As we all know after a year spent in relative isolation, the absence of our pre-pandemic routines somehow renders them even more vividly, their details salvaged only by our memories and imaginations. Perhaps this is especially true for those of us who previously spent our Friday evenings and weekends—or even our work days—visiting galleries and museums, meeting artists and making new friends, joining the loose, gossamer social web sometimes crudely called the “art world.” When I began attending exhibition openings at Atlanta Contemporary and The Low Museum (R.I.P.) shortly after graduating from college, I was seeking out friends and community as much—or even more—as visual or intellectual stimulation. Long before it led to anything like a career or vocation, finding this art world in Atlanta saved me from feeling alone.
Over the past year, with so many of our treasured points of connection unavailable, Burnaway has sought to provide our readers and Southern artists and writers with stories, artist projects, resources, and calls to action that demonstrated our communities’ strength, tenacity, and spirit of mutual aid amid this time of crisis. In May, Burnaway awarded five Southern critics and culture writers with microgrants of $500 each in recognition of the financial insecurity brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Following the release of our Letter to Readers on Anti-Blackness in June, Burnaway awarded twelve grants of $500 to Black, Indigenous, and other artists of color living in the South. Throughout the year, three editorial series wove ties through the magazine’s stories: Exurbs and the Rural, Waterways / Water Wars, and States of Leisure. Even though we couldn’t congregate in galleries or artists’ studios, we gathered together around Ronika McClain’s reflection on a trip to Dollywood and Madeleine Seidel’s analysis of Florida on film. You kept in touch through Dispatches from the Plague, and we all felt a little less lonely.
The launch of our new website in October further expanded Burnaway’s platform for engaging and documenting art in the South today. Along with a fresh design and nine interactive Art Guides, the site also hosts the magazine’s artist column Mood Ring. This year the column has featured an original comic by FRKO, a wry manifesto by recently named Artadia awardee Yanique Norman, and a series of airbrushed t-shirts by Taylor Shaw inspired by the infamous “Florida Man.” In conjunction with his recent participation in Mood Ring, artist Caleb Jamel Brown created four wearable artist editions using the Burnaway-branded hoodie in our shop. Paul Stephen Benjamin—who will participate in the postponed fifth edition Prospect set to open in New Orleans next fall—created New Black is Beautiful, a limited-edition print benefitting Burnaway based on his large-scale, text-based installations.
Next year, as always, we will continue to work with artists and writers to craft a magazine that reflects the strangeness, nuance, and beauty of the South today. In early January, Burnaway will announce the three themes that will guide the magazine’s publishing activities in 2021. The 2021 Art Writing Incubator will be again hosted virtually, with more details forthcoming in the spring. As was also the case at the end of 2019, Burnaway enters the new year with a larger staff than ever before. This seven-person team, including editors-at-large, a development manager, and programs assistant, positions the organization for expanded reach and action in 2021.
If you’re as excited and hopeful as we are about what the future holds for Burnaway and artists in the South, please consider investing in our work. There are multiple ways to show your support: by purchasing a copy of Laws of Salvage: The 2020 Burnaway Reader or apparel in our shop, by joining Burnaway’s membership program, or by making a tax-deductible donation to the organization. We hope there will be a time in the not-too-distant future when we can gather again, but, until then, Burnaway will continue to push the limits of online publishing to bridge the gaps between us.