Statement Regarding Panel Talks at BZF 2015
You may have received an e-mail or read a post from Jordan Alam about the Brooklyn Zine Fest. The claims Jordan makes are upsetting, however several are misleading and some are simply not true. We did not remove any panels from this year’s lineup. Jordan’s departure from this year’s fest was due to another event she committed to host, which was scheduled to be held at the same time as this year’s panels. Please read below for details.
One thing is certain: we have received a strong response from both attendees and exhibitors concerning the value of a Black Lives Matter panel talk at this year’s event. We have always appreciated feedback from everyone involved in the zine fest — often through responses to our annual surveys, occasionally through direct e-mails — and your responses have made us realize how under-represented POC are in the world of zines and zine fests. You are right: a Black Lives Matter discussion should and will be held at the Brooklyn Zine Fest 2015, to create a space for a conversation about race and art in self-publishing. But to do it, we need your help and your involvement.
Call for panel participants: We need participants who are interested in discussing race, politics, and zines, including the visibility of POC at zine fests and other art and writing events, as well as other topics driven by participants’ experiences and audience questions. This call is open to all zine makers, including those who are not tabling at BZF 2015. The panel will be held on Saturday, April 25th at 3pm in the Classroom space at Brooklyn Historical Society. Please e-mail email@example.com if you would like to participate as a speaker or moderator of this panel.
Our response to Jordan Alam’s message:
Jordan organized our panel talks for last year’s zine fest, developing each topic and securing the panelists. There were discussions on Anonymity in Zines, Queer & Trans* Zine Makers, and Zine Libraries & Collections. These were in addition to the panel we co-presented at Brooklyn Historical Society on Mixed-Race Zine Makers a few days before zine fest weekend. The panels were a success, and we and the attendees were very happy with the turnout and with Jordan’s work developing and leading each talk.
We were looking forward to working with Jordan again for BZF 2015, and secured her to return as the panel organizer. We had a series of e-mail discussions about panel logistics, laying out the dates and times when panels would take place. (Our timing for panels is limited this year due to changes in the space at BHS, so all panels have to take place during a short window on Saturday, April 25th.)
Unfortunately, we received an e-mail from Jordan in March that she had scheduled a workshop at the Brooklyn Museum on Saturday, April 25th, at the same time that the panels would be running (an event for which the Museum initially reached out to us, but we recommended Jordan instead, not knowing she would schedule it to conflict with the zine fest.) Since Jordan would be unable to make it to the BZF panels, we now knew we would need to find new moderators; however, we were still interested in working with Jordan on panel topics and participants, and e-mailed back with our ideas for what could work in her absence.
Jordan did not reply to our suggestions with alternatives, and a short time later sent us an e-mail that she would not continue to work on the BZF panels. The tone of the e-mail was aggressive and accusatory, and left no room for discussion. As a result, we did not reply to Jordan’s final email to us because we found it hurtful, word-twisting, and not conducive to further collaboration. We had been e-mailing with Jordan about this and other events for several months and had considered her someone with whom we could discuss and work through any issues, and felt blindsided by her message. If our conversations had continued, we could have learned how important this issue is, not only to Jordan but also to many writers and artists of color who often feel excluded from even niche events.
That said, we would like to address the charges she presented against us regarding Black Lives Matter, a cause we support:
- A Black Lives Matter panel was NOT removed from the fest. At the time we received Jordan’s final e-mail, no topics had actually been set. We had discussed more half a dozen different ideas, none of which had actually been fully developed in terms of participants and details. The Black Lives Matter panel was one of several ideas we were discussing at the time. We liked the idea, but like all the other potential topics, it was still undeveloped and Jordan hadn’t given us a list of BZF exhibitors who would be participating, so we knew very little about it.
- Jordan wasn’t available to moderate the panel due to the conflict with her other event, and we did not know enough of what she was planning to continue it in her absence. It was previously framed to us in this way: “I’m interested in talking about black artists and Black Lives Matter through activists who have either done zines about it and/or used the form to resist police violence.” We were interested in hearing more about the idea but felt some hesitation at “police resistance” being part of the discussion, especially since we did not know any more about the panel. We acknowledged that this deserved further discussion but ultimately, when Jordan was not available, we had to think quickly and focused on the two panel topics we had a clearer sense of, in case we needed to step in and host them ourselves.
- In lieu of a potentially polarizing, anti-police leaning discussion, we pitched the idea of a Black/POC Zines panel, in which POC artists could talk about their work, lives, and struggles overall. Black Lives Matter would absolutely have been part of that conversation, but it would allow for a bigger discussion of POC writers and artists. Jordan seemed less enthusiastic about this idea, but again, it was left for future discussion which never occurred.
- Again, NO PANEL WAS EVER CUT from the zine fest lineup. The lineup was still in progress when Jordan dropped out late in the process, and when we were left in the lurch, we had to scramble to develop the panel ideas we already had a handle on. We would have preferred for Jordan to organize all panels and to work together on developing a black artists panel, but this did not happen.
- We were never concerned about actual violence at the Brooklyn Zine Fest due to any panel topic. We only voiced concern towards Jordan’s pitch for an anti-police slant during the panels. This is where we stated that the BZF is an “apolitical” zine fest, in the sense that we welcome people with a variety of political and personal views and do not exclude anyone based on those views, unless they are hurtful towards others. (Thankfully, we’ve never actually received an application from someone whose work is openly hateful, though they would be immediately turned if anyone did.) There are many great political zine/book fests and other events throughout the country, which do good work in advancing agendas and specific ideas. As people who are not activists and have very little experience in that realm, we felt at the time that it would be disingenuous for us to lead or develop such a discussion ourselves.
- Jordan’s claim that we have “no intentions to give space for black and brown voices” is completely untrue, and does a disservice to the POC who are exhibiting at BZF 2015 and have exhibited in years past. However, we now realize we have an opportunity to create more of a space for those voices. In addition to developing a Black Lives Matter panel at this year’s zine fest, we will work harder to make sure traditionally marginalized voices are given more prominence at this and future events. Please e-mail us if you have suggestions.
- We incorporate artists with a variety of voices, backgrounds, aesthetic styles, sexual orientations, genders and races into our event. We also keep costs to a minimum, breaking even each year by charging as little as we can for tables, so that the barrier of entry is as low as possible for anyone who wants to participate — including the students for whom we offer below-cost table fees. Space fees and furniture rentals are expensive in New York, but we want the BZF to be a place where all voices can be heard. If you have ideas for outreach to artists or groups you feel have been left out of the zine fest, please e-mail us to get a conversation started.
- We agree with Jordan on this point: “If you are tabling, consider making a sign for your table saying ‘Black Lives Matter at the Brooklyn Zine Fest’” We weren’t able to collaborate with Jordan to develop the panels for this year’s fest before her departure, but we support the Black Lives Matter movement. Exhibitors are welcome and encouraged to voice their beliefs and ideas — which is part of what makes the event such a rewarding experience to organize, exhibit at, and attend.
We are two people organizing a yearly event with the goal of bringing writers, artists, and small publishers of all kinds together with an audience who wants to experience their work. We do this in our spare time between two jobs, our own creative projects, and personal changes.
We don’t know everything, and we don’t know how to do everything. This is why we rely on our amazing volunteers and exhibitors, and the people who provide constructive feedback to us before, during, and after every event. Thank you for helping us make positive changes to this year’s fest, and we hope the conversation continues into future events.
We are reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to contact us directly about any questions we did not answer above, and/or if you would like to participate in the Black Lives Matter panel at the Brooklyn Zine Fest 2015 on Saturday, April 25th at 3pm.
All our best,
Kseniya Yarosh and Matt Carman
Organizers, Brooklyn Zine Fest