The Roaming Center for Magnetic Alternative (RCMA) is a lending library of over 1000 vhs tapes and video technologies traveling Mid-America to connect with outlying LGBTQ+ populations. It is an ad hoc media and research center exploring the correlation between queer culture, video history, and a medium on the edge of obsolescence. Providing free screenings, videography workshops, and equipment access, we transform parking lots, strip malls, private venues, and public squares into classrooms for communities who wish to uncover and tell their own stories. Taking a wider view, our research examines the role of archives, sharing economies, and self-made media throughout queer history.
Our online archive features both found footage and content produced by workshop participants. Do you have a video you want to share? Or tapes gathering dust in your basement? We also provide a FREE, on-site analog to digital conversion service.
We facilitate artist-led workshops on subjects such as interviewing, camera readiness, documentation, and DIY filmmaking. In addition, screenings and convenings which celebrate the vhs era are hosted regularly.
FREE VIDEO LIBRARY
The mobile operation carries aprox. 400 vhs tapes, all curated site-responsively. Titles include: major motion pictures, found home video, and DIY films made on the format. Check-out is encouraged with viewing equipment available upon request.
words from the founder, Kendell Harbin
To tell the origin story of the RCMA, it is perhaps best to forgo writing a grand narrative in the third person. Who would bother writing this story other than me, anyway? I started collecting vhs tapes several years ago, for little reason other than they’re dirt cheap and easy to find in junk stores. After accumulating quite a few titles, I discovered a most unusual phenomenon, wherein people who knew I had ‘a lot’ of tapes were suddenly compelled to give me every single title they owned. Perhaps this has happened to you? I quickly had more tapes than I knew what to do with and told myself that if I put everything into circulation, people might call me an ‘archivist’ instead of a ‘hoarder’. So, it seemed the only logical thing to do was turn my bedroom into a bootleg blockbuster with an honors rental system. I called it the Cry Now Free Video Library.
You might picture a ‘little free library’ on a not-so-little scale. Comprised of 1000+ titles, 9 televisions, and 4 VCRs, it is an oversized time capsule of late 80’s to early 2000’s theatrical releases, pornos, and home videos. It is in this somewhat anachronistic setting where an odd sort of currency emerges; both people and media circulate according to chance and desire, rather than industry trends or conventional standards of organization. While browsing for one title, people discovered others they had forgotten or previously ignored. They could meet new people in the neighborhood, and relate to one another over their experience watching, and growing up on certain films. For instance, I've always been fixated on this attempt to explain how watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer made me realize I was gay. Making this kind of space for other people to explore felt like the best use of my bedroom.
This particular notion of taking the collection on the road is rooted in a rich history of traveling libraries dating back to the 18th century. Schools would often disseminate knowledge in underserved populations by bringing books directly to their locale. Not only did they provide access to new information, but they also provided people with access to one another. This movement, combined with my own experience struggling to access queer history, was the impetus for this project. I wanted to create a space, other than the all too familiar contexts (protests, night clubs, STI testing centers) where queer folks and non-conformists could convene, share ideas, and support one another in a creative, generative process.
One doesn’t have to be an archivist or librarian to notice that, for years, Kansas City public libraries have been purging queer titles from their collections due to low circulation. Similarly, I feared the evolution of video technology (vhs to dvd) risked the edit and deletion of vital voices. So, I began seeking a picture of Midwest queer communities, past and present.
What did it look like to be gay in the 90’s, living within the margins of the margins, far removed from the coastal spotlight and unconcerned with the hype of major metropolitan cities? As a queer and gender nonconforming person living in Kansas City, I wanted to connect with others exploring this vast invisible network. If I showed up to share a collection of videos, would other people share what had been abandoned in their basement years ago? Would they make new videos, with new words, spirits, and ideas? If I showed up to share a collection of videos, would other people share what had been abandoned in their basement years ago? Would they make new videos, with new words, spirits, and ideas?
This was a hunch I had a few years back. I followed it and watched a question mark turn into a faux research center, that's now turning into an actual roaming center. The basic idea is to draw from both obscure and mainstream cinema to tease out the ways it has shaped, excluded, or erased contemporary queer history. Exploring this through hands-on workshops, the aim is assist small communities in the process of telling their own stories. Taking a wider view, my goal is to examine the role of archives, sharing economies, and self-made media in the larger project of raising awareness and social equity within remote LGBTQIA populations.