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Now that the Brooklyn 'Zine Fest recently closed its application to prospie tablets, I wanted to check in on the 'zine scene in Washington, D.C. I caught up with Ariana Stone of the DC Zinefest via email. Her words presented to you in a non-Xeroxed, digital format:
Who exactly organizes the DC Zinefest and why? What are its origins?
2014 will be the fourth DC Zinefest of all time! As for the origins of the Fest, I'll let Jenna Brager's sweet comic speak for itself. Jenna came up with the idea of throwing a DCZF in the first place back in 2011: http://www.shareable.net/blog/so-you-wanna-have-a-zinefest.
The DCZF has historically been organized by a core group of volunteers who meet from January up until the Fest in the summer. In 2013, there were six main organizers and a handful of amazing volunteers who made it all happen. A few of us have been making zines for years; a few of us have just jumped in.
Each of us does this because we’re super pumped about zines. A lot of times when I’m tabling for the Fest or telling people about it, they’ll mention that they thought zines disappeared around, like, the era of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The international zine community is not as active as it was in decades prior, but we're in the middle of a resurgence for sure. Cities like Chicago and DC have resurrected long-dead zinefests, zinesters like Mimi Nguyen have started publishing zines again after years of silence, and new zines, zinefests, and distros are emerging at rates that we haven't seen since the early 2000's. Though technology has played a part in zine culture for a long time (for example, the Pandaboard and the various zinester Yahoo! and LJ groups), it's pretty fascinating to see modern technology’s effect on zine culture, with regards to community-building (like using social media to promote real-life events) or artistic possibilities (photo editing, design). (But seriously, who’s going to make the first 3-D printed zine?)
How would you describe the 'zine, book art, and alternative art communities in DC?
(I can only really speak to the zine community, not the other two!)
D.C.’s zine community may not seem like much on the surface. We don’t really have a central space that has a committed, public zine library, like Atomic Books or Red Emma’s in Baltimore. When I first moved to the city five years ago, there was an infoshop that had a really nice library up for perusal, but that space—and many other similar spaces in years prior—have disappeared. Real estate in D.C. ain’t cheap. Smash! Records in Adam’s Morgan has a nice little collection. So while there is a significant number of people in the District making zines (just check out all the locals who tabled in 2013!), there are fewer obvious physical spaces in D.C. to actually acquire them. People have to get creative: send their stuff to distros, table at festivals across the coast and country, leave them at coffee shops, pass them out at events like shows, mail them, and so on.
How does DC Zinefest compare to those of, say, Brooklyn and Richmond? What are its biggest strengths? What are some ways the festival might change in coming years?
Our biggest advantage—and disadvantage—is how young we are. We don’t really have much institutional memory to go off of, because the Fest is only a few years old. Instead of having to reinvent the wheel, we’re building the wheel for the first time in a lot of cases. There are so many components to think about when you organize an event like this. How do you choose who will table if you have an insane amount of applicants and a limited space? How are you going to keep hundreds of people cool in the middle of the hellish D.C. summer heat? How do you resolve conflicts that may arise at the event? For the love of god, who is going to pick up the bagels? We faced hundreds of questions like these over the course of organizing the fest. For some of these questions, we didn’t have an answer at first. But now we have a good foundation to build on for Fests to come. In the future, we’re interested in more clearly articulating our policies re: providing a “safer space” because that definitely caused some issues for us this year.
A few of us made the trek down to Richmond 'Zine Fest last fall to table and drum up support for DCZF2014. I think we have a lot in common with RVAZF—both are relatively small and new fests, and we attract a lot of the same tablers, partially due to our geographic proximity. I haven’t been to Chicago or Brooklyn 'Zine Fests, but I hear they’re sort of in a different ballpark with how huge they are. Maybe that’s in the cards for us some day, but we’re taking it year by year for now!
What has been your favorite aspect of organizing the festival?
I’ve got to say, the biggest highlight for me is getting to know the other organizers and volunteers. Totally corny but totally true. It really became a struggle near the end there to prevent meetings from being three hours because we would spend half the time laughing. A good problem, I’d say. You can't really avoid it when you spend week after week together, as we did. Our personalities are all completely different but I think they meshed together in a really nice way.
And of course, can anything really top Zinefest day itself? It’s stressful and wild but I really felt on top of the world that day. I don’t think I stopped grinning like an idiot the entire time. Seeing all these people from all over gather to share their art is inspiring. I wanted to go home and hug my Sharpie collection afterwards.
What can festival-goers expect to see this year?
It's a little early to give a preview, but I have a good feeling about this year: bigger, better, with more events and collaboration with other cities.
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