This summer, with support from an Arts Respond project grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts, the Galveston Arts Center developed a special workshop series for a deserving group of creative teens. The participants were five students in the youth art collective at Galveston Urban Ministries (G.U.M.) whose mission is to develop holistic relationships to transform Galveston’s North Broadway community. The end-product of this eight-week virtual/in-person course was to be a small, grassroots publication called a zine (a kind of DIY art magazine.)
Despite the challenging times, GAC’s teen zine project provided an opportunity for each student to grow creatively. Using a hybrid learning model of virtual and in-person small-group sessions, the students were introduced to zine culture through the eyes of a diverse group of professionals working in a range of creative fields, including poetry, typography, and photography. The topics and themes were chosen to support the students’ individual interests and strengths and to foster the development of a message.
The workshop series kicked off with a crash course in zines with Stacy Kirages, co-founder of Houston ZineFest. Kirages was especially excited to be involved in the project. “Zines have always been a great outlet for young people to express themselves and share their experiences,” she opined, “but it’s even more important during this time when we are isolated due to COVID-19 and communities of color, the Black community especially, are still experiencing social injustice from law enforcement. Being able to work through feelings in a tangible way, like in a zine, can be extremely healing and restorative.”
Ashanti Anderson, an award-winning poet and member of GAC’s staff, worked with the students on creative writing and ideation throughout the workshop series. She began each in-person lesson with a writing prompt designed to get the students in the right head space for the day. G.U.M. Youth Art Collective Instructor Sarah Cantu and youth program director Brandon Williams participated in each of the sessions too, and helped keep the students focused and motivated throughout the project.
Each student gained a perspective of their own as the series unfolded. Several rounds of brainstorming and discussion helped the group zero in on ideas. But the students were in agreement from Day 1 on what they wanted as their main topic: The Hood.
Student Bacilio (Boss) Valdez, (age 15) expressed optimism; “I hope the zine brings awareness to the community, because most people that don’t live in (North Broadway) think it’s a bad place, but it’s not.” He explained, “I want to show people that don’t live in my neighborhood that it’s a bunch of hard-working people.”
Student Toby Agnew, (14) went a step further; “My zine (purpose) is talking about the community and what we need to change, and it brings a message out to people so that they know.”
Student Kenyon Venters, (13) pointed out, “A zine has to offer something that is worth it.”
One of the goals of the project was to expose students to practical career skills. For most of them, it sparked deeper interest in subjects that were already on their minds. A two-part lesson and critique with Houston Center for Photography instructor Kelly Webeck tapped into a particular interest-area for several of the students.
“I want to pursue photography as a career and make a living off of it,” stated Valdez. “Webeck showed us photographers that make a living off their pictures, and I thought, ‘Hey I could do that one day, that’d be fun to do.’”
He added, “Webeck’s workshop showed me that there are places in your hood that can be cool to shoot.” Though Valdez has been studying photography for 2 years and is already familiar with concepts like the rule of thirds, directional lines, and depth-of-field, he recognized that Webeck “showed me things that I did not know about photography.”
Some of these revelations are reflected in the students’ collaborations in finished zine, like the use of handwritten text over the negative space in a photograph.
Agnew, who is more of a lyricist than a visual artist, admitted that he went into this project with some misgivings. “I thought the poems (workshop) was really dope. I didn’t know we could do poems when we first got there. I actually started getting a lot more interested in it, knowing we could add music-based stuff too.”
Guest artist/DJ Tierney Malone, who joined the class virtually from his home in Houston to share his typography-based graphic paintings, was impressed with Agnew’s knowledge of jazz music, and invited him to get involved with his Wednesday radio show Houston Jazz Spotlight on KPFT. Malone had a major exhibition at GAC in 2017 in conjunction with a collaborative musical project with Robert Hodge entitled 2 ½ Years: A Visual Celebration to the Spirit of Juneteenth.
The youth collective’s zine project began on June 25 and wrapped up in mid-August with the publication of their first zine issue, entitled What They Don’t See: Volume 1, now available at select downtown businesses and featured at Rosenberg Library in the teen section.
At its heart, what makes a zine special is that it presents a direct line of a communication from the content creator to the wider community, and in this project, it allowed students to construct their own vision for their future.