...claudine ko

The Faces and Place of Action Culture: Media
Paper, August 2008

On a certain level, it would be easy to dismiss the publishers in the cozy world of independent, street-influenced arts media as an incestuous bunch of white guys who seem to be psychologically trapped in the street art movement of the '80s and '90s. I mean, how many times can you feature artists Chris Johanson, Mike Mills, Ed Templeton, or Ari Marcopoulos before you start writing light-bulb jokes? But on closer inspection, these editors are mostly people who grew up as magazine fanatics and are now putting out slickly-designed, DIY art projects showcasing broader facets of culture simply because they're into it -- all while accruing corporate sponsors, an act legitimized by those same, aforementioned artists.

"To the outsider, it probably looks like the same thing," says Roger Gastman, who partnered with artist friend Shepard Fairey in 2004 to launch Swindle magazine. Like a heavy-metal music fan whose neighbor thinks it's all crap and sounds the same. "I wanted to do something different and timeless and more culturally oriented."

So the $50 per year, bimonthly subscriptions are filled with meandering essays on matters like vampirism, the history of the L.A. River, and the girls of South Sudan -- the kind of ideas mainstream pop culture mag editors reflexively turn down because they don't necessarily conform to the ever excruciating "why now" question. These alternate with lengthy, visual-heavy features on artists like Italian street painter Blu, not to mention a healthy smattering of custom-designed ads from the usual skate/surf/fashion/car/liquor companies trying to get in on "cool" culture. And while it may be hard to shell out for some of their price points -- Arkitip, a limited-edition, "site specific" art mag that comes custom-packaged with "collector's items," typically starts at $30-- they argue that their work is indeed populist.

"As an art director for an action sports company, I was meeting all kinds of talented artists and wanted to collect their art, but didn't have the budget for an original work by say, Barry McGee or Phil Frost," say Sas from Arkitip, which also has a web site that features a blog by DC Shoes co-founder Damon Way. "Making Arkitip collectible as a collaborative work creates a way for art fans of all economic levels to participate in art collecting."

Nieves, a Zurich-based independent publishing house that has a regular VIP spot in Arkitip called Nieves Picks (founder Benjamin Sommerhalder and Sas go back), uses the quick-turnaround format of zines to efficiently promote artists like Marcopolous, Aaron Rose, and others. Their audience spans from the hipster-boutique Ooga Booga crowd in L.A to a wider forum, like the Centre Culturel Suisse, which, according to press guy Marco Velardi, brings in people "who don't even know who Larry Clark is."

Brendan Fowler, Rose, and pro-skater-artist Ed Templeton are friends who co-edit the 12,000-circ ANP Quarterly, which is given out free in select stores across America and in Paris and Vancouver. Up until recently, the editors were fully funded by RVCA -- no ads, barely any trace of their sponsor's logo, and a mission statement that said: "Beholden to nobody, save our own conscience."

However, this summer marked ANP's three-year anniversary, as well as the subtle debut of a Nike advertorial. RVCA is now requesting that their trust-fund baby grow up, and so far they've come up with an optional $30 subscription, T-shirts, and the Nike thing. "I don't feel dirty about it," says Fowler. "We're not flossing Tier 0. That's not our trip." But if you do want to know who is taking that ride, just google Robleh Jama.

Jama, co-founder of invite-only, online sneakerhead community, Sneakerplay.com, is not friends with any of these guys. In fact, he hadn't even heard of Barry McGee until 2006, when the artist collaborated with Adidas to make a $250, limited-edition Ray Fong shoe. But who needs to crash that party when Nike, who sponsored their 2006 launch, is lining up to help pay your tab? The site, which also has an artists' page where they promote artists that, thus far, seem unrelated to the usual suspects, hovers at a membership of 16,700. "[Nike wasn't] interested in numbers," says Jama, "they wanted the quality as well."

So whether you're in with the crowd or out, the moral of this story is: Don't hate if you and your pals aren't making a living off your weird little art hobby yet. Just do it.