MEET Jeremy and Susannah: entrepreneurial journalists and arts enthusiasts
The arts are alive and kicking in Atlanta. And Burnaway, Atlanta’s online arts information magazine, is bringing you news from the front lines. Founded in 2008, Burnaway features arts criticism, event reviews and interesting perspectives on the creative happenings of our city. The FEED sat down with founders Jeremy Abernathy and Susannah Darrow to find out what inspires them to be so creative.
Tell us about your project:
(J) Burnaway started in 2008, we imagined it as a website or network for information about art and local artists. It has grown into an online magazine. We produce journalistic writing, critical writing, art reviews, artist interviews, and event calendars to help Atlantans get to know their local artists and learn about art. For artists we provide a source of honest arts criticism in Atlanta.
What were some of the first steps you took to get your project moving?
(J) First came the name, then we came up with the original team- there were 3 of us. We put out a call to search for writers, there were 5 or 6 new faces in the first few weeks. It was really a matter of pulling everything together; what templates should we use, what would our writing style be, what topics should we cover. That took up a lot of time and energy. Then every couple months we go through the same process; what do we want to do next, how can we grow and where do we want to go with this?
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?
(S) A big obstacle was being young. We didn’t have a lot of experience in this realm. At first there were a lot of questions like ‘how can we reach the readers we want’? It took a lot of effort to get us to the point where people understood and respected what we were doing. It was one of our initial hurdles that we were able to overcome. And being a respected online magazine, to have people understand that it isn’t a blog but an edited, curated magazine. It can be hard to get that message across. This perception of blogging versus journalism is a hurdle.
What inspires you to do this type of work?
(S) The fact that Atlanta is so open. There is a lot of availability for people to come in and do new things, there is a lot of room for new ideas. You can have a lot of trial and error for your ideas without having a lot of backlash. It is a great creative place.
(J) There are moments when you discover what you are doing is unique and impactful. With writing, it is easy to take that impact for granted when something is in the box- like a traditional paper or TV. We are used to these media types. For artists doing creative things, there is something special about writing and its ability to help people discover new, creative things. I love seeing that happen. We have a great relationship with our constituents and we get a lot of feedback when we help someone find a new artist, or when they learn about a new idea. Its very rewarding.
What impact are you having on the community?
(J) The general thing we provide is moral. If you have a large substrate of people who have skills, like recent graduates with degrees in art, there is a choice they have to make to stay or go. The choice to stay in Atlanta is admirable but can be discouraging. The scene can be hard, funding can be limited. But the choice to go can be brave but can also be done for the wrong reasons. So, its encouraging to see that people can use Burnaway to discover that other people are working hard to do great stuff in Atlanta. That has a kind of snowball effect, the more people see what cool things others are doing, the more they want to stay.
As far as concrete impacts, I would say you can see it through events that we report on. If enough people are talking about an event early enough you see an increase in traffic. Its very encouraging. Some of the events we have put together ourselves have had a great turnout.
Who are you collaborating with?
(J) We have a strong relationship with Wonderroot. Chris Appelton sits on our board and he is their Executive Director. They have been important for us in developing the nonprofit business side of Burnaway.
We helped create Gather Atlanta which is a conference for arts groups. That was a partnership with Mint Gallery and several others. We have a strong partnership with AM 1690, producing a weekly broadcast show on Tuesdays. We help choose the guests and facilitate the broadcasting. We also have a good relationship with Creative Loafing for link sharing and cross promotion.
(S) We have worked with Bang Arts Management for a few events and our annual fundraisers. In terms of our programs, they have helped with production and promotion. We are going to be presenting a film screening with Public Acts of Art at the end of July. They are a very new group in Atlanta. We are always looking for new partnerships.
Would you like to see Burnaway replicated or expanded?
(J) Yes. We have a long-range plan to do that. It will take some trial and error to see what exactly it will look like. The thing we are sure about is that Burnaway will not just move to another city and set up shop. That would be too artificial.
Really, what we are interested in doing is facilitating exchange. We want to get people talking to each other. If our constituents in Atlanta can hear from groups in Chicago, New Orleans, Houston or wherever, that would open them up to new creative thoughts. We would like there to be Burnaways everywhere. I think it is surprising there are not similar organizations, but then again it is not really surprising, it takes a lot of effort and funding.
What kind of help or assistance does Burnaway need?
(S) Volunteers for events. Looking ahead, we have a lot of programming coming up. Volunteers who can help us out with events would be great. We are still new to big fundraising events. Anyone who can help us out or help us troubleshoot would be appreciated. Fundraising in general, grants research, these are all things that we are learning as we go. Anyone who can shed some light on these issues would be great.
(J) We are always look for people to join our staff. Especially writers. Although it is important to have professional communicators, it is also important to have diversity. I wouldn’t want to discourage an artist or other non-journalist from writing. Additionally, we are looking for part time staffers like web developers to help us better craft our online tools.
What are some key issues you see in Atlanta?
(S) Because transportation throughout the city is limited, there is a big disconnect between communities. I think this shows up int he arts, but its a larger thing. Like the lack of interaction between Buckhead and the East Side, and between ethnic communities like the Korean groups on Buford Highway and the African American community in South Fulton. It would be very helpful for greater communication and interaction between communities.
(J) I would say that statement goes for the arts itself. The art community has a reputation for being insular and exclusive. We are really interested in advocating for equality and diversity. Artists that have great ideas and execution should also think about having that art be accessible. You shouldn’t need an advanced degree to understand art. Artists can do more projects that represent social justice or social issues and they can add interesting dialogue to community talks. They can be more active and open in the community.
What are some of your favorite projects in Atlanta?
(S) There are some places that I think are doing great work. Dashboard Co-Op is doing a really interesting job with their programming. They have only been getting better since they started. The artists that they represent have a wide range of art and mediums. They have a lot of intermedium exhibitions- dance with painting, or sound with sculpture. They don’t have an official space so they have been very smart in choosing unused spaces around the city. By using unexpected spaces, they have been bringing attention to them and more artists are experimenting with them.
(J) Their last show, Ants and Grasshoppers, was amazing. They combined some mimimalistic art elements with voice over art and photography. These don’t usually go together but it was wonderful. For the same reason I think Dance Truck is fantastic. Their use of space is very different. There is a new group called Lucky Penny that could produce some great stuff. Wonderroot has been around for a long time and they don’t do a lot of shouting about their programming, but they do work hard in the background to make a lot of things possible for others. They are definitely a great resource.
(S) There is a program of theirs that hasn’t launched yet but I am excited to see it happen. It will be run through Mint Gallery and will focus on getting younger artist to stay in Atlanta. It will combine a paid residency program (with housing and stipend) with community art work. I think that it could grow into a really strong program.
How can interested readers reach you?
What FEED’s your soul?
(J) I FEED my soul with other souls.
(S) I FEED my soul with coffee.