Turning 2: A Labour of Love

By Stephanie Leitch Monday, January 28th, 2013 Categories: Features, Updates
 

Today ARC Magazine celebrates their 2nd anniversary and we celebrate along with them.  Artists from all over the Caribbean region and diaspora have gained not only the exposure but the Recognition they deserve from this pioneering arts publication that has truly invested and changed the landscape of the visual Culture of the Caribbean.

It is only fitting then that we hear from the super-women themselves, co-founders Nadia Huggins and Holly Bynoe and their reflections on the past, present and future of ARC.

This feature was produced in collaboration with Candace Moses.

ARC Founders Nadia Huggins and Holly Bynoe.

ARC Founders Nadia Huggins and Holly Bynoe.

SL: Does it feel like 2 years has passed since ARC was first launched in 2011?

Holly Bynoe: Well ARC is the product of 10 years of collaboration in various capacities but at that time we didn’t really have the network or the yearning.  It wasn’t until 2010 that we understood the network we existed in and how to open up the communication lines to support something of this nature.

Nadia Huggins: Yes, ARC has been in the making for a really long time.

SL: How were you able to open up those networks and make them work for you?

NH: A lot of stalking and just letting others know that we exist. Holly and I had our own networks separate from each other because of our backgrounds.

HB: I belonged to deviantART for several years I was able to see how a network can be driven but also how we could monitor and celebrate each other’s successes in a very social way. As a result, Nadia and I became very proficient in online communication and vialble networking, so we did not stalk in a  surreptitious manner.  That’s how we successfully built a reputation for ourselves and came to understand the nature of each island and connect with the creatives and activists there.

NH: It was important for us to approach people and to let them know that we liked what they were doing. It can go a long way.

HB: What sets us apart as a publication is that we genuinely care and not in any sort of superficial manner. Trust is the currency of the 21st century and because we have established ARC as a conduit of change, solidarity and support, we make time for our community and that has been the brunt of our work. It is difficult to be giving in that manner for a considerable amount of time but I am inspired by the makers and thinkers and the fact that we can share in a formidable manner.

At the launch of Issue 2 at Alice Yard in Port of Spain, Trinidad. In collaboration with the Bocas Lit Festival

At the launch of Issue 2 at Alice Yard in Port of Spain, Trinidad in April 2011. In collaboration with the Bocas Lit Festival

At the launch of Issue 3 with director of the Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc., Annalee Davis. July 2011. Photograph by Dondre Trotman

At the launch of Issue 3 with director of the Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc., Annalee Davis. July 2011. Photograph by Dondre Trotman

SL: Has your involvement in ARC caused you own artistic expression to suffer?

HB: I did my MFA to be a facillitator, publisher and a creative activist. If you are a practicing artist in the Caribbean there is no viable and robust market to sell your creative work and few institutions to collect what you do. The economy of art cannot subsidize the lifestyle that I would want for myself or those connected to me, regardless of how humble we envision our future, and not that ARC offers that stability but it does give me other opportunities to curate, produce, see for an example the Youth-IN project that we were commissioned to create in 2012 and travel. At first I felt guilty that there wasn’t time t0 commit to doing work using the visual vocabulary that I developed over the last 4-5 years. It wasn’t until during the production of the Youth-IN project that I was able to fully appreciate my administrative capacity and having the time to engage with a slew of creative people in a way that was tremendously awakening and rewarding.

NH: I would say it has helped my work improve. Engaging with other artists has helped me grow a lot and to figure out what I was really contributing. It’s no longer just about taking pictures and posting them online but taking pause and asking myself what am I really trying to affect.

SL: Did you have fears along the way that ARC wouldn’t make it?

NH: Every day.

HB: I didn’t foresee a timeline. It’s a day to day thing for me because the relationship I have with ARC is always changing. It is still a shock that people are supporting it though I understood that we were filling a need and for a long time I questioned the value of the need and I remain critical of that need but I think enough has happened for us to realize that people are coming to understand the value and need for artistic works in their everyday lives as their world changes around them.

SL:  What are the specific benefits or constraints of being Vincentian and producing a Caribbean publication?

NH: Many of the larger islands have preconceived notions of how small islands can contribute and it was important for us to break some of those stereotypes.

HB: Because the country is struggling financially we cannot assume to get financial support from the government and or the private sector. They have not actively reached out to figure out what sort of support we need and what we’re trying to do. We in turn have but the relationship is dormant and the feedback poor.

The population is not sensitized to the nature of art and the education system here has faltered as it relates to integrating the cultural economy into the larger system of support. The government is still thinking of arts development within the realm of soca and calypso music, so there is no contemporary visual arts industry in which to work. Foundational aspects like the creation of a cultural bill to address the needs of the industry is still a long way off. These problems are not specific to St Vincent but other territories which may have more institutional support. For example the NEA has cut funding to the arts across various instutitions in the USA, while countires like Trinidad and Tobago have the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism which has robustly supported the visual arts industry there, not on a scale that everyone is happy with I am sure. However, it is important to build relationships with these institutions and have constant outreach which will allow them to understand our passions, direction and activities. Often in the visual arts we remain too philosophical, so perhaps we have to be more cognizant of the way that we are building our languages to support various informal initiatives that are burgeoning now.

SL: Has the reaction to ARC been positive outside of the Caribbean?

HB: We were invited to launch the magazine at the International Centre for Photography Museum in New York City and we seized the opportunity. We had some support from the diaspora and a bunch of our aritsts came out and it was very celebratory. Our year started off quite positive as we were invited to participate in VOLTA NY and become media partners with the art fair, this is going to be a tremendous opportunity for us and so we are looking forward to returning to NYC in March to explore further possibilities for collaboration along with developing various collaborations with initiatives across the diaspora.

Holly Bynoe & Nadia Huggins at launch of ARC 1 in New York City at the International Center of Photography Museum. Photograph by Lavonne Hall

Holly Bynoe & Nadia Huggins at launch of ARC 1 in New York City at the International Center of Photography Museum Jan 2011. Photograph by Lavonne Hall

The reality is however, that we need to be visible in the metropole. To have success, people need to see you again and again to be taken seriously, so it is within our interest to include NYC, Miami, Toronto, London, Paris etc, in our outreach more stauncly. Along with that we are focusing on directly engaging with Caribbean Studies programs which are moving forward and will be a tremendous foundational support for ARC. Funding has always presented restrictions in our ability to travel and produce events, we have had to turn down many opportunities because of insufficient funding.

The relationship to the Caribbean diasporas and instutions is one that we want to investigate, prod and open up. Many people are now becoming more aware of ARC and its mandate and we want to be able to capitalize on extending the brand and its mission of support.

SL: ARC does not limit the publication to the English speaking Caribbean and has featured the work of artists throughout the archipelago. What motivated you to take on such a large task?

HB: When you think deeply about the Caribbean you have to think about all its countries. Though there have been linguistic barriers due to the make up of the ARC we are  trying to achieve a balance. You have to be careful with the aesthetic that each territory carries because they are gesturally different and dynamic within their own legibility- visual and otherwise.  Looking only at Cuba, we could easily obtain content for the next 20 years, due to their cultural production and the way in which they have been educated to appreciate and value art,  so to focus only on the Anglophone Caribbean is to cut off our own feet and sabotage the growth of the publication . The French government through the Alliance Francaise in St. Lucia and the DAC, Martinique for example have been very supportive of ARC and we would like to remain open to any other funding resources and exhibition projects available to us so we can ensure that ARC is around and relevant for a very long time.

ARC presentation at Revues in Vue which was a collaboration between the Department of Cultural Affairs of Martinique (DAC), the Departmental Archives and the Alliance Francaise of St. Lucia. October 2012.

ARC presentation at Revues in Vue which was a collaboration between the Department of Cultural Affairs of Martinique (DAC), the Departmental Archives and the Alliance Francaise of St. Lucia. October 2012.

NH: Our experiences with ARC have also given us new ways to see the Caribbean. When you think of Caribbean islands you generally think about the ocean and coconut trees but visiting Suriname in the South American continent was overwhelming. There was something about it that I connected with culturally and the expansiveness of the land affected me so much artistically.

SL: Has anyone ever accused you of favouritism with regard to who is featured in the magazine?

NH: Well, everyone is going to have their eyes on us and we understand how people function in the Caribbean space. Trinidad has been tremendous in their support with about 70% of submissions coming from the country, and on some level we have to reciprocate that interest. I think we’ve been trying to have a steady balance and this does not only apply to country but gender and race are also among the considerations. I also think that rejection is important for the longeivity and livelihood of most artists.

HB: I think I’ve received the brunt of these types of attacks, but I think it is due to ignorance. I don’t think that people realize that Nadia and I are doing what we love on a volunteer basis. We have a number of writers who have given of their time freely (and we are working to change this) over the past two years and there are even more people on a daily basis who are interested in contributing and expanding the cultural capacity of ARC.

We are essentially looking for artists who can articulate their practice and give an idea of how they are coming to understand the world around them. Prior to ARC the way that people promoted themselves and their work was sub-par from a professional stand point. We aren’t saying that we engendered this massive shift but we came into the game and changed a few fundamental things, and if you want your work to compete on an international level this is what is expected and what will maintain the standard of our publication.

Caribbean Map. Designed by Candace Moses for ACE.

Caribbean Map. Designed by Candace Moses for ARC.

SL:  Do you think that some artists may view your publication as an elitist space?

HB: It can easily be seen as that. It was important for us to find a fine balance between not dumbing down and diluting content while finding a way for the magazine to compete on the global marketplace. Our aim is to set ourselves apart by paying greater attention to the range of work we produce and to be critical about the way we present ourselves on the inside and outside of the space of the Caribbean.  The measure taken to have our quality and content stand out are very determined choices, we have become more educated on what it takes for an independent publication to survive, thrive and flourish. You have to make very difficult decisions, and from the outside you seem more rigorous, more demanding but every forthcoming issue needs to be more nuanced and balanced than the previous. Building a publication from 0-120 pages is no easy task and reaching a compromise is difficult, but at the end of the day we have to please ourselves because we are making major financial sacrifices that extends into the way we exist on a day to day basis.  And finally ARC cannnot be everything for everyone

NH: If its one thing that ticked us off it’s that art in the Caribbean was so closed off and exclusive and ironically now we are on the opposite side of the coin and are viewed as creatives with more power.  The bottom line is that if you want to market  your work globally people need so see that your work is of a particular standard. Part of the reason that we established the website and a social online component was to facilitate those who may not yet have had the opportunity to be in the publication.

SL:  Was it a difficult decision for you to make to include advertising?

NH: From a design point of view it was a hard decision but advertizing has made us seem more credible.

HB: I think that we are thinking about advertising very smartly as we are  part of the creative Caribbean industry. We send our manifesto which includes a profile and ideas on visibility and viability to the companies that we want to work with so that they understand our branding and our mission and  how we consider the fine details that are usually overseen. I am never going to say never again, in 2011 I went on various panels and said no no no to advertizing but that was just naivety. Ideally every issue should contain 5 full page ads which subsidizes about 70% of our cost while we cover the remaining. We cannot foresee that we’ll be making profit anytime soon, but it is something we aspire to.  ARC remains a labour of love.

SL: Has travel been one of the most exciting parts of you portfolio?

NH: I love the opportunity to travel, network and spread the Gospel of Arc.

HB: I don’t know how I got so lucky. I remember being in Martinique and hearing the most amazing music I’ve ever heard in my life, at a wedding in Trois-Îlets,  a truly transcending moment which put a lot of things into perspective, it was an emotional relaization for me filled with simplicity and gratitude for the moments that I am able to be present in such transformative moments. Often we don’t have the time to collect our thoughts in any serious manner because of the constraints of time but I know that once we do, something really special is going to come out of it.

SL:  Is it fair to say that film is a special area of interest for ARC based on your increasing involvement with New Media?

HB: If I was to live my life over, I would either be a chef or a filmmaker. I always wanted to make movies but I had to kill that part of me when I went to college. I made experimental film and videos but I hadn’t paid enough attention to it to make it work, nor is my fortitude decidedly me committed towards being a visual maker in that manner.  I have now resigned to being a cinephine. Because of my own creative passion and need for a greater community I wanted to support other artists who are working in experimental film and video throughout the region. Through our collaboration with the trinidad+tobago film festival we are also looking into including and extending the dynamic range of installation- sound and interactive.  Nadia and I have also been planning our own new media and film project for the past 3-5 years.

NH:  We are lucky to have the opportunity and freedom to showcase New Media and we are looking forward to the possibilities of how it can develop and be realized in September.

Preparing for screening at Fresh Milk in Barbados

Preparing for screening at Fresh Milk in Barbados

SL: What is on the horizon for ARC?

HB & NH: We are looking forward to developing stronger working relationships with various partners in 2013. Our involvement with the ttff for New Media is a huge component of how I see us extending visual and critical vocabularies throughout our space.  We would like to see something like this develop throughout most of the OECS islands and the SIDS as programming engendering community, collboration and dialogue. We were fortunate at the beginning of the year to be invited to particiapte in VOLTA NY 9 which is a huge project for us. We will be supporting the publication through a display and reading room and will also be showcasing a select viewing of artists’ works and monographs along with an informal event to celebrate our return to NYC.

Late last year we started producing a series of informal artist videos that are set to come to life when we move into Phase 2 of ARC’s online and social development. We have filmed 25 artists and it is our goal through partnerships to take this project to various islands and have multiple aritsts participate in it. We head to the Bahamas in March for Transforming Spaces 2013, and will be starting off our year in production there.

On the horizon, we have the launch of Issue 7 in May and we hope to produce events in Jamaica, and in Grenada with Caribbean Studies Association for their annual conference. Of course later in the year we head back to Trinidad for the fesitival, but during the year we both have various creative projects that we are hoping to implement and bring to life through exhibitions, talks, social projects, screenings etc.  ARC’s future isn’t as we had imagined, it is far more luminious than we could have envisioned.

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Candace Moses is a freelance graphic artist currently pursuing her Graphic Design BA at The College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago (COSTAATT). She has been working in the field professionally in various industries for over 7 years and in that time has added photography to her repertoire. Her work has been featured in a number of print and online platforms including the Music Radio 97 limited edition commemorative issue ‘Motivation Minute’.

 

Stephanie Leitch
Stephanie Leitch

Stephanie Leitch is a postgraduate student and tutor at the Institute of Gender and Development Studies, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. She is a women’s and LBGT rights advocate and has been organizing is various capacities since 2007. Her creative activism has included installation, public-space intervention, traditional mas’, theatre and film. She is also a recent featured candidate of the UNDP’s Youth-IN Webisodes project.