Magazine students learn a tough lesson in the art of finance.

Publish or Perish 

Magazine students learn a tough lesson in the art of finance.

On Friday night at the Old Post Office Gallery, twelve college students will celebrate the first issue of Vault Eleven, a magazine they've spent two semesters creating. Although there will be plenty of music, food and beer, something will be missing from the magazine release party: the magazine.

Before 20,000 issues of the 64-page, full-color glossy can roll off the presses, at least $12,000 must roll into the Vault Eleven bank account. And after nine months of assembling an arts and entertainment magazine in an effort to "cultivate a deeper understanding of the inspiration behind innovation," the Vault Eleven staff remains uncertain of the magazine's future.

"The intent for the magazine was to raise enough money to not only support itself and expand but also have enough money to give scholarships to students," says writer and Kansas City Art Institute instructor Debra DiBlasi (a former Pitch art columnist). DiBlasi says she had urged the school to start a student-run magazine for years. When the Art Institute offered her a full-time teaching position for the 2002-'03 year, she took the job on the condition that the school add the magazine class to its schedule. She lined up additional support from faculty sponsors Anne Pearce, an artist and instructor at Rockhurst University; and writer Mark Walters of William Jewell College. Rockhurst and William Jewell signed on as sponsoring institutions, and DiBlasi and her students met for their first class last fall on the Art Institute campus.

"We didn't know anything," says Managing Editor Annie Fischer. "I remember when I was making the calendar, it was completely arbitrary. 'Text due March 1.' Oh, sure, that sounds good." Looking back, Fischer says she had no idea what that meant. Now she does.

Collaborating with students from other schools was an educational experience in itself. "I feel like it was really awkward at first," says Fischer, who is a senior in business communications at Rockhurst. All the KCAI students sat on one side of the table, she says, while the William Jewell and Rockhurst students convened at opposite ends. "We had a joke about making a seating arrangement where we all had to split up."

But students grew to trust one another during the three hours a week they were together in the classroom and the time they spent collaborating by e-mail.

At the very least, they managed to convey a visual concept. "We were thinking about the creative process," says Art Director Dan Reneau, a KCAI painting junior. "Not only do we want to study that -- really dig into it and see what the creative process is for artists -- we want the magazine to be a creative process of our own."

With this in mind, Reneau began to focus on constructivist and deconstructivist designs that he felt captured the enlightenment involved in the creative process. Whenever it comes out, Vault Eleven will be an artwork printed from electronic files with four colors of ink on paper. The design celebrates this fact: Large flat areas of pure cyan, magenta, yellow and black -- the ink colors used in process printing -- show up throughout the layout. The magazine's senior designer, Tia Fletcher, a student in the Art Institute's design and illustration department, pushes the boundaries for type layouts -- setting body copy dangerously close to the edges of pages -- to guide the reader's attention toward the physical limitations of the magazine. Staff photographer Jeff Cochran, a senior studying photography and new media, provides photographs with areas of black and white contrasting the heavy color saturation. The pictures appear blurry or softly pixilated, exaggerating their digital format.

The magazine and its accompanying CD-ROM are chock-full of words, pictures and sounds created by writers, artists, musicians and filmmakers who inspired the students' passion for innovation. In fact, Vault Eleven's table of contents features a roster of well-known names.

There's a compare-and-contrast Q&A session with filmmaker Jeff Krulik, director of the documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot; and Mark Borschardt, star of American Movie and director of the short film Coven. There's also an excerpt from Ralph Berry's novel Frank, an abstract deconstruction of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The CD-ROM contains unpublished material by composer John Cage as well as a site-specific poetry and sound collaboration by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, narrator Eric Bauersfeld and sound designer Jim McKee. Vault Eleven staff members contribute original pieces, too, such as a satire starring Becky, Barbie's wheelchair-bound friend, by music editor Cody Critcheloe, an Art Institute printmaking senior.

Convincing well-known innovators to contribute to Vault Eleven wasn't always easy. Some refused, citing their busy schedules; others didn't respond at all. But the students persevered. "I feel like it was a really great opportunity for me to have the confidence to contact very brilliant people who are on the cutting edge of the arts," says Allison Miller, the magazine's fiction editor, a KCAI senior with a double major in fiber and creative writing. "Now I feel like I can approach other artists, and not even because I'm with a magazine. It really boosted my confidence level."

Jackie Soderbeck, the magazine's poetry editor and a William Jewell English major, appreciates the class for its real-world experience. "You really have to decide on your own how much work you have to put into it to get stuff done. It's a completely different setting than a classroom. It's more like a job."

Rockhurst's Lauren Mueller is in charge of choosing a printing company and supervising the magazine's production -- a hefty task that, in the magazine industry, would be shouldered only by an experienced veteran. Art Institute photography and new media senior Daniel Travers is accountable for the Web site (

But the students won't have the chance to put their knowledge and experience to use next semester. This spring, DiBlasi says, she was surprised to discover that Vault Eleven didn't make it to the Art Institute's fall 2003 class schedule. And school administrators told her they could no longer afford to pay her full-time teaching salary.

Gary Sutton, the school's dean of faculty, says DiBlasi was aware of the financial situation all along and that the school was generous to provide an educational service to students from other schools without compensation.

Although both DiBlasi and Vault Eleven will leave the Art Institute at the end of the semester, the teacher has no hard feelings.

She had intended for the magazine to support itself, but there was, in the end, one big problem. To date, the staff has sold only one advertisement. Until only recently, DiBlasi's pupils concentrated on completing the publication's editorial content and design so they could sell it to advertisers. Now that the staff has begun to concentrate on generating revenue, the supporting institutions have declared the magazine a financial burden.

But if the amount of work the college kids put into their project is any indication, these students probably would have triumphed over their financial hardships.

In any event, DiBlasi hopes to have Vault Eleven printed before the end of the summer and is making plans to continue the magazine as a private venture.

She recognizes that the dry financial climate imposes difficulties on private educational institutions, but DiBlasi says institutions must adapt to survive. "Like all the schools that are having financial problems, KCAI needs to get in touch with students in the year 2006 and beyond. What worked twenty or thirty or even ten years ago is no longer relevant and simply won't work today," DiBlasi says. "The world has shifted in so many ways: technologically, politically, socially, economically. We need to not only address those shifts in our curricula and programming but find ways to take advantage of them."

The Art Institute may regret its inability to support Vault Eleven. Such an educational opportunity could only attract new students -- along with their tuition money.


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