Opening the Dialogue
The NEA's Support of Visual Arts Journals
When Sylvie Fortin and Glenn Harper cross paths at art openings, they have plenty to talk about. As editors of two leading nonprofit visual arts magazines, they share a vision to cover the American and international arts scenes through an independent lens.The high level of quality they bring to that vision has led to the NEA supporting both magazines for many years.
Fortin edits the Atlanta-based magazine Art Papers. As its name suggests, Art Papers was at one time just that, a few stapled-together papers about contemporary visual arts in the southeastern United States. Since its founding in 1975, the magazine has gradually expanded its reach and refined its appearance. Fortin says being nonprofit frees her up to be "fearless and inquisitive." Art Papers has "complete editorial independence," Fortin said. "It's about having a sense of what matters right now in contemporary art, and bringing that work to our readers, whether it's in Nashville or South Dakota."
At Sculpture magazine, Harper follows a similar modus operandi. "We are looking to cover a broader range of art, and younger artists who aren't the flavor of the week in Chelsea," he said. "We have a mandate to not just cover New York." Case in point, the cover photo of Sculpture's July/August 2008 issue was shot in the middle of a Nevada desert.
Each issue of Sculpture magazine has a print run of 18,000. About 8,000 of the subscribers are members of the International Sculpture Center (ISC), a New Jersey-based network for three-dimensional artists working around the world. ISC may be his publisher, but Harper says he's given few instructions other than to serve his readers well. "We try to keep a dialogue going, not just represent the critics," he said.
Harper also points out how vital the NEA can be for nonprofit publishers. "The NEA has been important for nonprofit magazines, not only for the funding, but to be a stamp of approval for the start-ups," he said.
The Arts Endowment also awards grants to nonprofit organizations that distribute visual arts literature. Two Manhattan-based examples include Printed Matter, a publisher that releases a series of pamphlets devoted to art and social activism, and Art Resources Transfer (ART), a resource center that collects used and surplus art books, then distributes them to underserved schools in urban and rural areas. Printed Matter, dedicated to the promotion of artists' publications, maintains a public reading room in the Chelsea section of New York where more than 15,000 titles by 5,000 artists are available for viewing. Founded in 1987, ART offers more than 490 titles by 90 different publishers to public libraries, schools, and alternative reading centers throughout all 50 states, distributing more than 200,000 free books. The visual arts journals Art Papers and Sculpture, with support from the NEA, provide visibility to the contemporary visual arts.