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Pistil Magazine takes wing

By Arts & Culture

SAIC graduate student makes her dream a reality

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Story by Lauria E. Locsmondy

When I was a kid, my dad always told me, “Do what you love, and the money will follow.” So I spent my years writing and drawing and making photos and creating things, and I never ran into any money during those early years, but I can tell you one thing: I was happy.

Recently, I indulged in some late-night TV, and a seemingly famous job guru hosted an infommercial, in which she instructed her audience and lucky home viewers on how to make their dreams come true. Quite ambitious, I thought. While astonished that this woman makes a living off giving people hope, and wondering why I was so engaged by her lecturing, she said, “Do what you love, and the money will follow.” I continued to watch.

The host instructed her audience to pretend that they had all the money in the world. She then asked, under that pretense, what would they love to do every day—what would seem more like pleasure than work. The audience’s answers are the careers that they should pursue. She continued that dreams take patience, and that people should start by working on their projects in their spare time, while earning a living to support this task until it takes flight. That’s what I do, I thought. I was on to something.

When I was a teen, I obsessively read the magazines that my mom stacked around the house, but the teen publication, Sassy, became my bible. This magazine, with its edgy and smart content for girls, as well as other women’s journals inspired me to make my own, and this objective became my life’s dream. Later during undergrad at the University of Iowa, when my feminism emerged, I recognized my passion within this goal: to create a medium in which women’s voices would be heard.

My first stab at this objective was during my sophomore year in college, with a little zine that my girlfriend, Christine, and I created called Kaou. The photocopied booklets contained literally cut-and-pasted images from magazines and photos, rants about gaunt fashion models, and the proper way to pluck your eyebrows. Christine and I handed out Kaou to our friends, and left copies in record, book and coffee shops around Iowa City.

When I moved to Chicago after graduating, I began a career in advertising, and in my free time, attempted publishing again with a non-for-profit zine called venusflow (inspired by the medical term venous flow, the flow of blood to one’s heart). After two years of distributing this free, collaborative publication around Chicago, I wanted to take the concept a step further. With an MFA in writing at SAIC in my game plan, I decided to merge my magazine ambition into my master’s thesis, knowing that I would be able to dedicate a sufficient amount of time to the project’s success. PISTIL Magazine quickly became my moonlighting gig—and the center of my universe for two straight years.

Now after years of focusing on my thesis, the reality of graduation begs the question, when does art make room for business?

During one of my graduate critiques, a writing instructor suggested that I leave SAIC in pursuit of an MBA. Why, I thought, because a magazine isn’t art? Because I’m marketing my art to be profitable? Many artists neglect the idea that a fierce business mind—in addition to talent and skill—will make doing what you love possible. The most interesting magazines on the market start with a passion for art—whether it is writing, music or fashion—and eventually turn into profitable and successful business enterprises.

Before beginning grad school, I started talking up my idea for what was to become PISTIL Magazine. Coworkers from my editorial job enrolled in the collaboration and introduced me to other interested writers and artists. The staff from venusflow was also eager to take its concept to the next level. I talked about the idea everywhere I went and met people in the strangest of places—like Jenny, PISTIL’s Director of Marketing, in the bathroom at Empty Bottle, and Hiroko, a Senior Writer, when she interviewed me during a band’s signing at the Virgin Megastore. Then, finally, after a few months of networking and organizing, the new staff of an untitled magazine held our first meeting in June 2001 at the bar, Club Foot.

After a year of preparation, in June 2002, the staff and I published the first issue of our magazine. The planning, marketing and mission took what seemed like forever to develop. I wanted to start off on the right foot, and that began with the name. One of my graduate advisors told me that titling the magazine PISTIL would be “the biggest mistake of my life,” based on its association with pistol and how we feminists have long fought to end violence against women. But it’s this juxtaposition that makes the name so effective: the female reproductive organs of a flower and the word’s enunciation. This duality illustrates today’s feminisms, and thus became the focus of PISTIL’s content.

Today PISTIL is a national, independent publication that focuses on celebrating women and promoting their creativity, and introducing new talent. Each quarterly issue embodies a theme—like “Chicago,” “Public/Private,” “Domestic” and “The Game”—and all of the content within that issue reflects this concept. With the goal of combining fashion and glamour with feminism, literature and politics, each issue features PISTIL’s five Groundbreaking Women—artists, educators, activists and musicians, to name a few—who are making significant strides in their fields. In the “Domestic” issue, for example, we featured producer/home recorder Tara Rogers (better known as Analog Tara) and Chicago’s sommelier and “Check, Please!” host, Alpana Singh. The synthesis of these subjects, until now, has not existed in the world of publishing.

Despite PISTIL’s unique identity, launching the publication introduced many challenges. Finding contributors and funding proved to be the biggest struggle. For our first issue, “Chicago,” the staff and I wrote most of the content, and the events and fundraisers associated with the magazine covered all of the print costs. Now that we’re on our fourth issue, contributors fill our inboxes with submissions, and advertisers actually seek us.

The PISTIL staff and I take advantage of every open door—every marketing opportunity and networking event—to continue to grow.

I solicited critiques from SAIC advisors and asked professors to critique my work and welcomed any negative feedback as a chance to develop my project. I also solicited writers and artists from the school to contribute to PISTIL, used installation opportunities to advertise PISTIL, and hung flyers around school and in grads’ mailboxes to promote our events. More specifically, I sought the knowledge of SAIC faculty like printing expert Kathi Beste, who helped me find the most affordable printer, and interviewed film, video and new media instructor Michele Mahoney, director of The Undergrad, and photography professor Barbara DeGenevieve, founder of ssspread.com.

Since established organizations provide memberships to students at low costs, I joined CWIP (Chicago Women in Publishing) for only $35, beating the regular $100 annual fee. This group is comprised of many of established media professionals who hold monthly workshops and chat about publishing, and it is a helpful networking opportunity.

Joining independent organizations that deal with the ups and downs of publishing is key to any magazine. PISTIL is a member of the Independent Press Association, and I sit on its Chicago steering committee. This organization meets regularly for workshops, panel discussions and networking parties, and provides the opportunity to chat with other writers, editors and publishers about the hardships—like finding advertisers or increasing distribution—of running an independent publication.

In addition to hosting regular PISTIL events, the staff and I willingly attend every function to which we’re invited. In April, we worked a booth and spoke on a panel at our second WLUW Record Fair, and this summer, we’re collaborating for a second time with Estrojam. We’re participants of “Chick Flick,” a monthly networking event for women business owners at Le Passage, and often work silently to aid various activist groups. Developing a community around PISTIL and helping other organizations is part of our mission.

Working to establish PISTIL gave me a chance to share time with a community of artists who have truly found their passions. Whether it’s a professor, like feminist Faith Wilding or writer Beth Nugent, or any of my talented classmates, support and inspiration surrounded me and inspired me to move forward.

Finding what you love is a dream, but doing what you love is a dream come true.

PISTIL’s upcoming events include a cocktail party 10 p.m. Wednesday, May 12, at Rodan (1530 N. Milwaukee Ave.), a fashion show in June to promote new designers and a launch party in July to celebrate our fourth issue, The Game.
Please visit www.pistilmag.com for more info on these parties, the publication and how to get involved.

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