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Exclusive – Meeting the creators of new Gen Z art magazine Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper is giving new and aspiring young artists resources and insights into the world of art, helping them to understand the ins and outs of an over-commercialised industry.

The art market is huge, estimated to be valued at over $64.1 billion USD. That’s a crazy high number, one that’s been generated via politics, hierarchy, and elitism. That’s before you even consider that the industry remains largely unregulated, meaning the actual total value of everything within the definition of ‘art’ is impossible to determine.

As a whole it’s a trade that’s difficult to get into and hard to understand, let alone make a living from. Regardless of how profound or impactful your work is, nearly all artists have to face the reality of commercialism and money – which can come with pitfalls and moral existentialism.

These struggles of contemporary artists spawned the idea for Gatekeeper, a brand new publication that brings together diverse collections of work and ideas from emerging creators who feel frustrated by the capitalist demands of modern art production. Each issue will explore a different caveat of the art market via original voluntary submissions, with the aim of educating audiences and providing tools to create a healthier relationship between profiteering and self-expression.

It’s a fascinating new self-starter from two Gen Z creatives, Lucy Alves and Natascha Ng, and I was fortunate enough to speak with them for an hour via Zoom to talk all things Gatekeeper. We spoke about the first issue – which is focused on ‘transactions’ within art – as well as the pandemic, virtual launch parties, and even this year’s turbulent political climate. It was an insightful chat that left me eager to pick up the first issue, which you can check out for yourself here.

What actually is Gatekeeper?

Before we get stuck in, it’s probably worth summarising this new publication so that anyone can understand it. To the less art savvy readers and consumers out there it can be hard to get your head around what Gatekeeper actually is, per se, but Lucy and Natascha provided a concise description of both the magazine and its exploration of the term ‘transaction’ during our conversation.

‘Gatekeeper is primarily about teaching, educating, and acting as a learning resource’, explains Natascha. ‘We hope that the first issue will allow those less experienced in the art market to understand how goods and services are transferred within the art market’. The project is all about giving fresh-faced creatives more information in vital areas of an industry that can be daunting even at the best of times.

To that end, Lucy notes that the magazine features ‘a whole range’ of content – ‘a bit of everything’. This includes ‘work from emerging artists who are still studying and are frustrated at the idea of selling work to make a living’, as well as showcases from other movements and larger creatives. ‘It’s about being able to bring in all these different ideas and influences into one place’, continues Lucy. We’re not dictating what’s important and what isn’t, but instead showing you an eclectic range of our research’.

This research offers a platform for new artists to shine, and Lucy is keen to talk about one in particular. ‘One of our features is called Eline Benjaminsen, and we think she’s a great representation of our audience. She’s a new, emerging name who broke down all of her expenditures and labour costs into a grid. This included exhibition travel, materials, client payments, and other factors, all of which totalled to roughly £22.46 of profit per day. That’s the reality of being a small artist’.

It’s these types of conversations around the logistical and financial realities of modern art that Gatekeeper is hoping to encourage.

Getting Gatekeeper started and finding influence across the pond

I was also intrigued to know where the idea for Gatekeeper came from in the first place. Lucy studied at University Arts London for three years as part of her overall degree and found herself being endlessly fascinated and troubled by the art market throughout her time there.

‘I was so distracted when I was making my work because I kept questioning why I was contributing to an elitist, capitalist system. It all felt so skewed. I got to a place where I didn’t know if I wanted to make money and contribute to this commercialist economy’. After investigating further, she found a gap in the market for a curated collection of works and ideas that specifically focus on art market criticisms. ‘There wasn’t anything out there like Gatekeeper’, Lucy recalls.

This idea for a new and informative magazine pushed Lucy to get into contact with Natascha, a fellow Gen Z graduate who studied journalism at university. She now works on reviewing and creating learning resources for the public sector, and her skills in education helped to shape Lucy’s initiative into a tangible product that could help other creatives out there like herself.

‘I wanted to do something that would combine my passion for art and journalism into one’, says Natascha, who was eager to be involved from the get-go. Gatekeeper intends to mix artistic expression with education, merging the two to create an expansive publication that explores all sides of the art market’s intrinsic workings.

‘We’re not dictating what’s important and what isn’t, but instead showing you an eclectic range of our research.’

I was eager to know which artists influenced the direction of Gatekeeper during its initial conception, and Lucy cites Theaster Gates as a big name that got the ball rolling. An American professor from Chicago, he’s well known for purchasing the collapsing Stony Island Savings & Loan bank and transforming it into a world class arts centre, among other projects. ‘He’s really interesting in terms of creating an alternative economy against the commercial art market’, she says.

‘He’s the founder of Rebuild Foundation, which focuses on the South Side of Chicago. It’s really big on helping emerging artists with studios, collections, creative outlets, it really inspired us’.

Long-term goals and challenges for the future

Of course, a project so intrinsically tied to the commodity of art and its necessary attachment to capitalism will approach money very sensitively, and I was curious as to how Gatekeeper plans to keep things running long-term. Lucy stresses that ‘it’s something we’ve discussed and questioned ourselves’.

‘It’s such a tricky thing. We’re constantly applying for funding as we can’t sustain the work for free’. Cash is made back via the website’s own store, where you can purchase the first issue of the magazine right now. There are several poster zines available too, though these are currently free and you’ll only need to pay for postage.

Lucy says that Gatekeeper will never be out to make a profit, and that all money raised will go back into the business and its contributors. ‘We’re in the very early stages, but one of our biggest aims is to pay all of our creators fairly and strive to make the magazine as accessible as possible’. The promise of giving back financially to those who’ve helped shape Gatekeeper is a huge priority, as ‘otherwise we’re questioning the art market but not actually doing anything about it ourselves’.

It’s hoped that future funding will help to make this a certainty, especially as more issues are printed and the Gatekeeper name builds a healthy foundation. ‘Hopefully with more funding we’ll put these things in place’, Lucy says. ‘We worked really hard with professional designers to make a visually amazing product, and we want the monetary return to make this a sustainable and long-term project’. Fingers crossed it becomes a reality.

Getting a magazine together in the turbulent year of 2020

It’s been quite the year to get an ambitious creation like this together, especially considering Gatekeeper has only just launched its first issue. Refreshingly though, both Lucy and Natascha seemed upbeat about the process and the limitations brought about from COVID-19.

‘Collaborating over Zoom has been harder, with unreliable Wi-Fi and things like that, but I think in some ways the pandemic has made people more open and receptive to us. A more caring culture has been generated as a result of all this, so it’s been really nice in that sense’, Natascha explains.

2020 has been more than just lockdowns and pandemic troubles, however, with movements like Black Lives Matter sweeping across the world throughout the year. It’s helped to encourage new considerations for accessibility and diversity across many industries, and Gatekeeper is no exception. Natascha stresses that ‘we’ve kept our work really relevant to what’s going on. The activism has made us really aware of how inclusive we need to be and it’s something we constantly consider’.

I was impressed to learn that the Gatekeeper team has already created a read-through version of the first issue which will available to download for free via the official site. ‘Of course, we’d love people to buy it’, Natascha affirms, ‘but at the end of the day this is about teaching anyone the knowledge they need to excel’. I’ve no doubt people will still be keen to purchase the magazine regardless, given its remarkably stylish and professional aesthetic.

Rounding off our interview together, I asked the team what they hope people will take from this first issue and beyond. ‘I think we hope that it will allow emerging artists to see their art is worth more than what big galleries dictate’, says Natascha. ‘We want art to be considered as a form of communication, expression, and social change, because it can be so powerful. We want people to remember that art can be used for impact rather than just commercial gain’.

Lucy agreed. ‘We’re called Gatekeeper to poke fun at museums and galleries that dictate who makes things and who doesn’t. We’re putting forward new artists, but we’re not asking people to jump on board and hate or love them. It’s more to question things within the industry and form your own opinions on these topics’.

The publication launched virtually last Friday via Big Rat Studio. Lucy says this format has made the experience more engaging for people unfamiliar with the industry. ‘It’s interactive and light-hearted. It’s comical. We don’t always want to be talking about the art world as this horrible, down trodden, depressing thing. We want it to be fun’. The show is still available and you can view it here.

Distributors have already expressed keen interest in getting large quantities printed and it seems obvious that Gatekeeper will become a significant force in the art world in the months and years ahead. We need to have more open and clear-cut conversations about finances and logistical practicalities within art, especially when it can be an alienating industry for beginners and outsiders.

Lucy and Natascha’s creation is bridging the gap between industry insiders and newbies, reinforcing the cultural necessity of art in all its forms, and I’m personally intrigued and excited to see where it goes from here. Here’s hoping they remember us when they grow to be a huge, generationally defining publication for all things arts.

If you want to be a part of the journey you can visit their official website here, of follow their Instagram page @gatekeeperzine.

All photos by Charles Maddocks.