The Magnificent Merger of Arts & Culture
I’m lucky enough to have caught on video the exact moment when I was running along side my daughter’s bicycle as she was learning how to ride for the first time and I let her free. As soon as she was balancing on her own, I had this huge beaming smile on my face as I watched her circle back towards me in a wide loop and then did it again. I feel no different today as the beloved “Arts” vertical, something that I created from scratch, merges with Culture and to become a “Super Vertical”, “Arts & Culture”, which is exactly how it should be.
The Merging of Arts & Culture. Illustration by Priscilla Frank
When I launched the Arts Page two years ago there was no real special place for Arts & Culture on the Huffington Post. I had been writing essays and interviewing artists every week for over a year but then stopped because I didn’t want the pieces to be under “Dieting Tips” in “Living” anymore and “Entertainment”, however addictive, was more about celebrities. When Arianna offered me the chance to launch an “Arts” section, I dove headfirst into what would become a magnificent platform for artists to broadcast their work in addition to a wild career adventure that I’m convinced caused my brain to grow a third hemisphere. As we expanded our coverage to include all the arts and our fan base delighted in our fantastic bloggers, our unique combination of gravity and whimsy on the news side as well as our penchant for featuring emerging artists, filmmakers, musicians alongside giants in their respective fields, our fan base also grew.
Then there was The Merger. What would it mean for “Arts”? AOL had “Film”, “Music” and “Television”. Would we stay? Would we get eaten? I remember asking the question: Should “Arts” solely focus on fine arts? We were told to stay the course, but we definitely emphasized fine arts and there became swaths of subjects we deferred to other “verticals”. (Isn’t vertical a funny word? It sounds so masculine. I’d rather rename it “idea reservoir” or “meme cluster” or even a “horizontal fractal imagination elaboration”, but I digress.)
Initially after the merger, “Arts” moved under “Style”. Now I love style more than anyone (seriously, I *love* it) but felt it should have been the other way around— that “Style” should have been under “Arts”. I suspected that many of these decisions occurred in dimly lit rooms and with cigars, scotch and long ruminations regarding where each different “vertical” should live. Despite our handy url (bookmark it now!), I could never fully shake the fear that we might be too difficult to find for the average reader. And because I fervently believe that art should be for everyone, I wanted to reach the widest audience possible. I often sent colorful emails to members of the design team, once threatening to drop an imaginary bag of adorable squealing puppies into the Pacific Ocean if they didn’t elevate the “Arts” placement on the coveted Nav Bar— whatever it took.
A few months after the merger last year, “Culture” was born and became an umbrella vertical over “Music”, “Books”, “Film”, “Arts” etc, and that made sense. It certainly made more sense than having “Arts” under “Style”. And yet having different pages for “Arts” and “Culture” often created a subtle competition of who should cover what. We often let culture focus on performing while we focused on fine and visual but the overlap caused us to inadvertently siphon away topics that would no doubt be of interest to both sets of readers.
In December, on the eve of my launching the “Science” Vertical (which is under “Tech”, ahem..), “Arts”, which had heretofore been run by a wonderful team mostly in Los Angeles, had really grown up and was ready to be taken to the next level by someone seasoned, thoughtful, tech savvy and who would work full time in the New York office as Arts Editor. I conducted a series of interviews via Skype (and met some truly fascinating people) and this is how I met Kathleen Massara, the former literary editor of Flavorwire, a graduate of the Cultural Reporting and Criticism Program at NYU and an avid student of art history. We had an instant connection and in the last seven months, she has proved herself to be an extraordinary editor in every way— thoughtful, funny and smart, all with a touch as light as falling snow. Kathleen is the perfect person to see our growth and reincarnation into the Super Vertical of Arts & Culture. I am also so grateful to have Michael Hogan, who presides Zeus-like over Arts and Entertainment, along with our crack team of Priscilla Frank, Katherine Brooks, Mallika Rao, Lucas Kavner and Hallie Seykoff. And most of all, to Arianna, who gave us the platform in the first place. If we were videotaping this moment, I’d be clapping and smiling all over again. Behold “Arts & Culture”! Look at her go!