Q&A: Cinque Hicks Takes the Wheel at Art Papers with Optimism

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Cinque Hicks brings intelligence and warmth to a rocky transition for the 35-year-old institution. Photo: Taken by John E. Ramspott during a public talk at the 2011 Decatur Book Festival.

Eventually evolving into the magazine that it is today, Art Papers began in 1976, the year of America’s Bicentennial, as a single-page, photocopied handout, printed by the then newly-formed Atlanta Art Workers Coalition (AAWC). The flyer was filled with classified ads for artists seeking studio space or equipment.

Georgia Museum of Art

Shortly after these humble beginnings, the AAWC began to expand, gaining pages and content as the months went passed. By the spring of 1980, Art Papers had grown into a full-fledged magazine and split with the AAWC in order to gain editorial independence. By 1981, the magazine had dropped the word Atlanta from its title and became simply Art Papers, which has been published continuously for the past 31 years. Art Papers exists today as a nonprofit, spreading the gospel of contemporary art not only here in the Southeast, but also nationally and abroad. (Click here for Jerry Cullum’s extensive 25-year history of the publication.)

Recently though, there has been a stir in the stoic facade of the magazine as Sylvie Fortin, who served as the organization’s editor-in-chief since 2004 and also as its executive director since 2007, suddenly decided to vacate her positions. The decision came as a surprise to many, including members of Art Papers‘ board of directors, and left the organization without definitive leadership. While the board lauded Fortin for her exceptional management throughout her tenure with the magazine, it became immediately clear that new blood was going to prove vital for the vacated positions and that an exhaustive, nationwide search would be needed to fill those roles.

Luckily, former board member and former Creative Loafing critic Cinque Hicks has stepped up to handle the reins while this unexpected transitional period unfolds. Curious as to the interim editor-in-chief’s thoughts on this capricious period in the magazine’s extensive history, I contacted Hicks, who, despite this overwhelming workload facing him, graciously took the time to give our readers an inside look as to the goings-on at the organization.

Winston Ward (WW): So, you’ve been named the interim editor-in-chief at Art Papers. Does this come as a surprise to you?

The F Word at Hunter Museum

Cinque Hicks (CH): I think what matters is that the stars aligned for this shift to happen at this particular time. And certainly, yes, from a public standpoint it did happen fairly quickly: Sylvie’s weighing of new directions and the organization taking the time to reassess what the leadership structure might look like. My role will be to hold things together as the board makes its decisions.

Having said that, I also view part of my role as creating spaces in the organization in which a new editor can come in and try creative new ideas, reach new audiences, and continually refine the organization’s mission.

Standing in the gulf between the old regime and the next, Hicks looks to the future with pragmatism. Photo: Taken at the 2011 Atlanta Art Now black-tie launch party by John E. Ramspott.

WW: You are also creative director for Atlanta Art Now. How do you plan to balance the two positions?

CH: With a lot of help. I’m excited once again to be working with Oronike Odeleye on the Atlanta Art Now project. She did a fantastic job as public liaison for the 2011 production, and right now she’s taking an expanded role going into 2013 to keep things rolling. Fortunately, Atlanta Art Now is between cycles with a little breathing room, and I can give my utmost attention to Art Papers.

WW: What challenges does a potential editor-in-chief have set before them?

CH: The new editor-in-chief will have many of the same challenges that face arts institution in most major US cities. Things like funding and a sustainable structure come immediately to mind. But Art Papers also has this challenge of how to speak to an incredibly diverse array of audiences that includes not only our own diverse local audience, but a national and international audience as well. It can be breathtaking how differently different constituencies see the world, and it’s natural that each of those constituencies wants to see their particular reality reflected back to them through something like Art Papers. So an editor has to make hard choices about when that can be done and when it can’t be done.

But again, that challenge is also an opportunity. How amazing to be able to look at all these different ways of understanding the world through the metaphors of art. It’s exciting to see where they crash into one another, where they lock horns. I’m looking forward to that challenge, even if I only get to dip my toe in for a short while.

Hicks presents a recognition to former Art Papers staffer Jerry Cullum honoring his essay in Noplaceness at the 2011 Atlanta Art Now launch party. Photo by John E. Ramspott.

WW: What do you have to say to naysayers that see Sylvie’s departure as a sign of instability in the art community?

CH: I say, “Stability is overrated.” Sylvie’s going on to fabulous new adventures and so is Art Papers. There’s no great failure there. There’s been a lot of turnover recently in Atlanta: [at the] Fulton County Arts Council, MAACC, NBAF, Atlanta PlanIt, and other institutions I could name. Those are the institutions with the larger footprints. Ironically, many smaller institutions and the maturing underground have been remarkably stable. But things have to keep changing, or they get stale. Each of these transitions is an opportunity for something new to take root and grow. It won’t happen in every case, but in some cases it will.

WW: Beyond the job description, what is Art Papers looking for in an editor-in-chief?

CH: I really think it’s all right there in the job description. It’s all out on the table. To the credit of Sylvie and the staff at Art Papers over the last several years, the magazine is recognized nationally and internationally in a way that it hadn’t been before. The organization is looking for someone who can take that platform and find new ways to advance the vision of being a transmission belt for art ideas flowing into and out of this region. The editor is important as a connector between this region and the rest of the world.