“I do not see why we can’t share our resources, our craftsmanship,” Bill Marx, editor of the online arts magazine The Arts Fuse, said at a forum called “For the Love of Arts Criticism II: Small Magazines and Bloggers” at Outpost 186 in Cambridge last night. “I don’t see why we can’t link and share with each other and grow.”
Marx proposed creating a website that would aggregate arts coverage of greater Boston from all the member publications—“One-stop shopping for people to look at what’s going on online”—and for the publications to form a collective to apply for grant funding.
The proposal for local arts publications to collaborate and share resources was at the heart of why Marx had initiated the event. On facebook, he’d written beforehand that he aimed to “focus on exploring the value of small arts magazines in the Boston area. It will also examine ways in which they can be supported at a challenging time for independent arts journalism.”
Much of the rest of the forum highlighted the work and needs of many alternative arts and cultures publications, podcasts and video series from around greater Boston—including the ArtsFuse, Big Red & Shiny, Boston Art Review, Boston Compass, Boston Hassle, Cambridge Day, Culture Hustlers, Delicious Line, DigBoston, On Boston Stages, Som Arts from the Somerville Media Center, Wonderland (Hi!), The Word Boston and others. (I helped with organizing the event and recruited the many of these participants.)
Below I’ve pulled out some of the comments from last night to try to highlight some of the themes that emerged from the discussion. This is not an exhaustive accounting of the evening—and doesn’t very well reflect the free flow of the conversation.
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How Can We Better Fund Arts Journalism?
The publications represented at last night’s forum are, generally speaking, labors of love, making little or no money, subsidized by the creators’ day jobs, fueled by their passion for the arts. Most of the creators are artists, musicians or filmmakers themselves as well.
“The labors of love are the best things we have in this city,” said conceptual artist Heather Kapplow, who has written about art for Dig Boston, Delicious Line, Big Red & Shiny, Hyperallergic and various other outlets.
Folks from Boston Hassle noted that all their work was done on a volunteer basis. Some publications are able to pay writers modest amounts. But mainly the publications are unpaid work—or projects that people lose money in producing. Big publications aren’t above money challenges either as even The Boston Globe has been cutting staff.
“None of us really get paid for this,” said Chris Hughes, who coordinates music coverage for the online publication Boston Hassle, “but we should.”
“As a young artist, it’s not just a publication, but a community. It has provided me with a ton of opportunity,” said Chloé DuBois, who manages the Boston Hassle’s art calendar.
Franklin Einspruch, editor of the online visual arts publication Delicious Line, said, “People in Boston are very generous to the arts, but a lot of that generosity is directed toward the bigger institutions.” He proposed the publications “form a meta-organization that would basically serve no purpose but hire a development director for all of us.”
Jason Pramas, executive editor and associate publisher of the Dig Boston newspaper and network director for the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, asked where are the ads from the arts world, from theaters, museums, galleries? “Are they advertising with us? Not really.”
Some suggested using crowdfunding via web tools like Patreon or Kickstarter. One of the ways Boston Hassle raises funds is by producing an annual 24-hour-long telethon. “It’s pretty much explicitly based on the movie ‘UHF’ by ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic,” said Oscar Goff, who edits the film sections of Boston Hassle and Boston Compass.
Several people suggested using events to grow audiences and attract income. Jacqueline Houton, formerly of The Boston Phoenix, Improper Bostonian and Boston Magazine, noted that she’d seen even mismanaged organizations make money by producing events. She praised meetups like Opus Affair. “There’s a hunger for more events like that where you can connect with people in real time,” she said. Also, if you’re hosting events, “Liquor companies are happy to throw free booze at you.”
“I’m interested in finding events with locations where everyone is comfortable going to them,” said Mary Curtin, an events producer and promoter, who helped with the organization of the forum. “This town is a weird town. It’s got its little sections where people don’t cross the street to go to the other side. … I feel as a presenter that I have a responsibility to find the safe spaces where everybody feels comfortable going to.”
More Voices Of Color?
“What I saw when I moved back here to Boston [in 2004] was there weren’t a lot of resources for people of color. There were a lot of resources … for white people. But not for African-Americans,” said Pat Williams of The Word Boston newsletter.
“There’s a lot of attention spent on the bigger shows and the bigger institutions,” said Chanel Thervil, a contributor to Big Red & Shiny. Smaller projects need art criticism too. She was “advocating for voices of marginalized groups in that criticism.”
How can publications attract those voices? “Part of what’s difficult is arts criticism does not sound sexy,” Thervil said.
“I want to capture the creation of culture as it happens. Does that happen in the upper middle class and ruling class art world? I don’t think so,” Pramas said. “If you’re talking about where culture is created, you’re talking about all kinds of working class and poor neighborhoods.”
“Despite the [Globe] ‘Spotlight’ series, there’s still racism in Boston,” Williams said. “How do we as artists try to get together—white people, black people, Latino people. How do we bring people together?”
“Sometimes it feels like people don’t want to get together,” said Lucas Spivey of the Culture Hustlers podcast. He proposed deliberate attempts to promote different values. “It’s deeply honoring and affirming to belong.”
Williams talked about covering the play “Bad Dates” by the Huntington Theatre Company earlier this year, which starred an African-American actress. But, she said, “When I go to a theater I see a predominantly white audience. What is that about?”
What Role Do Arts Publications Play?
“When we post something it means an artist or arts organization can link to that and promote themselves,” said Marc Levy, editor of Cambridge Day. “What role do we play? It’s sort of as a legitimizer.”
“The most important thing for Boston is to continue to create a scene here that can be exported,” Hughes said.
In addition to Marx’s call for sharing content, Dave Ortega of the Somerville Media Center encouraged publications to look at opportunities in community media and public access television: “There’s very strong media access here and it’s very underutilized.”
Pramas noted that the Dig is already collaborating with Boston Hassle, Delicious Line, KillerBoomBox and Wonderland (Hi!) in producing and syndicating arts coverage.
“The more I travel, the more helpful I can be. I can get a solution from Miami and share it with an artist in the South End,” Spivey said. “There’s a giant fucking world and Boston is so isolated. It shouldn’t be that way.”
“If Boston isn’t listening to us, why are we still talking to Boston? Why aren’t we talking about Boston and telling it to the world?” Spivey said.
“I don’t think we are doing things that are sexy enough,” Spivey said. If he’s not connecting with his audience, he said, “people weren’t listening wrong, I did something wrong.”
“Nimble—I think that is the silver lining,” Houton said. “These larger organizations that I’ve worked for are not nimble at all. They’re struggling as well and they’re having a really hard time turning the ship around. … There is a lot of opportunity to experiment.”
You can support local arts journalism right now. Help Wonderland keep producing our great coverage of local arts, cultures and activisms (and our great festivals) by contributing to Wonderland on Patreon. And sign up for our free, weekly newsletter so that you don’t miss any of our reporting.