Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Arabella Magazine - a Visual Art Success Story

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Brian Usher, the Publisher and CEO of Arabella magazine. I am not sure which cabbage leaf I have been living under, for I hadn't even heard of Arabella. Brian was very gracious and let me off the hook by telling me that Arabella is most frequently found in the Homes section of magazine stands (an area which I tread warily around when I am in the hunt for painting magazines).

We explored together, in a couple of conversations, our perspectives on our respective media productions.

Arabella has been around now for about 5 years; distributed across Canada and the US. As a result of early distribution in the Muskoka area, it attracted the attention of the president of Barnes and Noble magazine who opened the door for Arabella to appear on the stands of some 1200 outlets across the States.  It also appears on bookshelves across Canada at Chapters & Indigo and is available from many of Arabella’s gallery partners, as well as many libraries. With both print and digital publication, it is truly a national magazine with an international arm.

While visual arts have a prominent place in the magazine, it also comfortably embraces architecture and design.  In the recent harvest issue, Arabella serves up a diverse menu covering such things as wooden tree hangings, galleries and the works of some outstanding visual artists. Tucked between it all is an article about the Island of Nevis where some nice properties were shaped by Canadian architects.  (A lot of Canadians are drawn to the Caribbean for winter retreats).

I had no qualms about paying around $15.00 for my copy of the  magazine, since it is loaded with content and runs to 404 pages. It’s so thick, that Brian admits the binding won't support a larger publication.  It will take a long time for me to work my way through this issue, just in time for the next quarterly creation.

Arabella has spared no expense in production using heavy, glossy paper and the pages are loaded with large, coloured photos of paintings.

Artist profiles are written by the magazine’s Founder and Editor in Chief, Debra Usher, in an easy first person style and the articles are lengthy,casual, explorative reads.

Brian writes in his recent Harvest 2012 editorial that a few older, “established” gallery owners were critical, suggesting it wasn’t a “serious” magazine. Like, so what?  We're talking business reality here. Arabella is out to present to Canadians and others, an image of the Canadian visual art milieu – they’re not into analyzing the life out of it. In developing the editorial, Debra and her team of writers let the reader look at the artists and their works and form their own judgements. At least that's how I see it. If I wanted a university focus I wouldn't be buying an off-rack magazine in Chapters.

The magazine is eclectic and universal while maintaining a Canadian identity. The feedback both Debra and Brian receive by email and phone calls from right across Canada and the States indicates a high degree of reader appreciation.

Debra calls the current issue, the 'Artists' Issue'.  The visual arts are very well represented in this issue, for this is the time of year when art appears in parks and on the streets and is displayed in studio tours across the country.

Both of the Ushers are justifiably proud of the impact of Arabella on the Canadian art scene.  “We’re truly demonstrating the impact of the magazine in supporting and promoting Canadian artistic and creative talent,” says Brian. A recent ARABELLA article on Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis resulted in the value of her works rising from between $2,000 and $4,000 into the $7,000 plus range. That sounds like a serious impact on the arts to me, and one which has a peripheral ripple effect which every gallery owner and artist can benefit from.

Arabella is a business. Let's face it, they're not in the publishing business to go broke, but at the same time, they do their best to carefully blend professionalism with art. They seek out artists to profile and at the same time they sell space in their magazine to galleries and artists to elevate their images onto the national stage.  To ensure the best store placement and grow their reader base they invest a substantial amount with Chapters for presenting their magazine front and foremost in the entrance areas as you walk through the main door. That's where the rubber hits the road – where business and art sing in harmony together.

Arabella is in the position of building the infrastructure to take them to the next level. They are represented in the print and digital media and their goal is to be represented at, and to even host, a number of select art events and feature art development workshops and to present future art shows.

A lot of artists are eyeing their national art competition, The Arabella Great Canadian Landscape Contest, which is presently inviting registrations from artists across the country. Registration for entry closes January 1, 2013 and there will be a 2 month window between April and June of 2013 for artists to submit their works.  Using social media, an Artists’ on-line community presents many great works of artists in the contest, and in 2013 there will even be an opportunity for art lovers to check out the paintings they like best and vote to determine a people's choice winner.

It was an exciting experience for me to discover Arabella and to learn of their contribution to Canadian visual arts.

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