In the Spotlight: Cameron Henderson, Publisher, Northwestern Art Review

Eight Northwestern University students. A “cheap pizza joint.” Spirited conversation about a shared love of art and architecture. An idea for a publication whose aim would be nothing less than to “provide a forum for greater exchange among an expanding community of students who devote their time to studying, thinking and writing about art.”  The Northwestern Art Review was born.

Cut to three years later.  2010.  NAR 3.0.  Two words on the cover of the current issue say it all, talking about both the art world and the publication’s future, “Now What?”  It is a question NAR publisher Cameron Henderson is sweating– a situation only troublesome because Henderson happens to be allergic to his own sweat.

Henderson, 22, now an NU senior, was at the pizza joint three years ago.  The history and African studies double major has been instrumental in NAR’s evolution and success.  He has seen immense readership growth for the online journal, along with burgeoning crowds and dynamism at related campus events. The pub’s profile is high- and a majority of its staffers will soon be leaving/graduating.  As Henderson told North By Northwestern, “We’re really at crossroads right now. The last three founding members have sought to make NAR more cemented and sustained on campus. We’re at a place right now where I feel comfortable leaving the organization this year in the hands of others, but there are just so many possibilities for our direction in the future.”

Below, in an exclusive chat with CMM, Henderson shares a few thoughts about the past, present, and future of NAR and his own artistic passions.

Cameron Henderson is the current publisher and a founding member of Northwestern Art Review.

Write a six-word memoir of your Northwestern Art Review experience.

College art critics?  We are online.

Standout NAR memory.

During the first year of the Northwestern Art Review’s creation the founding members embarked on our first season of programming.  We secured funds to pay for two buses to charter students from Northwestern’s campus to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s opening party for a Jenny Holzer exhibition.  We fought for funds, worked in conjunction with the MCA, and prepared for what we thought would be a great event.  However, as the buses departed for the museum, I looked from my seat to see only about 20 people on buses capable of carrying 100 students to our event.  Most of the attendees were the journal’s staff.  Thus came the epiphany: There is a long long way to go.

Now the Northwestern Art Review is an established organization commanding crowds of 150 to 200 people for our events.  In just three years we have seen our readership increase 20 fold and our presence in the art community of Northwestern and Chicago become ever more dynamic.  That first event and the inherent difficulty of creating an academic journal have not been forgotten.  It is now a marker of how far we have come and more importantly of the further growth the Northwestern Art Review is capable of.

What does the current issue, NAR 3.0, offer interested readers?

The most recent edition is undoubtedly the most cohesive and polished journal we have published yet.  NAR 3.0 takes aim at the eternal question of the value and purpose of art.  This is a question that has haunted artists for centuries. However, the current era for artists is one even more daunting: There is a seemingly boundless amount of freedom coupled with an extreme pressure to distinguish one’s practice from that of one’s peers.  As my editor Elliot Reichert has said, “Of course, artists of every age have grappled with the fundamental questions of the value and purpose of art, but never with such a self-conscious awareness of the history of art, its social functions, and its potential for significantly impacting the lived experience at a juncture when it appears to have both everywhere and nowhere to go.”  Art and publishing are at a similar crossroads and this departure from the status quo is something NAR and the most relevant artists of today are exploring.

Where does your love of art come from?

I have always possessed an inherent fascination with color, texture, and the other characteristics of invigorating design.  At a young age I did not realize that my interests could be summed up as an interest in art and design.  Rather, new basketball shoes were not only pragmatic purchases to assist in my passion for sport but were adventures in architecture and craftsmanship. Cars were loved not simply for the power and vigor found in the engine but for the strength and beauty found in the lines of the car’s grill.  Simply put, I have always had a fervent attraction for aesthetic endeavors.  Additionally, I have been very fortunate to have parents who have not only encouraged my pursuit of the arts but have been passionate examples themselves.  Museums have always been places that we have visited together and art, music, theater and more have all been abundantly discussed.

NAR is at the forefront of art journals moving online.  What are the advantages of the online medium for a publication like NAR?

When the Northwestern Art Review was first created three years ago publishing was yet to be in the doldrums that it is in today.   However, being that NAR was just born and we had to create a sustainable business model, we were forced to completely analyze all costs and options objectively without prior precedent. We examined the costs of publishing on paper thoroughly.  For the level of image quality that we deemed necessary the costs were completely out of reach.  For the kind of readership we were striving for, and most importantly the quality of appearance, we would have had to raise roughly $15,000 just for our first edition.  We had about $2,000 in our coffers to start.  Thus, the online format not only became attractive but a necessity.

When NAR was first founded the general sentiment was that as we became more relevant nationally we would begin printing on paper.  However, now as NAR is more established the benefits of existing online are now fully apparent. Firstly and most importantly, we are capable of exhibiting only the most high-resolution images for the journal.   The artist’s work is done much more justice on the glossy screen of a MacBook than on newspaper quality paper. Furthermore, publishing online has enabled us to reach a much broader audience then if we were disseminating paper copies.  Our readership is international and this would have been a foolish dream if we were using a printing press.

Finally, functioning as an Internet based publication allows us to incorporate many more features than if we were publishing a journal quarterly.  We have an active blog, serve as the epicenter for undergraduate criticism, and use the myriad of social networking sites to promote our work.  We are more significant today within the art community than we ever would have thought possible simply because we are accessible online.

What is the most challenging part of running a student art journal?

Undoubtedly the most difficult aspect of leading the Northwestern Art Review is establishing a dedicated and consistent reader base.  Furthermore, since we are publishing an academic journal, we have to abide by a higher standard of scholarship.  Not only do we need to attract readers by publishing exciting and pertinent information, we have to satisfy the academic portion of our readership that demand only the most immaculate scholarship.  Thus, we are forced to confront a dual-natured readership. However, this is an exciting challenge.  The blending of academic art criticism and more general art enthusiasm creates a product that is applicable to all.

You wake up in ten years.  Where are you and what are you doing?

I will be serving as an attorney specializing in the intellectual property aspect of artwork. I will be working on a daily basis with artists, publishing houses, museums, and creative agencies.   Such a job would enable me to pursue the myriad of interests I possess all which are focused on the beauty of artistic practices.  Furthermore, I will be contributing essays to publications like Art Forum or Art in America as a fresh voice presenting a different perspective on the art market and its trends.  Most importantly, I will be working in a field that I am passionate about and will be surrounding myself on a daily basis with the most invigorating and original individuals possible.

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