This year EXILE Books and HistoryMiami have partnered for the annual Miami Zine fair bringing together over 150 artists, writers, illustrators, activists, and poets to the cultural plaza downtown. The partnership has not only helped expand the fair for 2016 but also spawned a collaboration that has encompassed several zine workshops throughout the city, where source material provided by the HistoryMiami archive.
Here, Amanda Keeley of EXILE Books and Stuart Chase, CEO of HistoryMiami Museum talk about their collaboration, Zines, and more.
AK: I was looking back through our correspondence and trying to determine when we first met and how this whole project took shape. What originally attracted you to EXILE Books?
SC: We may have met at an early Miami Zine Fair in Edgewater - now the site of many new high rise condos. I recall becoming aware of EXILE Books at Dimensions Variable but eventually we met up at YoungArts when you opened there. As a museum leader, I’m naturally curious and was hooked immediately on the culture and accessibility of zines and collect especially graphic materials with strong use of line and form. My wife Julie and I are focused upon collecting contemporary and American regional work, and a particular focus is upon American Western prints plus 19th century “how to” books on gardening, horticulture, agriculture and architecture. There is more, but that is a big part of our collection.
AK: When I met you, I knew there was something special about the approach that you were taking with HistoryMiami. You clearly have a leadership style that is very hands on, you listen to your team, you are not afraid of taking risks and you have done a lot of outreach to the artists, writers, and creatives in our community. I really believe that this is going to change the way HistoryMiami continues to connect with it's core mission and its audience. There must be something that propelled you to be so open, can you tell me about your background and how you got to where you are?
SC: I’m originally from Massachusetts where I had a very rare opportunity at Palmer High School (class size of about 120 students) to have five full-time art faculty and facilities with all of the bells and whistles: kilns, studios, an offset lithography press, dark-room, weaving, etc. I was hooked on the arts immediately but took to the field of museum studies. Virginia Commonwealth University later shaped my career with a strong focus upon art history, visual arts, material culture and museum management. Since then I’ve had stints in Texas, New York, Massachusetts and now Miami, which have informed me in my career and led me to the idea that change is always good and different is better.
As a museum leader – since 1978, a very long time–I have always been committed to the creator and the engagement of the public with the work we do at the museum since essentially museums are educational institutions. In Miami, there’s a terrific history – the stories are endless – but we also want to be about current culture, civic engagement and looking towards the future.
AK: During our initial meetings there was a natural gravitational pull towards how we can document alternative narratives about our community. I was drawn to the archives of HistoryMiami Museum and the vast collection of ephemeral materials that have preserved so many different stories about Miami – Bahamian sponge trading, Everglades preservation, Miami Beach nightclub architecture and conch cooking books. It is a cacophony of our tropical metropolis that would have been lost without these archives. By continuing to empower people with a vehicle of communication thru the medium of self published zines, HistoryMiami is essentially not only preserving our legacy and history, but it is projecting what kind of cultural vitality our future holds. How does HistoryMiami function as a part of this overall process?
SC: Foremost we have been collecting intelligently for over 75 years! And you are correct in your assessment of the HistoryMiami archives – combined with our collection of objects, the archives reflect and tell the stories of Miami and South Florida. Through the historic zines in our collection and the work of Exile Books with the community we shall continue to build and reflect upon the trajectory of this dynamic community.
AK: Zines (pronounced ZEENs thank you Kanye) are self-published, independent, small publications that contain original or appropriated texts and images, provide an unfiltered viewpoint and are usually reproduced on a photocopy machine.
We can all make a zine – they are accessible, are not beholden to corporations, and reach a broad demographic. Zines are about anything and everything – they can be punk counterculture, a fanzine about music, an intimate personal family story, or about your local neighborhood favorite food joint. For me, there is a freedom, a power, in making a zine. What is it that you find most compelling about Zines?
SC: Creative accessibility and I like good stuff!
AK: When was the first time you encountered a Zine? Do you recall your reaction and what the particular Zine was about?
SC: It’s difficult to recall, but perhaps it was in high school. I’ve been collecting postcards from travels, artists, museums and inevitably I was drawn to zines. Honestly, the creativity, messaging, design and accessibility have drawn me dangerously close many, many times.
AK: How do you find that Zines connect with the mission of HistoryMiami Museum and what it is trying to achieve for our local community?
SC: It is simply another medium of storytelling, in a way zines are abbreviated time capsules, as they reflect the culture of the time within which they are created.
AK: Can you tell me a little about your personal and rapidly growing collection of zines? What kind of zines do you and your wife Julie like to collect?
SC: What strikes our fancy – sometimes it’s the handmade quality or the simple unique construction and design. We each have different interests and much as our art collection reflects American regionalism, so do our zines. As of late, I have been seeking them out in the cities to which I travel. I recently went to Los Angeles where I picked some up at The Last Bookstore and at LACMA.
AK: EXILE has been conducting free zine workshops around Miami, where we provide site specific source materials using the HistoryMiami Archives as our inspiration. As a result artists are examining our city's past through this historical lens and in turn reinventing and generating new unique content. In turn, the museum is also building it’s zine collection as we are asking artists to donate a copy of the zines they produce to the HistoryMiami archive. Stuart, can you address this idea of a history museum that is not just focused on the past, but instead focuses on the present and future by celebrating our culture?
SC: Engagement with the public and encouraging natural curiosity are critically important to museums. One aspect is what museum professionals refer to as ‘hands-on activities’ and ‘first hand experiences’ with our folk-artist-in-residence program.
There is quote I’ve recently discovered, “We are what we leave behind” this message drives us to insure we reflect through our collections, and our actions, the times we live in. Especially in Miami, the ‘now’ is simply ‘it’, we must encourage the public to reflect upon the past as we build this messy, dynamic, diverse, beautiful city called Miami. If you try to catch the future, it disappears every time you grab it…