Research. Listen. Archive. Remember.
Since 2011 the DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC MEMORY has visited dozens of public services and programs around the city gathering living memories from Toronto residents. The DEPARTMENT created the MEMORY ARCHIVE because public memory and dialogue are urgently needed right now, as all levels of government face dramatic decisions about what to cut and what to maintain. As challenging as it may be, we need public conversations about the future of our common care for each other. We need to tell each other the stories of our public services and why they matter to our lives.
The MEMORY ARCHIVE began as a series of site specific street signs installed throughout the city to commemorate these overlooked public services and programs and to provoke civic dialogue in the streets. Over the years the DEPARTMENT has learned about dozens of small overlooked grassroots organizations and examples of community activism which have been overlooked or underacknowledged. This has included programs and services that are now gone due to funding cuts. In order to make these signs we use a technique called “Memory Collection” to collect memories from service users, staff and volunteers about each site. With each sign we tried to find the right “voice” for the sign’s text and so each sign has a different tone or poetic feel.
In 2016 we began to think about how we could further share these stories beyond signs and site-specific events. Over the years the DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC MEMORY has conducted hundreds of “Memory Collection” interviews and most of what we’ve learned about has not ended up on a sign. Each sign is only approximately 140 words and a single image: an index tab in public space suggesting a fuller story. The DEPARTMENT decided to create a broader Memory Archive as a way to compile and share these stories to different people in different parts of the city. When people take a shift as “memory workers” and unpack a file from the Interactive Memory Archive they encounter verbatim memories, objects and other ephemera that have informed our commemorative processes. This is our attempt to further share these socially important memories and to prompt further civic discussion by sharing them.