What is the relevance of hybrid publishing experiments to small and medium-scale cultural organisations? Ashley Maum and Ebissé Wakjira, who participate in the Hybrid Pubs Research Group on behalf of Framer Framed, share their experiences and visions. Below, you can listen to their conversation, or read the transcript.
Ashley Maum [00:00:12] Welcome to the Framer Framed podcast, in which we take you behind the scenes of our Amsterdam based cultural platform. My name is Ashley Maum, and today we are talking about Going Hybrid – a two year research project into the future of hybridity for the cultural field. The COVID pandemic has catalysed experimental approaches to hybrid cultural programming and togetherness, mixing online, offline and everything in between. This research on hybrid publications, living archives and hybrid events aims to serve new and existing audiences post-pandemic. Within this research Framer Framed is focusing on hybrid publications and specifically event reporting. Together with my colleague Ebissé Wakjira and in the spirit of hybridity, we decided to make a podcast and blog post to share a bit more information about the relevance of this project for Framer Framed’s practice.
Ebissé Wakjira [00:01:00] The innovation we are looking for is a successful improvement of the current workflow of event reporting. We are looking to create event reports and catalogues that fit the hybrid character of the cultural program they contain. Can these publications be more open ended, multi-voiced and engaging than traditional ones? Can they reach new audiences while serving existing audiences better? We will be exploring these and other questions in our following conversation. The main partners for the research project are The Hmm, MU, Hackers & Designers, IMPAKT, Framer Framed, Institute of Network Cultures, and Willem de Kooning Academy.
Ashley Maum [00:01:38] Ebissé, could you give a bit more background on your own experience in publishing, and how you understand hybrid publishing from the perspective of the publishing industry?
Ebissé Wakjira [00:01:49] Well, there are three answers to this question. Firstly, a hybrid publication combines elements of traditional publishing and self-publishing, giving authors the opportunity to collaborate with a publishing company while maintaining some control over the process. In this model, also known as self-publishing, authors contribute financially to cover publishing expenses and receive various services in return, such as editing, design, distribution and marketing support. The level of services and other involvements can vary per platform. Also, the term hybrid publication can refer to publications available both in print and digital formats (like PDFs, epub, mobi, and also audiobooks), combining the advantages of all of these mediums. The third answer relates to my previous experience as an academic publisher in the scientific community. Hybrid publications may also indicate articles accessible through both subscription model where you have to pay for it and through an open access model.
Ashley Maum [00:02:58] So given your experience in the academic and literary publishing world, how is publishing at Framer Framed different than what you do there?
Ebissé Wakjira [00:03:05] The publications at Framer Framed that I’m responsible for are different in so far as I’m always dealing with artistic and research-based publications. And it’s mostly visual arts. And so far, the books that we’ve published have always been in collaboration with other institutions like the William de Kooning Academy and the Van Abbemuseum. Furthermore, most of the editorial work that I do is related to our exhibition catalogue, also known as handouts or zines, as well as our online magazine, where we publish various forms of long form essays, event reports, as well as interviews with artists and curators. And finally, I’m also the producer of the freshly minted Framer Framed podcast. So that makes it slightly different than what I’m used to doing at the traditional publishing house, where you have to have at least twenty to thirty titles a year, which we do not have. But what about you? Before you got involved in this project, how did you think about hybrid publishing in general and also within the Framer Framed context?
Ashley Maum [00:04:17] I would say, honestly, before I got involved in this project, I didn’t really think about hybrid publishing. I maybe experienced it as a reader in terms of having my e-reader and my print books, or reading an article online. But I don’t think I actively thought about the different forms of publishing, nor specifically for Framer Framed in terms of publishing as events or publishing as podcasts. Throughout this research, what I consider publishing has definitely changed.
Ebissé Wakjira [00:04:56] What is the role of events in the program of Framer Framed and what is the role of event reporting?
Ashley Maum [00:05:05] Framer Framed is an exhibition space. We host a number of big and smaller exhibitions a year. We also have a really active community program and education program. But I would say one place where a lot of our energy goes towards is to events. We are having one to two events per week and especially since we moved to our bigger space in Amsterdam Oost, we host a lot of events initiated by external people, so we’re definitely producing way more than we were in earlier years. So events have become a key way in which we relate to our audience, how we get people in the door, and how we expand upon the themes that we’re addressing in our exhibitions. Sometimes it’s just not enough to put things on the wall and display works. You also need programs to elaborate on an artist’s research and things like that.
The role of event reports so far has been: if we have an event that we for some reason regard as important to archive, then we would commission a researcher or a journalist to write a long form essay about the program and publish it on our magazine. Or, if we have a series of events, we would ask an intern to write a little report about it just so we can keep track of what’s happening. So the role of event reports has been to catalogue. But we haven’t adjusted our event reporting to keep up with the number of programs we’re having, and we could think a bit more strategically about how to report and what to report.
Ebissé Wakjira [00:06:46] Yeah, I do think event reporting can be useful as an archive (documentation of what we have done) and also to see whether there are connections with previous events and exhibitions. I think that once we start standardising our event reports, using the toolkit that we are working on now, event reporting can become a more useful archiving tool.
I have a question. Have you ever written an event report yourself?
Ashley Maum [00:07:26] When I was an intern, I wrote two reports about a reading room that we worked on. This was one of those classic forms of event reporting that we do at Framer Framed. But I didn’t do it in a way that was like ‘This is what this person said, this is what this person said.’ It was more a response to the event, which I think can be more interesting. Event reports can serve different purposes in that way. But other than that, I haven’t written an event report. I’ve written articles reflecting on the exhibitions that we have, which I think some people would consider a way of reporting, but I don’t know if I’d necessarily consider it that way.
So why should we reinvent the existing event report?
Ebissé Wakjira [00:08:12] We’re not reinventing anything. As far as I’m aware, we haven’t standardised our event reporting system as of yet. However, we are taking a significant step forward by implementing a much needed addition to the Framer Framed operations. When it comes to programming, Framer Framed hosts a remarkable number of events each week, as you just told us, often involving numerous external partners on a project basis. The challenge arises when each person responsible for reporting has their own unique writing style, resulting in reports that can sometimes extend to 5.000 words. I had to edit 5.000 words, I remember. Because it’s not standardised, it’s difficult to see the difference between an event report, an essay, or a long read article.
Ashley Maum [00:09:01] Yeah, I think it’s clear that standardisation would really take a weight off of us. It also helps when we commission journalists, to communicate what they should expect, and what we expect. It makes it clearer so that we don’t end up in that situation where we want a nice little event report of 1.500 words but get back 5.000 instead.
Throughout this process, our hybrid publication group has been focusing on lightening the editorial load as well by standardising the format. So we’ve tried to make it clear what is expected of an event report, what makes it interesting, to hopefully draw that out of any sort of response to the event. I think the interesting thing is: we do want to standardise and serialise, but the struggle there is that we still want to leave enough space for the individual voice of the author. To give something interesting, to do their event report in the way they want to, to pick up on some dynamic of the event that’s really going to hook a reader. And that’s something that we’ve talked about. Who is this event report for? It’s probably not for the people who were at the event. So how do you make it interesting for an audience that’s bigger than the audience you had at the program?
Ebissé Wakjira [00:10:20] I also do think it is important to standardise event reporting because evaluating the success and impact of specific events by collecting data will help to think strategically about the new events. In terms of funding as well, we have to report to our various funders. And if you have a standardised form of event reporting, it’s easier to write the funding report.
Ashley Maum [00:11:00] We do have a formalised funding report, but our funding reports mostly relate to exhibitions. But a yearly report, for instance: if you had a bank of event reports that you could slot in there, that would be useful. There’s a lot more colour from the program that can then be filled into our fund, which the single person writing a whole report probably can’t fill in themselves because they can’t go to everything.
Ebissé Wakjira [00:11:29] What are your hopes as to the outcome of the hybrid event reporting research?
Ashley Maum [00:11:33] Honestly, my biggest hope is that it will become something really useful that a lot of people will use. I think when you introduce any sort of tool like this, it takes a bit of effort to get people to take it up and to start using it, to explain. So I really hope it’s something that people will engage with. Something that I think is really exciting and kind of came towards the end of the research is that we’re now working to make a centralised platform where the events will be reported. And I think that poses a really interesting opportunity for cross-institutional publications.
As a public in Amsterdam, I do feel that there’s a lack of place where you can understand all the events happening in the cultural sphere. Also in terms of just planning your calendar, you kind of have to gather that all yourself. Maybe this tool doesn’t fill that need to fill your calendar, but in terms of looking back on what is happening in the Amsterdam or wider Dutch cultural sphere, I feel like having a sort of centralised platform (if we could encourage enough institutions to use it) could actually be a really interesting resource for seeing the themes that are emerging and why that might have happened. And then it actually could become a really interesting tool for tracking public interest.
Ebissé Wakjira [00:13:04] For me as a publisher, these reports can be valuable to establish connections with past events and exhibitions, which can also lead to the creation of new publications, whether hybrid or otherwise. By revisiting the archive, we can leverage existing rich content to form new publications instead of constantly searching for something to publish. I do think, especially if you look at the almost fifteen year history of Framer Framed, there’s so much that has been written and that has been done. It’s easy to just dig back into what we have done and create new publications. I think that’s one of the things that we’re looking forward to doing in the coming year.
Ashley Maum [00:13:53] I think a tool like this would make that even richer. As someone who has done work in our archive, I noticed that there’s basically no information about past events. You go to the website page, and it’s written as if the event is still to come and then you have no idea what happened there. Maybe just some photos. So I think it does serve a nice purpose for future archiving that can then lead to more exciting and flexible publications.
Thanks so much for listening (or reading). We really hope you’ve enjoyed getting a bit more insight into some of the things that we’re doing at Framer Framed and specifically this research around hybrid publications.