You built your own online magazine which is fast becoming an empire with other projects like #BeACritic and Culture Diary - where did it all begin?
Thanks! I set up The Double Negative with my partner, Mike Pinnington, back in 2011, really as a response to the Liverpool arts scene. I was director at The Royal Standard Gallery & Studios, and Mike had just finished his NCTJ journalism qualification and was freelancing. We were both energised by the creative projects and venues here and in other cities in the UK, and wondered why there wasn't more dedicated press and critique based locally. We realised that an outward-looking online magazine would work.
And how did you turn that idea into a reality?
The catalyst was both being made redundant from our 'money' jobs, at the same time. It was a real light-bulb moment; we had wanted to work together full time for ages and just decided to turn a bad situation into an opportunity, and go for it. We threw ourselves into three months of research (looking at national and international arts press and surveying potential readers and collaborators) and self-employment training from a few very supportive organisations, from the Prince's Trust to Blue Orchid and Liverpool City Council's Step Clever programme. We soon found out that Liverpool was hungry for a bit of lively discussion around what was coming into and going out of the city.
Build Your Own is all about collaborative ways of working - who have you teamed up with on the road to making TDN a reality?
We have so many people to be grateful to. Really early on we worked with designer Mike Carney (Drawing Paper, The Bluecoat) and developer John Wai, who came up with a fantastic branding and identity for us, and really helped us thrash out and define our ideas. We were very strict about wanting something visually striking that would appeal to an arts audience.
Daily, our contributors hail from all over the UK; we work with first-time writers to those with a significant amount of experience at VICE, Art World, Dazed, the Guardian, the Independent, Aesthetica Magazine, a-n news and more. These people are awesome; thoughtful, fearless, fair.
An online publication like TDN combines something very traditional (writing, language) with new forms of creative technology. Why does this pairing work so well?
We use the world's most democratic platform: Wordpress. How fantastic is it that anyone can use this programme to discuss, debate, share, from anywhere in the world? There is, of course, the argument that if everyone is able to write or start a blog, where does this leave traditional art criticism? I think if you are professional, have high standards and ambition, however, then you are only contributing positively. This has been our experience in Liverpool, where there are a huge amount of arts events and venues, but a very small amount of published critique.
You recently branched out into the physical world, with Culture Diaries people can pick up around the city - how does it feel to build your own cultural calendar?
We saw that Liverpool didn't really do art maps anymore, and we love picking these up in other cities, so we decided to just go for it and make one ourselves! It's essentially a pocket sized version of our weekly Culture Diary listings, which we know people find useful. We were lucky enough to get support from G. F. Smith; they provide all the artisan Cool Grey Colorplan paper for it, which we knew from the off that we wanted; something lovely and tactile to keep and draw on and stick up in the studio. We love that physical print is becoming more valued with the rise of online media.
If you could build anything else out of TDN, where would you take it and why?
Just on that last point: it'd be great to produce a luxury, printed version of The Double Negative one day. And focus on all the cities in the UK and across the world that we like. The Double Negative writers travel a lot through Field Trip; it's important to reflect and learn from what's going on in other places.
Amongst other things, you've written for the FACT blog! Do you have any advice for budding writers and editors who want to take that experience and build their own publication?
We've had a lot of advice over the past three years of building The Double Negative; some good, some bad! I would say seek out as much advice as possible from people who know what they're doing - people you admire and are doing what you want to do - and use your instinct to apply what is useful to your project. Soak it all up. Susie Stubbs from Creative Tourist told us something that has stuck in our heads: Hold Your Nerve. That has really helped when we've had wobbles.
Who are the people that have "built their own" that you admire most?
Ahh so many! We've recently had some cracking advice from Jennifer Higgie (Co-Editor, Frieze Magazine); as a writer, she is to be admired, and she is also just a force of nature who juggles a ridiculous workload within a tiny team. I think the people who pour their hearts and souls into building communities in places with very little resources are to be admired the most; look at what Venya Krutikov has achieved with lots of ideas and friends and hard work at The Kazimier.
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This article was inspired by current exhibition Build Your Own: Tools for Sharing, on display at FACT until 31 August.