Student-created art journal finds online home

Shanika Gunaratna

Last year, a group of Northwestern students released the second student-published visual arts journal in the country. Although the second issue is now underway, the Northwestern Art Review has never been printed on paper.

“Digital media really helps with getting us off the ground,” said Garrett Owens, the review’s co-chairman of events. “We simply did not have that kind of money (to publish in print), especially as a brand new organization.”

The review followed Columbia University’s Museo in providing a medium for undergraduate art criticism that goes beyond the classroom.

“A lot of us write pretty good work and want something other than a grade,” said Cameron Henderson, the president and publisher.

The journal receives submissions from schools like Dartmouth College and University of California, Berkeley, the Weinberg junior said. The depth of submissions allows the executive board to be selective.

The journal is funded through the art history department, which provides the staff with an adviser and reviews all content before it is published.

Henderson said the original plan was to create a printed journal of art history criticism. But after researching the cost of publishing, which can approach $10,000 per issue, the executive board decided to use the Internet as its platform.

This medium makes the journal freely accessible to a mass audience, Henderson said.

“We want it to be as user-friendly as possible,” he said. “The way the iPhone works, or iTunes works – it’s almost second nature to use it. That is our goal.”

Bernadette Fort, an adjunct professor of art history with a background in the publication of art critiques, said she has come to prefer a digital format of scholarly work because it allows for quicker access to users. As soon as an article is ready to print it is put on the Web, she said, while the print version can be delayed an additional four to five weeks in the mail.

“People have access to the online version literally two months before the issue of the journal arrives in their mailbox,” she said, adding that “one mode does not preclude the other.”

Henderson said the review’s objective was to make reading the Web site as close as possible to reading a book. The format of the online journal requires minimal clicking – users scroll horizontally from one review to the other.

The site designers also wanted to prevent their page from looking cluttered and full of links, as this would distract from the academic content, they said.

Although the journal has adapted its method of publication to the digital world, Henderson said the board wanted to ensure its platform would not impact the level of discourse.

“We have to retain a certain scholarly element,” Henderson said. “This is an academic publication; we’re not reviewing local galleries and shows and saying ‘Oh, you should check that out.’ The actual journal has to retain that or it loses its flavor.”

Aside from giving students interested in art an opportunity to publish their work, the review also seeks to engage the average NU student in artistic discourse, he said.

“The actual visual arts are underrepresented on campus,” he said. “Our goal provides a creative element on our school when there’s definitely a lack.”

Part of the problem, he said, is that NU students don’t take advantage of the art community in Chicago. To remedy this, the group has led free museum trips to places like the Museum of Contemporary Art.

In the future, the journal also plans to include information about upcoming art-related events around campus and in the Evanston area, making the Web site “a hub for the Northwestern/Chicago art scene,” Henderson said.

“We’re surrounded by great art and architecture all over but a lot of us don’t have the medium to get engaged with it,” he said.

Henderson said part of the reason may be that NU’s artistic focus is on theater.

“I think we have a vibrant theater community on campus,” he said. “But visual arts gets pushed to the background.”

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