The Future of Southwest Contemporary, 2.0
Some five months ago, I wrote about our decision to suspend our print publication through 2020. I wrote also of the obstacles and challenges of the traditional media model—challenges exacerbated by the pandemic—and of our unyielding commitment to publishing arts and cultural criticism and journalism in the Southwest. Since that time, we pivoted to a digital-first approach: publishing weekly topical content via our website and newsletters. We’ve also had the opportunity to imagine a bigger, brighter, and more sustainable future for Southwest Contemporary and the roles it plays in our communities.
Southwest Contemporary is the only publication in this region dedicated to covering independent arts and culture from the perspective of local writers, artists, and creators. Since 1992—when SWC (then called The Magazine) first published as a black-and-white, newsprint tabloid—we’ve published more than 300 issues and more than 7,000 articles, written by hundreds of contributors, and supported by more than a thousand advertisers.
Our mission is to connect people to contemporary arts and culture in the Southwest locally, nationally, and globally, but it is also to contribute to a thriving regional creative economy. We provide a crucial platform for artists, arts organizations, and creators in our communities to share their work and reach their audiences, and for arts writers to produce critical perspectives, animated storytelling, and topical journalism. Over the past six months, we’ve seen our work online reaching wider audiences than ever before.
Southwest Contemporary fills a critical gap. Legitimate arts journalism and arts writing is shrinking across this country—it is continuously cut by newsrooms, diluted into puff or luxury lifestyle pieces, walled off as esoteric art speak, or limited to cosmopolitan markets. Contrary to these trends, we are investing in serious, accessible arts coverage and reporting for the regional arts communities of the Southwest. That means:
- Paying our staff and contributors fair and equitable wages and fees.
- Keeping our content independent from commercial influence and interests.
- Keeping our content free for all readers.
As a small and scrappy business, we were previously spending over $65,000 a year—nearly a third of our annual budget—on print production. So, we’ve made a strategic decision to redirect our resources and alter our publication schedule in favor of creating more opportunities for transformative impact online; in fewer, better print issues; and through our membership offerings. Beginning in 2021, our publication schedule will look like:
- Weekly Art News—a continuation of our digital-first approach, we’ll continue and increase our weekly reporting online.
- Digital Quarterly issues—our bi-monthly magazine will be replaced by a quarterly magazine released in PDF format as well as in limited print runs (available via our new membership program).
- Annual New Mexico Field Guide—a guidebook dedicated to the creative industries across the state.
- Annual SWC Journal—a major annual arts and culture publication with in-depth, critical editorial, upgraded printing and design, and progressive, transdisciplinary take on creativity. A collectible work of art in itself!
Finally, one of the biggest changes we are making is to expand our reach across the entire Southwest region. Our scope will include New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. As the broader art market and media industry continue to face disruption, we see this as an opportunity to carve out a greater voice for these communities across the region, to tell stories of the resilience and ingenuity of the creative economy in the face of COVID, to narrate what makes these regional arts communities unique, and to facilitate dialogue between them.
Whether you’ve valued our content over the last 28 years, or the last 28 days, now is the time we need your help the most.
The SWC membership program
To help bolster our existing systems of support and create greater stability and sustainability for our organization, we’ve created a membership! We designed our membership to bring together our readers and community members who believe in our mission: to elevate contemporary arts in the Southwest through curated, critical perspectives, arts reportage, and crucial exposure to the artists and arts organizations creating culture. Unlike typical magazine subscriptions (in which you pay for the delivery of a product, or to take down a paywall), our membership creates a rallying point for our shared values, and we see it as a model of community-building and reciprocity. As members, you’ll get cool swag and free mags (and eventually, COVID-safe opportunities to gather), but you may also be asked to give us your input and let us know your interests and concerns as we grow. We’ve been planning this launch for some time, and hoped it would be accompanied by a celebratory bash, but… things change.
As more media companies—especially local, niche publications—change their approach to journalism in response to an increasingly perilous business model, we have an opportunity to create a model for locally driven, locally produced, independent voice for contemporary arts that creates meaningful dialogues. Your membership will play a major role in helping SWC solidify its standing as a trusted and nationally recognized source for contemporary arts and culture in the Southwest, keep our content free and independent, and give us greater stability.
Whether you’ve valued our content over the last 28 years, or the last 28 days, now is the time we need your help the most. The ongoing pandemic has dramatically affected our business and the businesses we rely on for advertising support. Our goal is to raise $20,000 in reader support by December 31. Your support is critical to our future. Become a member today to help us make significant progress in our mission.
Thank you for your readership and support!
Please take care,
owner + publisher