EMMA – the magazine providing a homeless hostel with a creative outlet

An unusual creative magazine produced by Brian Baderman is giving voice to residents of the Arlington hostel in London

Arlington hostel was founded in 1905 in Camden, London and originally housed 1,100 people. Recently refurbished it now offers housing and food for the homeless alongside activities such as painting and music at weekday workshops. It boasts around a dozen artist’s studios, a conference centre, a carpentry workshop – and now its very own magazine.

Artist, commercials director and one-time Diesel creative director Brian Baderman has been using a painting studio at Arlington for several years (via the arts charity SPACE) and last year he decided to try and collaborate with the hostel on a creative project.

The result is EMMA, a magazine that features artwork, stories and poems by Arlington residents – and is now available from Waterstone’s in Camden, the magCulture shop and the EMMA website. A couple of months ago, it was officially launched at KK Outlet in London to increase awareness of the project and encourage funding for the initiative.

Baderman says that it was his “casual encounters with residents [that] revealed all [of them] had stories to tell. Previous, though remote, experience with publications, editing and designing,” he says, “led me to think that a magazine of some sort might provide an ideal home for such stories.”

The challenge of starting a new magazine, the magazine’s editor and designer explains, was to ensure there was enough content that was both disruptive and provocative, yet entertaining – with “profound human relevance,” he adds.

“The Wednesday EMMA sessions held at Arlington House not only provide a safe and friendly, supportive space in which to paint, draw, write and just chat,” says Baderman, “they also give people an opportunity to socialise, critique each other’s work, share suggestions, and get help on how to improve both their use of materials and language – as well as be introduced to new ideas.”

Below, Baderman discusses his intentions for the EMMA project, how the issues are put together and what the contributors get out of this unique initiative.

CR: When deciding to launch a magazine with Arlington, why choose to do something in print, as opposed to online?

BB: Why print? I love print. It kind of ‘makes’ its own context, creates its own tempo – instead of vying with everything else online. Online seems to induce a kind of ADD that overtakes us (e.g. ‘how quickly can I check this site in order to switch to the next thing…’ etc).

Print is collectable, and not only has its touch and smell, but also its own scale. Purely digital imagery robs the original (if there is one) of scale. Postage stamps and Jackson Pollocks occupy the same screen space and everything is smaller than the viewer, or simply has no relatable scale.

I am also aware that many contributors do not have regular use of computers and the immediate accessibility of a magazine makes print a no-brainer. I’m old-fashioned (or far-sighted?) enough to believe that we still need to concretise experiences. We are physical beings that cannot fail to relate to a world of things.

CR: You mention on the EMMA website that the magazine “grants people visibility”. Can you tell us a bit more about what you mean by this and, in particular, how it relates to “creative expression”?

BB: I believe that, as social beings, we are nourished, even constituted, via recognition – and that in order to be recognised we need visibility. Many of those I’ve met in hostels are deprived of visibility. They are invisible. Connections with home and family are troubled or, more often, irretrievably severed. Bad life experiences, including mental illness (often exacerbated by drug- and alcohol-abuse), have commonly led residents to having a default social perspective: mistrust towards everyone.

While the resulting profound sense of isolation can be challenged by art therapy – which, by encouraging the individual to ‘create’ (objects, paintings etc.) can encourage the beleaguered individual to step outside their own personal fortress by helping kindle some sense of self-worth and even self-knowledge – making creative work in the knowledge that such work is accessible to a broad range of people, seems to motivate as well as provide a powerful source of self-validation – i.e. publication helps confer ‘visibility’ – not only literally, but also emotionally.

You ask what I mean by ‘creative expression’ – good question. Certainly, the magazine includes a broad range of visual and textual material – painting, illustration, poetry, reminiscence, autobiography, comment etc. To what extent is this ‘creative expression’? It seems to me that expression (creative or otherwise) needs an audience – hence the value of publication.

To what extent can the work contributed to Emma be called ‘creative’? I’m not sure if I can usefully comment on this – however, if using pictures and words to explore imagination, memories, passions, hopes and disappointments is creative, then the work Emma publishes is creative.

CR: How is EMMA actually put together? Do you assemble the contributions (writing and images) and then design the issues yourself?

BB: Contributions to EMMA come from a variety of sources. Some are produced during Arlington’s weekly Wednesday afternoon workshop, others during contributors’ own time. These latter are either left for me in envelopes marked ‘private’ or else emailed to me. Contributions are also made by participants in a programme called ‘Portugal Prints’ run by Westminster MIND.

I guess I take the role of editor. I select which items get included, but in the long run I rarely exclude anything submitted (save items that are unduly offensive on a personal or cultural level). I sometimes (reluctantly) hold material back, but this is the result of waiting for the best page to put them.

The fact that a text or illustration is ‘uncomfortable’ will, if anything, commend it – I feel that one of EMMA’s jobs is to challenge readers. While ‘authenticity’ is a term currently done to death, I do hope the voice of Emma can remain truthful – this means (for me) retaining the imperfections (even ‘ugliness’ in some cases) of the work (including leaving material hand-written by the author).

After all, it sometimes strikes me that we have convinced ourselves only too successfully that life should be a smooth spectacle of perfection and beauty. This is a lie. And to apply such cosmetic criteria to EMMA would be to betray its raison d’être which includes breaking down barriers between those perceived as outsiders and ourselves (where our lives only too often contain a possibility of self-destruction, but held at bay).

One of the young creatives from KK Outlet (Oli) commented interestingly that the occasional juxtaposition of absurdly over-optimistic ad material (grabbed from the 1960s vintage magazines) with some of the contributions provided an interesting level of irony in the way that Emma can be read. In general, however, I avoid giving EMMA a strong editorial voice and have, until now, seen my job primarily as ‘curating’ the output of contributors. EMMA is not a magazine ‘about’ homelessness or poor mental health, it is the expression of such conditions – from the inside.

Recently, one of the art therapists working with MIND, asked me what my editorial criteria are. Her question stumped me initially. I was aware of wanting to show each contribution off to its best advantage as doing so would gratify its originator (and perhaps encourage the production of more work). I am certainly aware that unexpected juxtapositions of material can make contributions more startling. Showing work to its best would also keep EMMA attractive to readers – readership is important to contributors, for reasons already stated.

A propos of this it seems relevant to mention that one of the reasons this project is (to me) so refreshing is that unlike, say advertising, where ideals and aspirations of the client/target group etc are taken into account, the priority here is the well-being of contributors. To improve, however modestly, people’s wellbeing, as well as contribute to breaking down popular prejudices regarding the homeless and poor mental health, is a privilege.

While I have also been EMMA’s designer-in-chief, I am not a graphic designer. I have avoided any design philosophy or graphic consistency. Typefaces are all over the place and no underlying grid unifies pages. It’s pretty much a matter of ‘anything goes’ and I tend to approach each page or spread as a new challenge (as if some sort of blank canvas).

The first seven issues of EMMA were all cut-and-pasted – literally a matter of photocopies, Pritt and scissors and a stapler. After my experience of designing DECAY [a one-off project Baderman worked on with young people housed at the North London YMCA in Crouch End and Accumul8] I was tired of the ‘zine’ look and when Park Communications and EBB paper very kindly offered to sponsor the printing of three consecutive copies of EMMA, I jumped at a chance to move on.

However, I am hopeless at learning computer programmes and am utterly incompetent at using InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator. As a result of such incompetence I am indebted to help, ideas and encouragement provided by Oli and Ash (of KK Outlet), Dan Adams (of Dan Adams Design), Emilio Hernandez and ‘S’ (one of the residents at Arlington).

CR: How does the edition of Decay relate to EMMA? And what is it trying to do that’s different to it?

BB: Decay does relate to EMMA although this project was far more limited in scope. A cousin of mine, whom I had never met until after I had set up Emma, is a lecturer at Ravensbourne who has set up a social enterprise called Accumul8. When she saw Emma she asked if I’d like to do something similar for young people housed at the North London YMCA in Crouch End. I agreed.

Decay was turned around in a couple of months. This is not really enough time to build trust with residents but we managed to get something good going nonetheless. One of the residents, a young man in his early twenties, said – when he saw the magazine – that he was going to cherish the experience of working on Decay for the rest of his life. Harking back to my fantasy of producing an alternative to the Metro and NME etc.

I recalled that I’d gotten some extremely competitive quotes for printing EMMA as a newspaper and as Haringey had agreed to fund this project (thanks to my cousin) I pushed for this 48-page tabloid to be printed as a newspaper. I think the result is wilder and, at times, darker than Emma.

CR: There’s currently funding for the workshop, but the budget to make these projects is zero. What do you need to happen next to ensure they can keep going/continue? How can people/readers help?

BB: Ideally, funding will be located. So far it hasn’t. A friend at The Economist showed EMMA to colleagues who have raised a small amount of money. I strongly believe that this project deserves and needs to grow in order to continue.

I recently had a meeting with the CEO of a mental health charity (JAMI) who, impressed with Emma, not only desires to do something similar for the charity he runs, but also pointed out to me the importance of challenging attitudes among the young to such things as homelessness and mental illness. He pointed out that the old tend already to have made up their minds, but he also noted something far more interesting and important – most psychosis makes its first appearance during adolescence. If it is recognised, accepted and treated, it is likely that the condition can be dealt with 100%.

If the condition is ignored (through fear and/or ignorance) the condition is likely to cripple the sufferer life-long. Acknowledging that Emma, by refusing to brand itself as a magazine for or about mental health, and speaking freshly and even provocatively, he felt that this magazine could help change attitudes to certain conditions – of both the sufferer and the sufferer’s peers. He felt this could be life-saving in some instances.

Going forward? I am no entrepreneur but feel very strongly about this importance of this project. Several avenues seem open but all require greater distribution of the magazine in order to make sense: (1) to solicit advertising (from brands wanting to speak to the 18-30 market) to help fund the cost of printing and publishing; (2) to seek a large corporate donor that could, as it were, acquire some of the project’s halo; (3) donations and sponsorship from individuals and corporates; (4) subscriptions – I have been advised by Jeremy Leslie (at Mag Culture) that the best way forward is by making this a paid-for magazine. Right now, any help at all, however modest, would be appreciated.

EMMA is on Facebook at facebook.com/EMMAtheVoiceofArlington and online at emma-magazine.com. See also arlington.org.uk

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