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Pressing On

Boy And Girl Meet, Move In Together, And . . . Start A Magazine?

Sam Holden
THROWING A MAGAZINE: Emily Hunter and Arthur Soontornsaratool up and published themselves a periodical.

By Ruth Reader | Posted 1/24/2007

Locus Magazine

Release party for its second issue Feb. 17 at the Current Gallery.

For more information visit www.locusartmagazine.org.

The locally produced Locus art magazine enjoyed an auspicious debut. About 300 people crammed into the H&H building's Whole Gallery last Oct. 21 for the launch party, complete with five bands and about 300 issues being offered at $6 a pop. Locus is the child of Emily Hunter and Arthur Soontornsaratool, recent UMBC graduates--she in American studies and visual arts, he in photography--who want to turn their love of art, independent media, and their own creative talents into a forum to help Baltimore's art scene bloom, with a focus on emerging local artists.

"We're not interested in the established artist," Soontornsaratool says.

"Not that they aren't talented," Hunter adds. "But they have enough."

Such short vocal bursts are the way the pair operate. They often speak together, with Hunter tending toward grand statements and then trailing off. More often she's concise because she's decisive and knows what she wants.

Hunter and Soontornsaratool live and operate Locus out of their cozy Sowebo apartment. Their home is dressed with large photograph artworks by Soontornsaratool, and the living room is adorned with vintage furnishings and perhaps some Ikea items. Nestled beneath an old TV set is the full collection of James Bond movies on VHS. Hunter, a funky 23-year-old with reddish-brown hair and 1950s-ish eyeglasses, perches on the edge of the couch and aggressively talks about the magazine--even occasionally cutting off her partner in her excitement. Soontornsaratool is more reserved. A young 26, Soontornsaratool pipes up now and then, but mostly hangs back as Hunter takes the floor.

The budding publishers are finding out that it's hard--and expensive--to put out a print publication. To their surprise and delight they sold every last issue of the debut's 300 copies. "My dream was to have a huge launch party and sell the magazine," Hunter says wide-eyed, even though she felt a little uneasy about the price, discounted $1 from the planned $7 "newsstand" price. "Not everyone has the luxury of spending $7 on a magazine, and I want it to be accessible."

Despite the great turnout at the debut, printing costs are expensive and the money made at the launch party will only cover half of the printing costs for the next issue, a common problem for upstart art magazines. Their friend Joel Speasmaker "was a part of an art collective in Virginia Beach called the Drama," Hunter says, explaining that the collective published a magazine of the same name. "They stopped putting it out because of advertising and cost."

The Drama was a quarterly magazine that focused on international contemporary art and gained popularity quickly after it was founded in 2000. It soon began publishing on a national scale, requiring advertising income to cover its costs. Ultimately, as Speasmaker describes on the magazine's web site, the push and pull of an advertising-funded publication is what caused the magazine to go asunder. "The magazine business is an awful beast, especially when moving into higher numbers and figures like we recently did," he wrote in a final letter to his subscribers and supporters. " If you are pushing into the major newsstands, you MUST get the support of larger companies, and you are at the mercy of their willingness to support you. You have to beg and beg for an ad insertion, and if you want to have a better chance influence the actual content of the magazine to suit a specific product or lifestyle or whatever."

Hunter was disappointed and discouraged to watch this quality publication thrive and fail. "It's heartbreaking," she says. "But I have this crazy delusional ambition that's blinding, and we're not expecting to go on a national scale."

To combat their monetary struggle and the possibility of having to take on advertising, Hunter and Soontornsaratool are focusing on the best ways to fund their operation. Currently they are accepting donations and working to gain nonprofit standing for the magazine, which would enable them to apply for grants and other opportunities afforded to nonprofits. But the application fee is $300 to $750 depending on whether their gross annual receipts reach or fall below $10,000, a fee paid directly to the IRS.

In fact, Hunter isn't sure nonprofit is the way to go. "I wonder if my hesitation . . . is because I want this to be a project and not a business," she says. "Plus, the nonprofit paperwork takes a year, and the paperwork is confusing and I don't know what I'm getting myself into." Still, she is trying to get in contact with Maryland Lawyers for the Arts and is looking into making Locus a limited liability corporation. "I didn't save any money for the second issue," she confesses. "We made enough to do half of the printing for the next issue." Serious fundraising will be necessary to put out the next issue.

The debut issue was well-received, though, judging by the number of submissions they received. The first issue--its five-and-a-half-inch-square format makes it about a quarter of the size of a standard magazine--features 11 artists over 64 pages. The issue includes interviews with Virginia Warwick, a graduate of the University of Maryland's Studio Art program and performance artist; Chris Peregoy, a UMBC grad and pinhole photographer; and the Whole Gallery's Michel Anderson. The magazine also includes artist AAH's tale of hitchhiking and photographs of her trek through the Midwest.

Hunter and Soontornsaratool want Locus to be a magazine that helps local, independent artists--including Hunter and Soontornsaratool--make names for their work and themselves. The debut issued includes collaborative works by Soontornsaratool and Hunter. "We can do whatever we want, but I don't want it to be a showcase for our work," Hunter says. She says they ultimately featured some of their own work in it because it fit the issue's theme--"small things"--and complemented the other included works. They made sure to run the idea by friends and others associated with the magazine to make sure their artwork would fit. "It will also help to introduce us in the [local] art community," Hunter adds.

That being said, not all the artists in Locus' first issue are local--Andrew Strasser is a new media artist in New York, Coco Martin an independent photographer also from NYC. The debut issue also lacks diversity--a majority of the showcased work is photography--even though Hunter and Soontornsaratool insist the magazine welcomes all art forms. "I don't want to be restricted to work that can only be represented two-dimensionally," Hunter says.

And they hope the next issue, due in February, will prove their flexibility. They received scores of music submissions from local bands after putting out an open call. "We're still playing with the idea of how to submit [time-based work], but I would love to include a DVD with the issue," Hunter says--even though including a DVD or CD with each issue would only add to the costs.

That's just how she's thinking right now, though--anything to make the magazine work. She wants to make the magazine accurately portray Baltimore's art and artists. Hunter put together photocopied zines on a smaller scale throughout her school career, and initially she planned to photocopy art submissions for a really low-end product, to make printing costs more affordable. But after receiving many excellent submissions, she had a change of heart. "To keep the integrity of the work we really need to have it printed," Hunter says.

And so the money issue. Hunter works as the registry coordinator at Maryland Art Place and sells hand-printed T-shirts through her small business Death and Dinosaurs, but that's it. "We were figuring out how to fundraise because we don't have any advertising," she says. Through small fundraising ventures--such as art sales and T-shirts sold at Hampden Fest and other events--they were able to the pull $2,000 together to cover the first issue. They also had the help of friends, who donated their time and efforts to help produce the magazine.

And so if all goes accordingly Locus' second issue should be available at Atomic Books by Feb. 17. They're also planning a release party for the second issue, too, which is currently mired in party-planning limbo.

Perhaps most surprising of all, the headaches, financial guesswork, and production stress that comes with putting out a magazine haven't affected Hunter and Soontornsaratool's relationship one bit. They are symbiotic life and work partners. "This was my idea and he jumped into it with me," she says. "I cannot imagine doing this with anyone else." They share a similar aesthetic, and living together has proven helpful because most of the work is done during off-hours. In fact, as far as Hunter is concerned, the relationship is the key to their productivity. "I mean, we yell at each other," she confesses. "But it's good."

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