In 2010, the Oakland Museum of California was gifted the All Of Us Or None collection, an archive of 24,000 political posters.
The posters were collected by Michael Rossman, a Berkeley free-speech activist who dedicated his life to gathering and documenting progressive activity. Broad-ranging in topic, but focussed on the Bay Area (particularly the period between 1965 and 1985), the collection includes posters about gay rights, draft protest, food justice, marijuana legalization, police brutality, veganism, sexual freedom, and just about anything else you can think of.
The posters are relevant, powerful, and in many cases, stunning works of graphic design. The Museum is considering how to best bring these images to the public. Moreover, hundreds of posters have no information attached—a real archivist's nightmare—and the Museum would like a way to bring those near-forgotten details into our collections records.
To spur our thinking and get some input from the community, we organized a convening. Artists, community organizers, web designers, archivists, and activists brainstormed ways to make this collection accessible and useful to a broad public.
Our guests were inspired and inspiring. We’re still mulling over their contributions, and our next steps. Here are a few gems in the form of quotes, and following those, a downloadable publication documenting the participants' presentations and the conversation that followed.
“One of the scary things is that this stuff is going to be de-contextualized when it’s put in the museum… None of these artists would have ever been exhibited at the museum when this stuff was being made. What I’m afraid of is that it’s going to be the same story—items are exhibited only because they’re old and the people are dead.” — Jesus Barraza
“The reality is our lives intersect across time and place in many fascinating ways, but the connections are often hidden. You have to think of a poster as this freeze-dried moment in time that captures all these different threads, which you can then traverse.” — John C. Fox
“Almost every poster has a story… If you have a title and an image up on the web, sooner or later somebody’s going to say ‘I did that’ or ‘I know who did that’ and you can get the stories. You can build the knowledge that otherwise would have remained unknown.” — Lincoln Cushing
“There’s a difference in being about politics and being really political. I think that things need to have a real life in order to be political. They need to be in the real world, they need to be allowed to die… Let people handle them, let people touch them, let them be stolen.” — Joseph del Pesco
“The original has an aura through its scarcity and singularity, and the digital has power through its distribution and repeatability. There’s the aura and the buzz, and this archive speaks to both.” — Geoff Kaplan
“People in [social protest] movements don’t have a lot of money and resources, so how can we both pay homage to some of these pieces and use them to further the cause? As graphic artists, communications specialists, and organizers, we need to be able to reference these materials and say this history is important to the issues we’re fighting for today.” — Nadia Khastagir
“You need to look at these posters not just as acquisitions and assets, which is what most museums do, but as opportunities to raise awareness and to educate… It’s not enough to have a collection. You can have a collection of anything and have no clue of its relationship to the world. It’s the interpretation.” — Greg Morizumi
“I don’t believe that access contradicts preservation. I actually think the opposite. The more access you can give to materials the better they’ll be preserved.” — George Oates
“I’m so glad this collection ended up here. This is a place where it can be displayed both physically and virtually, and where it speaks entirely of and to the community from which it originated.” — Peter Samis
“We can’t foresee what will be created by making these posters available to younger generations. It’s not even for us to fathom—it’s for us to make it happen.” — Lisbet Tellefson
“One of the most radical things you can do as a museum is to be really generous. To make a gesture of real generosity towards culture.” — Anne Walsh
“That’s how posters work! They attract your attention when you’re going about your daily life—you don’t have to go to a special place to see a poster like you do to see a film… Posters can change people’s lives.” — Carol A. Wells