The Mag with Shanelle Lopez
For the past year, Shanelle “Shay” Lopez, a fellow ACM masters student, has been creating and building a creative community around her online magazine, The Mag: With Love. The Mag: With Love is “a platform for Black and POC artists to display who they are and what they create to the world.” I first heard about The Mag: With Love in class, when Shay asked a question that she intended to take and apply directly into leading her team. I was impressed with Shay’s confidence and direction as a leader, but even more so when I read the magazine itself.
Shay’s passion and confidence are evident in every context, but they really shine when she’s speaking about The Mag: With Love. The photography and art is incredible, as is the editorial writing and artists featured. It’s thought-provoking, well-curated and includes absolutely fantastic art. The experience of reading feels warm and welcoming, as though you’ve been included with, and enveloped by, the passionate and talented group of artists Shay has brought together.
I sat down with Shay to ask her about her work on The Mag: With Love, the community she’s created and where she sees the project going. Her editorial work and her community building speaks for itself, and Shay’s ambitions and goals after completing her degree in Arts and Cultural Management (M.P.S) are non-stop.
Eli: Hi Shay! Thanks for taking the time to speak with me and the Prattler readers. Jumping right in—what originally drew you to the format of an online publication?
Shay: Deciding to do an online publication started with price. I didn’t know whether this was going to be something I continued for a long time, so starting online was the best [way to] gather an audience. Printing wasn't an issue, and sustainability is something I like to consider in anything I do. [It also allowed me] to include more forms of media: video, digital work [and] graphic design. Digital creators could send me a file, which is more accessible to the type of artists I wanted to work with. It also let me work individually on my own interests [in] design and editorial work.
Eli: I love how accessibility, sustainability and flexibility are cornerstones of your creative practice. Did anything surprise you about the community that formed around The Mag?
Shay: At first, no. I started with my community from undergrad, then it developed and grew from there. What did surprise me was that by the second volume, a lot of the artists participating were not local to New York. This demonstrated that I was reaching an audience beyond friends.
For example, we had contributing artists from Wisconsin, Illinois, Georgia, Texas and many others. It was really exciting to see the reach.
I’ve found it’s difficult to break out of the circle you form within the arts in the city itself, so this was a pretty special experience. The second volume also received a lot of feedback. I gave pause between the first and the second [volumes] so that during that time, I was able to do a lot of promotion.
Eli: In Cassandra Bristow’s article about Pratt’s zine club, they talk about the value of tangibility and bringing creative editorial projects together to be distributed face-to-face rather than online. What’s The Mag’s perspective on this? I appreciate how you keep sustainability in mind in terms of printing, but what other events would you consider to provide space for artists to connect?
Shay: I’ve actually been thinking about that. I did start [The Mag] online, and that also stemmed from me not being sure of the response I was going to receive. I didn't want to print copies of these magazines [that] wouldn’t have a home, but I have received feedback that people would really enjoy limited edition printed zines if they were available.
In order for artists to meet up and have more face-to-face interaction in collaboration with the magazine, we’ve done a photography workshop, where photographers and models were able to come together and build their portfolio. Our group chat is also a great resource that I hope to grow. Involved members can find support [and] gather background knowledge from someone who may be more knowledgeable about something they’re interested in.
I’m always thinking about in-person events to bridge that gap from the virtual group chat to physically bringing people together. And, of course, thinking about those requested printed editions, although I’m not interested in something that’s profit-driven, but [rather] something that’s genuinely appreciated. This whole process isn't about the profit; it's about the community. Right now, I’m not sure the magazine will develop best in a printed format because I'm trying to develop the community, and online is working best right now.
Eli: That makes sense. In leading this initiative at such a young age, what roadblocks did you face? What was surprising or helpful in your development as a leader?
Shay: A roadblock that developed me as a leader [was] the challenge of multitasking, especially being in a masters program and then trying to build a whole community of artists. I’m still developing my knowledge and experience with the arts and cultural realm; I’m pretty new to it still. The struggle and the [crucial nature] of networking is something important while continuing to work on this initiative. It’s [also] a lot more work. Social media moves fast, but it’s not always doing what it needs to in order to build a community that is as close knit and comforting as what I’m envisioning.
The amount of networking and conversation that I have to engage in was a bit more surprising. When I developed the magazine, I thought, “I know a lot of artists: it's really hard to get into formal gallery spaces. Why not create an online gallery space?” It obviously became a lot more than that, and more than I expected. So balancing what I’m doing in my masters program and developing The Mag is challenging and time consuming. I’m always trying to dedicate more of my time to it. Any business is time consuming of course, but it can be done!
Eli: In this issue of The Prattler, we’re looking into escaping from reality as a way of understanding it. Did starting this creative project during such turbulent times in the world serve as an escape? Did it become a way to navigate a post-2020 world?
Shay: [It helped with] escaping the formal art world for sure. Especially during a time where we weren't able to access our regular art experiences. I started this in 2021, with the idea that “artists are creating so much work right now and have nowhere to put it” in mind. An online arts magazine seemed like the most amazing way to gather art during these difficult times and bring it together. By having it online, we’re able to bring it to people in their homes. It was sort of an escape, but also a way to share our emotions through art. Step into a gallery in your home, through your computer.
Eli: More broadly, and perhaps more personally, how has your creative scope been stretched by leading The Mag?
Shay: I was used to doing article writing in undergrad, but it was always standard journalism. My creative scope stretched as I had freedom to deviate from standard journalism styles. [We included things like] feature pieces on artists, touching more on multimedia journalism, which I’m working on now. I’d love to do more short form video work on artists. Visual work in general can be much more engaging and have a larger impact or give insight into a deeper understanding of the work. The magazine definitely allows me to explore, without the standards of typical journalism (which I got my undergrad degree in), so there's a lot more experimentation with The Mag, which is exciting.
Eli: That is exciting! What excites you about the future of The Mag? Is your program through ACM helping you envision the future trajectory of the publication, or your career and creative endeavors?
Shay: The Mag is definitely a strong foundation for what I want to do in the future. I’m interested in opening a nonprofit organization, or an organization that functions as a hub for artists. Since I’m not able to open a physical space right now, the magazine is a smaller scale initiative with the same ideas underfoot. In the future, I want my organization to function as a physical space where [artists] can network, host shows, come to classes or just come and do work. A hub of creativity that’s multifunctional. Right now, I’m building the community on a smaller scale that will hopefully become a storefront organization where artists can come and create.
In terms of ACM, it has definitely helped in being a leader and working in groups towards a shared goal. Especially in the arts and cultural world. We’ve learned a lot about leadership theory and organizational behavior. I’ve learned a lot about being a leader in these organizations, and learning what works and what doesn't. I look forward to learning more of the technical stuff like budgeting, law and policies and developing my logistical skills.
Eli: That sounds like an amazing plan. To get more abstract: Have you had any surreal experiences since starting your editorial work that our readers would enjoy hearing about?
Shay: I think it’s testimonials I get from artists who participate. Each volume so far, I've gotten feedback from artists who have thanked me for creating this platform and who have been able to have positive experiences in sharing their work for the first time through us. [They were] thanking me for creating a space that they’ve needed.
My friend, as well, was speaking to professionals within the museum world. [I’ve heard] they would be excited to meet me in person and share their thoughts on how to continue to develop the magazine and provide encouragement for me to continue. That recognition from professionals within the field itself is really exciting and motivating. This magazine started from a quick conversation I had in my undergrad apartment. The whole experience of putting it together has been surreal.
Check out The Mag: With Love here!
Art by Seb Torrens