Montreal, commonly referred to as the cultural capital of Canada, has a thriving art scene. However, the community can feel inaccessible to anyone without an art background. In the fall of 2013, Natalie Della Valle, Julian Trompeter, and Emma Gaudio, a group of McGill students, came together to address their mutual feeling that discussion of art in Montreal was often too serious to be enjoyable for the wider public. What came about as a result was the creation of their own art magazine, Formerly Known As (FKA), which seeks to free the conversation around art, and invite more people into the art world.
“There are a lot of art magazines that approach very serious work, but they approach it very formally,” Della Valle, U3 Anthropology, explained. “We’re trying to have […] enjoyable conversations about serious work, and not take ourselves too seriously while doing it.”
Trompeter, Della Valle, and Gaudio, who were friends before they were co-founders, discussed the idea in passing for a long time before finally taking action.
“People didn’t believe we were actually going to do this,” Gaudio, U3 History, recalled. “We spent so long trying to figure out a name, and then we had to change that name, and it became this thing that went on for so long that when we finally had an issue people were like ‘Wait, this is actually a legitimate publication.’”
With regards to magazine content, the founders stated they want to keep their limits as broad as possible.
“One of the great things about FKA is that it’s very diverse,” Della Valle said. “We feature writing, industrial design, fashion design, film photography, painting, sculpture, performance art, stills from pieces. It’s really anything.”
“As long as it can be printed and communicated clearly what it is, it could end up in the magazine,” Trompeter, U3 Cultural Studies, said. “The more [diversity] the better […]”
FKA also aims to make their magazine accessible to artists and readers beyond the McGill bubble. When FKA first came together, the founders took an alternate route from most student-led groups, and decided against confining their readership and contributor network to McGill students.
“Half the artists we feature aren’t students anymore,” Della Valle added. “We have a lot of [contributors] who graduated a few years ago, who are already starting to make names for themselves.”
Since its first issue in 2014, FKA has grown immensely, and the founders are currently in the process of working on their fourth issue.
“The publication has gotten bigger, [and] not only in terms of the number of artists we feature,” Gaudio said. “We have a lot more people involved. Before it was just the [initial] four of us, then the three of us [that are founders now]. Now there are 14 [members], so we have people who help us […] it’s really awesome that people want to get involved because they see that we’re doing something different.”
The three founders each have unique past experiences with art that led them to starting the magazine together. Trompeter, whose parents are both artists, grew up exposed to art.
“I always wanted to do something artistic,” Trompeter said. “I used to really want to be a graphic designer—that’s where I got my skillset for Adobe CreativeSuite, since I had been doing it from a very young age. I’m very lucky to have been taught that [….] When I heard Natalie and Levi and Emma were getting involved in an art magazine, I knew it was a situation where my skills could be put to the task.”
Della Valle was also raised in an environment where she was immersed in art.
“I grew up in this weird small town in New Hampshire that was really strangely connected to the art world,” Della Valle said. “The oldest art colony in the [United States] is right down the road from my house [….The artist colony] started sending all of these really famous artists and journalists to give lectures at my public high school.”
Gaudio, on the other hand, didn’t always have an interest in art, which was what drew her to the magazine in the first place.
“In first year, when we talked about it, I was always like ‘Art’s stupid, I hate art,’” Gaudio said. “When I [said] art, I really [meant] this stiff, stuffy, male-dominated, prestigious thing. And that’s why I wanted to be involved with [FKA]—to make art accessible for people like myself who wouldn’t normally say they are into art [….] It cultivated an interest in art that I didn’t know that I had.”
The founders’ different backgrounds give each one a unique perspective on the magazine as a whole, and on the pieces they publish. Since each team member approaches every submission from a slightly different angle, disagreements occur; however, these moments are key in addressing strengths and weaknesses that the others may not have seen otherwise, and solidifying what the magazine should represent and stand for.
“We have a very similar vision, but it’s not exactly the same,” Della Valle said. “Which is good, because then we end up debating some pieces and why they should or shouldn’t be in the magazine.”
The magazine typically reviews contributions at the end of a three-month submission period. During this time, the entire 14-person FKA team joins forces to reach out to artists and request art work. After reviewing the pieces and making final content decisions, the team begins laying out the magazine using Adobe InDesign software. All three founders agree that this is the most stressful step.
“No matter how prepared you are, the deadlines are crazy, even the ones that you set for yourself,” Trompeter said. “It takes a long time […] because it’s not one page of something visual, in this case it’s 72 of them in a row, and you want to maximize how striking and engaging each page will be for the reader.”
The trio also aims to do justice to the artists’ work when laying out the pieces.
“The design for each spread is very responsive to the piece of art and the person’s work that we’re featuring,” Della Valle said. “It’s a balance between structuring the page just for that person’s work, versus the magazine as a whole.”
Once layout is done, the magazine is sold in print, and uploaded online for free. This is done to ensure that a wider audience is able to enjoy and engage with FKA. Then, the team gets started on planning a launch party to celebrate the release of the magazine, and bring together local artists with the magazine’s readers.
FKA’s parties are a key source of funding for the magazine; however, in keeping with their goal of inclusivity, the team tries to make their parties welcoming to all, regardless of financial constraint.
“The money we use for the parties goes toward printing for the most part,” Gaudio explained. “We do a ‘pay what you can at the door’ type of thing, so we can [release the magazine in] print.”
Though FKA’s three founders are all in their final years of university, they have no concern about keeping the magazine alive beyond McGill, even if their respective futures separate them geographically.
“Wherever we are, FKA is,” Trompeter said. “We can all be in three different places, and ultimately FKA is in those three places, not anywhere else.”
What’s more, the team is optimistic that their plans for their upcoming issue will take the magazine to new levels, hopefully ensuring their success as a magazine beyond graduation. Their last issue was shipped to Japan, the United Kingdom, and all over the United States, and they hope to keep expanding in the coming months with the release of issue four.
“We’re growing up a lot right now,” Della Valle said. “A lot of things are hopefully on the horizon. This is going to be an exciting year for FKA [….] Keep your eyes open.”