The Salt Lake City Main Library’s zine collection was founded in 1997 principally by one solitary librarian named Julie Bartel. In a manic manner that seems to be par for the course within this particular community, Bartel essentially nudged the whole shebang into being because she wanted to build upon her own beloved misfit hobby. The motley collection quickly turned into an admired archetype; it’s the first of its kind housed in a public library, where it has been nurtured into the largest of its kind in the country.
“It has just grown and grown ever since, to the point where we have about 6,000 independently published materials,” says Clint Watson, alternative press selector for the library. “More importantly, we now call it The Alternative Press Collection because we focus not only on zines, but print art as well. We’re even talking about expanding into independent films and music. What it’s essentially growing into is a collection of fringe creations with a heavily local specialization, but with material gathered from all over the world.”
The Alt Press Fest was subsequently created by Watson just three years ago as a cultural celebration of this ever-increasing mound of alternative media. It just made sense to the organizing chair of the festival to start something of that kind here in Utah, given that there are so many vibrant local artists creating just this sort of work—not to mention that the public library system is now set up perfectly to collect, house and show them all. A festival was simply the next logical step in bringing a community that’s rather isolated by nature together into the light to share ideas about independently produced fringe media.
He was absolutely right. By just the second year of the Alt Press Fest, attendance had more than doubled, to over 1,000. This year, the growth seems exponential: More than 40 zinesters, artists, musicians and performers are slated to participate in a day-long affair that will also include film, workshops and a panel discussion exploring the divide—and connection—between digital and print. Under one umbrella, you will be able to find zine creators such as Trent Call and Birdbrain Press at tables next to print collective Copper Palate Press or local-favorite graphic artist Leia Bell. Or you can actually take a stab at learning a craft from the University of Utah’s Book Arts Program while listening to live music from the likes of VCR5 or Birthquake.
“It’s all heavily based on the community and what is being produced in the community,” says Watson. “Much the same way the broader library system doesn’t have an agenda to compel people to create anything in particular, they just let the public know that it exists and helps them gain access to it. That’s what the collection and festival are about when it comes to independently produced materials. Whatever is being made, it is our goal to collect it, provide a forum for it and to help the public find it.”
In that way, the collection—and, by extension, the festival—will always be mutating as it incorporates various fields. This year, for example, will feature a performance by Aerial Arts of Utah. For Watson, the philosophy behind this distinct dance company fits perfectly with what the festival is and what it is trying to be, though he readily admits that it might be hard for some people to immediately connect the dots between aerial acrobatics and zines.
One of the main principles that does bind many of these fringe arts together is that they are produced out of a love for the medium, not because there’s money to be made or a career to be had. For Watson, it boils down to the fact that people have an urge to create so badly that they just can’t help themselves. It also helps that contemporary tools such as the Internet increasingly facilitate people embracing the freedom that going independent provides.
“It’s an interesting relationship,” says Watson. “By broadening it a little bit more than just the Internet culture and including all the technological advances that have happened in the past couple of years, it’s really easier for people to have access to, say, desktop-publishing resources or printing equipment, which makes it easier to produce something on paper. It’s using a computer to create a physically printed object. It’s a relationship that I find fascinating.”
Similarly, producing a zine was the original way of taking things into your own hands—by disseminating a do-it-yourself culture and decentralizing the media much like blogs and podcasts do today. With such liberating autonomy for people to work out unusual ideas, it’s no surprise that many turn to the alt presses to birth what may have been festering around inside them for years. All those unconventional creations just never had a rooted home—until now.
ALT PRESS FEST 2011
Salt Lake City Main Library
210 E. 400 South
Saturday, July 9, 1-9 p.m.