Seattle’s free art publication folds

Seattle’s free art publication folds

Less than three years after its first issue hit newsstands in the winter of 2021, Seattle-area arts publication PublicDisplay.ART is closing up shop.

“It is with a heavy heart that I am writing to inform you that the current issue of PublicDisplay.ART, hitting the streets this week, is our last,” publisher Marty Griswold wrote in a Wednesday email to readers and supporters. The letter was also signed by PD.A editor Erica Tarrant.

The free, quarterly newspaper was published under the auspices of the Seattle nonprofit One Reel (formerly the producer of the Seattle Arts Festival Bumbershoot), where Griswold has served as executive director since 2018. In addition to announcing PD.A’s closure, the email of Griswold also hinted at problems at One Reel, saying they were “[navigating] the uncertain future” of the 52-year-old organization.

“One Reel is now a nonprofit without a core program, which can be a challenge,” Griswold told The Seattle Times on Thursday. After parting ways with Bumbershoot in 2021, he said One Reel is casting for a new project amid the pandemic. PD.A was this new project, originally planned to be a one-off publication, more like a print art exhibit than a magazine, to help Seattleites living at home stay connected to the local arts community.

“We knew people would come out of COVID and have been watching TV for God knows how long and not think about art,” Griswold said. “We thought this was a great way to put the art in their hands.”

From the beginning, PD.A took unorthodox approaches to covering local art and artists, such as compensating article subjects (who also served as contributors and curators) for their time. This isn’t standard practice for a traditional news outlet, but it’s consistent with the publication’s goal of supporting artists. (Full disclosure: I was once an accidental freelancer for PublicDisplay.ART.)

Because their original intention was not to publish regularly, Griswold told The Seattle Times when PD.A launched it would not be funded by ad sales — a print media model that Griswold, who works in media in Seattle for decades, said it is increasingly unsustainable – but instead through grants and private donations. That pattern has changed, however, Griswold confirmed Thursday. In an effort to make the publication feel supported by the community, PD.A only seeks ads from art-related businesses or businesses known to invest in the arts.

“We wanted to keep it very art-oriented, and maybe that was our mistake,” Griswold said.

PD.A did more than just publish its article, Griswold said. In partnership with the Seattle Restored program, PD.A ran a gallery in Pioneer Square for eight months last year, holding two exhibitions and showing 50 artists—almost every artist they’ve ever worked with. Ahead of the 2023 midterm elections, PD.A partnered with non-governmental design lab Amplifier to create “Vote” posters. And last summer, they partnered with Third Place Technologies on the Seattle City of the Future exhibit, spanning three floors of art and technology.

“It was silly, it was thoughtful, it was fun,” Griswold said, “and 47 different artists got paid.”

The timing of PD.A’s shutdown shows just how weak a small media operation can be. They were producing the paper as usual last Friday, Griswold said, when a single donor failed. PD.A was counting on this donor to get the paper through in the next few months. While sending the paper to press over the weekend, Griswold removed the publication’s publisher’s note and replaced it with PublicDisplay.ART’s farewell letter. It’s done.

While there is “a glimmer of hope” that funding to revive PD.A could be secured, Griswold and Tarrant wrote in a farewell email Wednesday that they don’t expect that to happen in 2024.

As media coverage of the arts shrinks across the country, the loss of another Seattle arts-focused publication will likely be felt deeply by a creative community still recovering from the struggles of the COVID era.

“It is disheartening to acknowledge the void our departure will leave in a city that needs more art, not less,” Griswold and Tarrant wrote. “We mourn the impact of this loss on local artists, our readers, advertisers and the wider creative community we have sought to support.”

Although heartbroken by the loss, Griswold said Thursday he was encouraged by an outpouring of support from artists he and PD.A have supported over the years. He visibly choked up discussing them.

“It was fun,” Griswold said, “and I’m more proud of it than anything I’ve ever worked on.”

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