Inside the Civic Media Center
James Schmidt
October 1998

Although there are many sides to the Center these days, from public forum to punk rock music hall, the library remains at the core of the Center's mission. We are continually working to improve the collection's organization and accessibility. One of our greatest achievements within the last two years has been the implementation of a program in which our collection is being added to the local public library's electronic database.

The Civic Media Center's lending library is the financial base of the project as well. The truly brilliant aspect of the original Civic Media Center design was to create the lending library as a kind of "information cooperative," in which use of the collection was supported by paid memberships available for a $10 to $20 sliding scale yearly donation. This membership aspect has allowed the Center to have a concrete record of its community base of support in both the financial and practical senses. Out membership database functions as an organizing tool as well. By sending out newsletters that include updates on the Center's functioning and a list of planned events, we are able to bring people back again and again to share information with them and get their input and participation in local political and cultural happenings that we host here and at other sites around town. By keeping detailed records of how much and how regularly folks are willing to pay for their memberships (some of our supporters pay monthly, quarterly, etc.) we are able to know who we can tap for emergency spot donations when funds are short. Periodic membership renewal drives by phone and mail accomplish the same goal in a more measured, sustainable fashion.

The building of our fundraising programs has been a long, slow process that is affected by many factors, including things like the number and frequency of public events held at the Center within a given period, changes in volunteer staffing, and the availability of other community resources such as large music halls. It is important for folks considering a similar endeavor to understand that the Center was very lucky to enjoy an initial fundraising push that consisted of very substantial out of pocket donations from local supporters, in particular Charles Willett, who funded the first year of operations almost solely out of his own money. For folks in communities where radical media may not enjoy such a solid base of support, it is important to consider the option of going for large grants to supply the initial start up costs. However, we at the CMC have followed the advice of our comrades in other organizations whose experience has taught them that too much reliance on fickle grant money can prove disastrous to a grassroots organization. Our advice, based on our experience: build your roots up strong in the soil of your community! If you do your work well and provide services that your community needs, the nourishment that flows in through these roots will sustain you and allow you to grow.

In addition to our membership program, which provides us with a fairly stable base flow of income, we hold benefit concerts at local clubs, collect voluntary donations at meetings, discussions, poetry readings, art openings, and music shows held at the Center, and engage in service exchange projects such as providing youngsters to staff parking services at a local music festival in exchange for a cut of the fees. The triumph of the CMC is that in all our fundraising endeavors we have only relied on one small grant which we received from the Resist! Foundation for a new copy machine. We are truly a grassroots, community supported project. The progressive community in Gainesville has come to see us as an invaluable resource, and that appreciation is reflected in the fact that we are able to consistently collect enough money to pay for operations, and have even increased the modest pay for the Coordinator's position. Sometimes we even have a little left over at the end of the month!

The Civic Media Center is a heroic grassroots achievement. To the coalition of liberals, radicals and counterculture folks who hold it together and keep it going, the Center represents our little community's contribution to the next wave of popular resistance to corporate greed and government abuse of power--that is, organizing around access to information and the use of alternative information as a launching point for direct action on issues that affect that everyday lives of people here in our community and around the world. We hear it said time and again by folks who visit the Center: "I wish my town had a Civic Media Center" or "Gosh, every town oughtta have a place like this!" We agree.

Excerpt of article originally printed in Librarians at Liberty, June 1998. James Schmidt is coordinator of the Civic Media Center. If you would like to schedule an event or meeting at the Civic Media Center, call the Media Center at 373 0010.

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