and quite frankly, “concession” rates are still appallingly high a lot of the time), yet it’s hard to make connections with people without going out to at least some events. Participating and being involved in a community shouldn’t be tied into spending – and when it is, it’s perhaps not surprising that those who can afford to be out regularly then tend to dominate subcultural scenes and communities.

With the swaps, I spend a lot of time telling people to come if they don’t have *anything*. I do this because I’m aware that access to free clothes is important if you don’t have much money, but also because I’m aware that access to the community and support that spring up as part of these events is important and shouldn’t be restricted to those who earn money.

As the end to this I thought maybe I’d do a little list of tips I have for organisers who want to be more aware and proactive about these issues:

  • Be willing to use a less “polished”/more DIY venue if it means you can cut your hire costs. Don’t do this at the cost of other types of accessibility, though.
  • Make sure any promotional materials say “no one will be turned away for lack of funds” and actually enforce that. Bear in mind that it’s pretty hard to say “I have no money” too – having a pot where people drop what they can pay into (or taking donations in advance) can help with this.
  • Take donations or offer sliding scale rates instead of setting fixed full price/concession rates – often people who have more money and value what you’re doing will give more generously, and those who can’t don’t feel pressured into spending what they don’t have.
  • If it’s a drinking type of space, BYOB events are neat (or dry spaces, BYO food and drink is still excellent) – I spend a lot of time not drinking or stretching the 1-2 pints I can afford over a very long time, and feeling awkward when I’m not able to keep up with people.

I’d be interested to hear any other tips that organisers have?

As organisers, let’s think about this more often. Organising in big cities like London without many DIY spaces in tough, but there’s little steps that can be taken to keep our cultures and communities accessible and available to anyone who needs them. It’s easy to talk about accessibility and diversity but it’s time more of us took action to achieve these aims.

I often come into contact with people who are interested in running fat positive clothes swaps in their own areas. Last year I made a zine about this – it’s something I sell at fairs, but which I want to be widely available. It’s a resource which is useful for fat positive swaps, but also for anyone who wants to run a swap (particularly for other marginalised groups). I decided to scan in the zine, so you can print yr own.

How to organise a clothes swap

To print/assemble:

1. Open PDF.

2. Go to File>Print.

3. Go to Properties. In the Properties menu under “Print on Both Sides” select “Yes, Flip Over”

4. Print!

5. With pages as printed out, fold the zine in half to make an A5 zine (you can staple if you want to).

Unfortunately due to the construction of the zine I was unable to make this suitable for e-readers/to read online – sorry! However, it’s small and only takes 4 pages to print.

This zine is free to copy for distros, or anyone wanting to use/share it as a resource.

If you are in the UK, you might also want to join Fat Positive London or Yorkshire Rad Fat Collective, who organise swaps on a regular basis.