Lola in The Media

Toronto Star

Sat. Dec. 29, 2001

By Peter Goddard
Visual Arts

Lola's got great legs, and she's giving it away for free Toronto art-scene magazine reaches 25,000 readers

Lola's been giving it away for years now. And it looks like she's not about to stop. She's even looking for more customers - like about 5,000. The girl's rugged, I tell you. Rugged. And if she gets her way, the Canada Council may be giving the little lady a great big handout.

This is Lola, the local art magazine that deep down thinks it's something more than an arts magazine. Truth is Lola thinks it's the real Toronto Life for the real life of Toronto. And who's to argue after its Winter 2001 issue? To start, there's a unique reaction piece to the Sept. 11 massacre realized through a range of photos and interviews with artists who are not part of the usual line-up of deep-thinkers trotted out for occasions like this.

Cuban photographer Carlos Garaicoa is represented by When Desire Resembles Nothing, a series of three photos he took in 1996, based on the idea of "carrying the world around with you," as he says. In one photo, a young man with a cocky look on his face proudly shows the camera his tattoo of the World Trade Center. It's only one of a half dozen or so images Lola has that are as telling about Sept. 11 as anything in the mainstream media.

Another fave of mine is "Ask Lola's Lawyer," where a letter from Miffed Matron results in Lola's Lawyer calling her a "gullible social climber."

Then there's another instalment of R.M. Vaughan's "What's Wrong With You?" a soap-sudsy series of "bitched-out art jockeys" wherein the Toronto playwright provocateur ends an interview with artist Alan Belcher with the question: "Can I touch your chest?" "Where have your hands been?" asks Belcher. Everyone gallery-going knows where Lola has been: at galleries and select bookstores around town, where 8,000 copies are distributed free. A remaining 2,000 copies go to other cities in Ontario, where it's sold for $5 a copy at newsstands. Ironically, some 150 of its 500 subscriptions come from Toronto, where Lola is gratis. Subscriptions are $20 a year for four issues "of self-affirming love through the mail."

But the next few months will be crucial for Lola's brain trust - actually, arts writer Catherine Osborne, 39, and artist Sally McKay, 34. Their application for a Canada Council grant, if approved, will give Lola - until now getting by almost entirely on its ad sales - the boost they need to help them go after more subscribers.

For the record, Lola - which received a $9,000 one-time Canada Council grant last year - has applied for a council grant worth $60,000 next year, and may even spur the council to change the way it awards grants to arts magazines.

Until now, the council has required that an arts magazine must have at least 50 per cent of its print run bought and paid for either via subscription or by way of store sales. But as arts-friendly and supportive as this model is meant to be, it has resulted in arts magazines aimed mostly at artists and the arts crowd.

In the past, Lola's Canada Council applications for yearly funding have been rejected because she doesn't conform to this model. Yet, as one Canada Council insider tells me, the funding body thinks Lola is an excellent magazine.

With the next deadline approaching March 1, an advisory committee has been formed to look at this issue, said the insider, insisting, however, that it wasn't just about Lola. The committee starts its work in the next few weeks.

My guess is that Lola will get the loot she's looking for, not just because she's offering the Canada Council a cash-based business plan based on give-away issues, but because of the new arts audience Lola is finding and creating. And this is not strictly a visual arts constituency. Increasingly, Lola's pieces touch on music and culture in general. In the current issue, there's Steve Brearton's sports column, ``Bless Thee O Hockey Puck." Well, it's sort of a sports column.

"I think a lot of people who read Lola don't think they're reading an art magazine," says Osborne from across a table at Lakeview Lunch, the Dundas St. W. diner that serves as the Lola boardroom. The Lakeview is a classic '40s diner. As such it's been an attraction for movie- and ad-makers that have used it as a set. Tom Cruise has been here. And if Lola continues to grow, they could well be saying that Catherine Osborne and Sally McKay used to get their toasted cheese sandwiches with fries at the Lakeview.

Osborne has already run into Lola's burgeoning rep while having her hair done at Coupe Bizarre, on Queen St.W. Listening to her stylist go on and on and just how fabulous this new magazine called Lola was, Osborne had to confess that indeed, she was one of Lola's editors. "What an honour it is to do your hair," said the clipper-and-trimmer.

Okay, Vanity Fair this is not. But Lola has great legs. "We have a much broader audience than (being an artist-only magazine)," says Osborne. "But we can only do that by putting it in people's hands. We print 10,000 (copies) and we have a readership of 25,000. Very few (issues) get trashed, though. The percentage of Lolas that go into the recycling bins is pretty low. And before it does go into the recycling bin, somebody has read it. People keep it around, because it has high production values." McKay - mindful of the Canada Council grant - is quick to underline that Lola is an art magazine at heart. "A big proportion of the magazine is still devoted to arts. I think that people are looking at art and talking about art differently now, though. I think the intimidation factor is going away. I think the relationship between the arts coverage and the non-arts works well." Osborne adds: "Art itself has changed, along with the way grants are being given out.

"Artists can't rely - they can't rely exclusively, I mean - on getting grants. So they have to take on a more entrepreneurial manner. This is one of the more practical reasons why there has been a shift toward a more commercial attitude toward art production. We now have storefronts becoming art galleries. They may last only two months, or they may stay on and become established. Before in Toronto, you'd more likely find an artist-run centre that got government grants."

Where Lola, launched in '97 with a first-time circulation of 1,300 copies, also differs from other arts magazines, is its Toronto-centricity. Says Osborne, "we're admittedly from Toronto. We're not trying to be a national magazine. All the other art magazines cover the national scene. But I find that a little bit artificial. It doesn't make sense. What's going in Winnipeg is quite different than what's going on in Toronto. We know Toronto really well. It's our area of expertise."

CAUGHT LOOKING: Lola's Osborne and McKay agree that the full effects of Sept. 11 won't start appearing in artwork for months yet. But Deleon White Gallery, 1096 Queen St. W., has Destined To Repeat, a show through to Jan. 12, based on the notion that those who forget history are destined to repeat it. Carl Beam's wall-long mural, Poem for the Bastards #2, finished in the mid-'80s, is full of anger. Gyula Kalko blends classical imagery from Poussin and Reni to underscore modern warfare madness in Bosnia and elsewhere. And you can't miss the meaning in Badanna Zack's 40 life-like skulls sculpted out of old newspapers. Here's all the news that's fit to kill. pgoddar@thestar

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