a Flipswitch Films production
New York City’s underground Do-It-Yourself (DIY) scene is comprised of vibrant groups of musicians, visual artists, content curators and writers. Contrary to misconception, the DIY landscape is far from dead. In 2009, we reported about the DIY music scene but sadly many of those venues are long gone. However, Showpaper, a free bi-weekly print-only publication, remains a go-to medium to find out about all-ages music and DIY shows in NYC and the tri-state area. As a former DIYer in the Houston ‘zine community, I sat down with Joe Ahearn, the Executive Director and Distribution Director of Showpaper to learn about the publication and New York City’s DIY setting.
Untapped Cities: What is Showpaper?
Joe Ahearn: It is an object. It is a single piece of new print that has art work by a different artist on every issue on one side, like a poster. On the inside is an index of every underground all ages performance space in not just New York City, but Connecticut, New Jersey and upstate New York.
Untapped Cities: What was the inspiration for Showpaper?
Joe: Our executive director, Todd Patrick, started Showpaper. The idea is to be as simple as possible of a delivery method for finding out about shows. It is not some untactical medium like the internet. That’s the real engine behind the listings. The artwork exists because there is a real lack of art dialog in the underground music scene as far as booking shows is concerned. This is just another outlet outside of the gallery system for delivering beautiful work to everyone in the community.
Untapped Cities: What has been your favorite Showpaper piece and why?
Joe: That is like asking someone to choose between their children. There have been almost 130 issues of Showpaper so far. I don’t think there is one cover that it most exciting. Every year, every season, we have a lot of different guest curators. There have always been entirely different genres, directions, perspectives. I actually think that it is one of Showpaper’s strengths. Different perspectives on making art. Personally, I like stuff that floats on the page. I am very excited about this piece that is about to come out by Jesse Hlebo that’s a sort of full color black with triangles that all lost on thick black. Solid black on newsprint almost has wet texture to it. It is four layers of solid ink. I like the things that are unique to the newsprint as a medium.
Untapped Cities: How do you discover your Showpaper contributors?
Joe: I think one of the most important roles for everyone to have is to be as engaged in the community that you are trying to have a dialog with, if possible. Some people e-mail us but most of the covers are not submissions based. I go out to shows and work with visual artists in all aspects of my life. I am usually working in some sort of public space. There are a number of different people that do print curation. There are awesome spaces, for instance, Desert Island and Printed Matter.
Todd and I have selected 50% of the Showpaper covers. The other 50%, and probably more going into 2012 and 2013, are guest curated with is another way to access more facets of the community. Because ultimately there are only two ways to get ideas about curation. One, you pick from the people you are connected to. Two, or you do it the reverse way where people come to you. Bringing in guest curators I think is really, really important for expanding that dialog. Otherwise, it is restricting to the galleries I can physically attend.
Showpaper has participated a number of times in the New York Art Book Fair where we give out 10,000 back issues. It is amazing. We have worked a lot with people in the punk music world. The punk music world has had a long traditional with independent zines.
Untapped Cities: Where do you see Showpaper going in the future?
Joe Ahearn: Well, I think that we are working a lot in trying to develop alternative modes of distribution in New York City. I don’t think people realize how the accessibility of the internet, and everyone being excited about how to share things with one another, has really overshadowed the terrifying loss of public space in New York City. There is a severe lack of public space in New York City. Space where you can disseminate and share information. I don’t think people realize how difficult it is to distribute print in New York City, like, where you are allowed to leave it for people to pick-up. We are hopefully about to start our third round of this news box design project where we basically have artists design newspaper boxes that are distributed around the city. The only space that is left is supposed to be on the sidewalk on the curb. The type of regulations are cost probative for any small organization. I think I would like Showpaper to help continue exploring how independent distribution can function in a space like New York where those sorts of indie voices are needed in the public space.