In Seattle, on November 8, City Arts announced its closure citing the end of funding as the reason. Understandably, this loss is felt deeply by many in the Seattle arts community as it is yet another example of the ways in which artists and their careers suffer from insufficiencies in the arts ecosphere in which they live and work. Art writing is how the public learns about artists and their work. It’s how artists enter, advance, and shape cultural discourses. Their ability to do so heightens their cultural cache and can be connected to their commercial viability.
The loss of a media outlet, however problematic and imperfect, is still, a loss that merits reflection. Mourning City Arts and the closure of other arts media outlets in Seattle and beyond is understandable and acceptable. Bemoaning or arguing about what could have or should have been, is a waste. This is an opportune time to reflect on the actual gaps in our art world where art writing is concerned, locally, yes, but also nationally and internationally. Here are my thoughts.
Foundational Inquiries. What is/should be the goal of an art media outlet? What areas of the fine arts do our audiences care about? What are our audience’s demographics?
Money. Any art media outlet regardless of size needs to be profitable in order to survive. You need BOTH good business management and appealing, diverse content. Also, you’ve got to pay your staff: writers, editors, photographers, copy editors, contractors. Find excited investors willing to stick with you for the long run. Strike the balance of having them advocate for you, rather than control your editorial voice.
Community Network. Content creators for art media outlets need to be active members of the communities in which they live. Even if they write on just one, specific area, they need to know about the existence of the others. This allows for breadth and context.
Mission. Decide up front whether you’re an industry mag, a zine, an independent blogger, an arts editor for a newspaper, or an academic publication. Choose one and stick with that. Innovate within that. Espouse that and do that better than your peers.
Look beyond your navel. There is your art world, the art world, and various art worlds in between. Read about what’s happening in other cities and countries. Reach out to your fellow art writers and other art world colleagues and learn what their lived experience is.
Writing. Artists deserve and desire writing that tells the viewers more than “Yes, I liked this” or “No, this is bad.” A critical analysis is more interesting for the reader, and is more useful to the artist, regardless of whether they like or agree with the content. Critical analysis done accordingly can situate artists in the midst of the relevant discourse and help build their careers. That said, quality is not to be negotiated. Hire writers who write well (critically), and pay them fairly. Do not condone the paraphrasing of press releases, nor permit writing about work not seen in person. Do encourage imaginative and innovative writing styles. Do support and promote a diversity of lenses and perspectives. Writers, engage with artists regularly, as a matter of course.
Readership and Distribution. Overall, we know people are reading less and when they do read, it’s online. You may like gorgeous coffee table books or monthly print magazines, but if your audience does not, you’re shit out of luck as my elders say. Find your readership, give them the content they want consistently, give it to them via a channel they use easily and frequently, and you may be on to something.
These are my initial thoughts and I’ve been churning these around for a few years now. There is no catch all; however, I do believe there can be informed success that meets the needs of our 21st century art community be it here in Seattle, nationally, or internationally. I’m open to discussions on this, so please do reach out if you would like to explore further.
Negarra A. Kudumu
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