Sarah Higgins

Art Papers is pleased to announce the hiring of Sarah Higgins as editor + artistic director.

Saskia Benjamin: You come to Art Papers from a primarily curatorial background. Most recently you’ve been interim editor at Art Papers while maintaining a full time curatorial position at the Zuckerman Museum of Art. What precipitated this seeming change of focus from curatorial to editorial?

Sarah Higgins: It felt really natural, actually. I wanted to be involved with Art Papers, and the opportunity to work as interim editor just felt like a no-brainer. Now that I’m joining the staff in a larger role, and no longer working as a museum curator, and with the benefit of hindsight, I can see how it makes a lot of sense.

I started out as an artist and came to Atlanta for the first time to attend Atlanta College of Art. That was my introduction to the Atlanta community. But even before I arrived, I purchased an art magazine in Jacksonville, Florida and it just happened to be ART PAPERS. I did it as this gesture of, “I’m going to art school and so I’m going to buy an art magazine.” I didn’t know when I picked it up that ART PAPERS was based in Atlanta. It was just “ART PAPERS— that’s clearly an art magazine.”

I was a decent writer and that’s not always expected of artists, that they also be good writers. Lots of people said “You should write reviews.” That pressure followed me around until I finally caved in and started doing some writing much later. I moved all around. I moved to New York City and then to San Antonio, Texas, then to central Florida and then to the Hudson Valley for grad school at CCS Bard. And that whole time I was kind of finding my way into curatorial work, which to me felt like a perfect hybrid of being into art and into writing.

So as a curator—and I think anyone familiar with my work at the Zuckerman Museum would probably pick up on this—I had a very essayistic approach. I really liked working in a university museum setting because I could be unapologetically academic in how I was thinking about exhibitions. Whether they were group exhibitions or solo exhibitions, they were always underpinned by a kind of textuality.

SB: How do you think your curatorial practice will mesh with your editorial practice? How do you see those skills intersecting and feeding one another, and do you see yourself using your curatorial skillset going forward?

SH: It’s funny, I don’t really draw many distinctions between the two. It’s all thinking about culture, current events, and ideas through the lens of art—whether it is working with writers to write about it, working with artists to put objects in a room or images on a page, or building discursive programming. It’s really all engaging with the world through the visual language of art. The tasks are different, the materiality of it is different, but to me it’s really about communicating the ideas, and then also about facilitation. Whether it’s the actual visibility of objects in space or visibility through the dissemination of a publication, it’s still facilitating artists and writers in reaching audiences that are interested in the ideas that they’re sharing.

SB: Building off this idea of occupying space: ART PAPERS, in my experience and in our 43-year history, has occupied a particular space. We’re not a journal, we’re not breaking news, but we’ve always had a really important role culturally. What do you think that space is that we occupy, and why do you think it’s important that we are continuing this tradition of criticism?

SH: I think of ART PAPERS as one of the few remaining art publications that is neither for the market nor for the industry specifically, in as much as it’s really positioned from the perspective of artists. That gives it a kinship to the ethos of art making that is more direct than to the gallery system, or even to the sort of industrial exhibition complex of the international biennial scene [laughs] or something like that. ART PAPERS, although it’s international in its subject matter and has a very broad national scope, started as a very grassroots local magazine. And I think it’s maintained that ethos. Even though its grass is now rooted across broader territory, it’s still down there on the ground.

SB: From the very beginning of ART PAPERS, our founding artists recognized that they were working in a broader context than just the local art scene. I think that when we’re functioning at our best is when we’re drawing those connections across geographies.

What fascinates you editorially? What are people doing right now that you are interested in digging into in a more textural way?

SH: Journalism and publishing are in a precarious place, but so are art making and the place of the arts within our society. Those challenges are a reflection of broader cultural change, necessitated by the realities of our time and brought about by the political challenges we face. What interests me is the role of writers and artists in opening up and holding spaces for us to think differently—and by us I mean anyone, not just the art world. Those spaces allow people to negotiate the different possibilities that lay ahead—and to see them as possibilities. I think that’s something that the arts do really well even in the face of adversity—to hold a space of hope, and that’s a kind of problem solving that we need. And so, moving forward in terms of programming that’s what I’m interested in helping to facilitate: the efficacy of art to play a crucial role in facing and hopefully resolving some of the challenges of this moment.

I also want to be funny and irreverent. I’ve always said, one of the things I love about ART PAPERS is that it’s historically been a kind of punk rock, roots-end, zine-culture type of publication. And especially if you look back at the archive, there’s a deeply irreverent and iconoclastic voice that always has been a part of ART PAPERS. It’s an insider magazine that kind of thumbs its nose at the insider.

SB: I think we have always kind of occupied this really interesting space: we have just enough agency and gravitas to be part of that community, but we don’t want to be so indoctrinated in it that we can’t simultaneously be critical.

SH: Oh yeah! We don’t take ourselves so seriously, and I think that’s important to maintain, especially in the face of all the seriousness. I always want ART PAPERS to feel like a space where contributors, particularly artists, can get into the pages and jam it up. I also want to maintain a lot of self reflexivity about the importance of what we do and also the importance of having, I don’t know… some salt in there.

SB: Last year we launched our new website. As we always say, we love print! But how do you see us using the web a bit more, how do we embrace being in the digital realm?

SH: As much as I’m a nerd for print, one of the things I really love about the website, especially the original content alongside selections from the print content, is access. I tell that story about discovering ART PAPERS in Jacksonville, but I didn’t live in Jacksonville. I lived in South Georgia and it was really rural. There was no real access to art publications or art writing, and I mean—that was early Internet days. But I’ve often lived outside of the cultural centers, the cultural capitals of the US—online content really created the access that facilitated me moving into the field and functioning in the field. I think that’s probably a really common story.

I feel like you find the print publication, likely, through awareness created online. I also really adore the thematic model that ART PAPERS has, where the print issue has a theme or scope of engagement—a question, or an instigation that is being taken up—and the website can incorporate thematic content like net art or video. It’s a way to avoid excluding those kinds of time-based, interactive, or moving image works from the dialogue, or from adequate representation. But it also allows us to deviate from the theme. If a really great pitch comes along and it doesn’t fit the theme, we can put it on the website. We’re not hemmed in by our own structure.

Another thing I’m looking forward to doing in the future is mining the archive of ART PAPERS and building accessibility to that archive through the website.

SB: The conversations we have these days, we had them 10 years ago, we had them 20 years ago.

SH: Yes, and it’s very informative to look at what has stayed the same in those conversations and what has changed. I’m really interested in exploring our relationship to memory, and art as an anecdote to and also participant in a kind of amnesiac culture. I think that’s one of the things that draws people to conversations around the archive, the question of if we can counter this tendency.

SB: We also do live programming, and we’ve always envisioned our live programs as both an extension of our editorial work and as a way to engage people in our own backyard. How do you view the future of audience engagement and more specifically, this in-person engagement?

SH: The audience you engage is determined by who you ask to speak. I’ve always talked about curatorial practice as being based on the question of who you hand the microphone. I think that carries over to editorial and live programming work too. It’s not about your voice as much as it’s about the voice that you lift up.