Chicago-Based Press Reinvents Fairness in Art Publishing – The Brooklyn Rail

New York City

book arts center
Candor Arts: July 10, 2015 to August 31, 2021
April 21 – June 25, 2022

One of the last books published by the Chicago-based press Franchise Arts before it closed in August 2021 was a compilation of the Quarantine time. The square red hardcover anthologizes the online publication published by the Public Media Institute (PMI), which operates a multi-hyphenated arts space, print magazine, and radio station in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood. Featuring essays, comics and reviews from over 150 contributors published during the citywide March 2020 lockdown, the book documents a particular moment in the city‘s cultural history as the arts community pivoted towards a new reality influenced by COVID.

quarantine time was recently featured in a retrospective exhibition at the 062 Gallery in Chicago. Candor Arts’ various publishing projects function as an archive of the Chicago arts during the six years of the press’s operation. Ranging from collections of poetry to photo portfolios, the more than fifty editions produced include monographs accompanying major museum exhibitions, such as Barbara Jones-Hogu at the DePaul Art Museum, as well as books featuring the work of artists, writers and scholars Myungah Hyon, Justin Nalley, Sampada Aranke, Amanda Williams and others. The exhibit opens at the Center for Book Arts this month and travels to the Connecticut Sparkle Taffy project space.

But the real work of Candor Arts is still ahead of him. Candor founding members Matt Austin and Melanie Teresa Bohrer aim to restructure art publishing into a fair process that compensates all contributors fairly, rather than one in which artists pay exorbitant costs to publish their work at low profit. The heart of Candor, says Austin, is “to offer an alternative to what is the norm for artists, which is self-exploitation, compromising your self-esteem and justifying it with capitalist ideas of exposure or recognition”. This idea that “sacrificing oneself will lead to something better” permeates most of the arts, not just publishing, he says. So while the exhibition may mark the end of Candor Arts, it also marks the beginning of the Candor Collective, a new, non-hierarchical arts publishing network that embraces the same egalitarian goals that guided the previous iteration.

Candor Arts grew out of a former Chicago-based publishing project, The Chicago Perch, which Austin started in his apartment in 2012 as he transitioned from creating his own books to teaching and performing. production for friends and acquaintances. Austin, who has a background in photography, taught himself book arts techniques by watching instructional videos on YouTube. When eligibility for state Illinois arts funding expired—the grant that had been the Chicago Perch’s primary source of support had a stipulation that barred recipients from a fourth year of funding—Austin and the Perch’s other collaborators began to rethink its structure.

From there, Candor Arts registered as an LLC in 2016. Bohrer, who has a background in printmaking, began working with Candor the following year, later becoming a business partner. Supporting the press primarily through revenue generated from book sales, Austin and Bohrer hoped this business model would prove more sustainable than the accumulation of grants (particularly after one of the grants that had supported The Chicago Perch more or less disappeared under former Governor Bruce Rauner, who cut art funding in the state).

Between its founding in 2015 and its official closure six years later, Candor Arts has generated over three hundred thousand dollars in payments for artists and contributors and has placed editions in over one hundred and fifty institutions worldwide. The range of topics and editing techniques is wide: Deviant Propositions: An Anti-Binary Journala paperback zine with contributions from queer artists writing about homosexuality; white gazea set of haunting photos of National geographic paired with erasure-based poems drawing inspiration from the magazine’s texts; This is not a gun, a collection of 40 artist responses to different objects that police have mistaken for firearms. Among other things, Candor Arts’ output also includes projects in the form of instructional decks of cards, publications that use four-by-six photos printed on conventional glossy paper to convincing effect, and clamshell boxes containing multiple d in editions as rare as ten.

Originally structured to split production costs and profits equally between each artist and Candor Arts, the press moved to free production while ensuring that the artist still received half of the profits. Most editions numbered fifty books, but plans and budgets gradually grew, sometimes adding paperback editions to accompany hardcover copies. But in 2019, revenues began to lag costs, and with the onset of COVID-19, keeping the press running, which then had two full-time employees, began to seem unsustainable.

In its next iteration, the publishing project formerly known as Candor Arts will still operate as a small business, though members of the collective will support themselves in other ways. But the team behind Candor will expand to include more people, as well as to ensure it is a white minority organization at all times. “Our experience of mixing [commissioned services and Candor projects] was really confusing for everyone, because we were offering two polar opposites,” Austin explains. “One was people paying us to make books, and the other was people paying us nothing to make books to pay for them. Instead, Austin and Bohrer will offer commissioned publishing services through a separate company comprised of the two, called Em design. As Bohrer notes, this shift is a “return to no longer being driven by those capitalist tendencies to produce things faster and more in order to sell more.”

Collective members are currently located across the United States, but Bohrer and Austin envision it will grow into an international network of people who share resources equally. No one will earn more than another person, and they will use collective decision-making for all aspects of the business, from accepting new projects to determining who becomes a member.

As Austin explained, “No matter what governor we have, no matter how much money we have, no matter what the studio looks like, we have each other’s backs and we’ll do whatever we can for each other. other, forever.”

About Edward Weddle

Check Also

Mirabaud supports the new exhibition of world renowned Swiss artist Nicolas Party at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts | Your money

MONTREAL–(BUSINESS WIRE)–May 19, 2022– The Swiss banking and financial group Mirabaud is proud to announce …