Art Monthly Australia (AMA) is a dynamic visual arts magazine containing lively commentary, news and reviews on the visual arts, which is distributed throughout Australia and internationally. It is committed to representing all Australian states and territories to a local, national and international audience.

Art Monthly is the only monthly visual arts magazine in Australia, and publishes ten issues each year between March and December, including the popular Artnotes section that features events, news and exhibitions from all states and territories across Australia, New Zealand and the Asia/Pacific region. Arts interview talks with Editor Maurice O’Riordan about how politics impacts the publication.

Interview by Grace Hughes

What are the political issues you have to navigate when publishing in the arts?

In any small publication within an industry such as the arts, there will be some conflicts of interest and small rivalries. Due to the magazines not for profit and government subsidised nature, however, we face less challenges in this area than some. Particularly given we rely only to a small extent on no blue chip advertising.

In your view, what role does your magazine play in the arts?

AMA’s major role in the arts is maintaining an independent critical voice. Despite being a commercial magazine, this is achievable because it is not for profit, therefore does not need to solicit blue chip organisations. The most recent blue chip advertiser resulted from a controversial AMA cover, but when the cover became less controversial; ironically, the blue chip advertiser actually withdrew their advertising.

Another important responsibility is to provide diverse national coverage with the assistance of solicited and unsolicited writers. AMA currently commands a central place in art journal publishing in this country, where it has a strong reputation as an intelligent, well informed and accessible visual art magazine with truly national coverage. Thankfully, its monthly currency is unique in Australia.

What sort of challenges do you face pulling together such publication?

One of the major challenges Art Monthly Australia faces is that the magazine is meagerly resourced. It is an incorporated public company, and exists as a non-profit organisation. Government funding allows for coverage of twenty-five percent of costs, over the twenty-two year life of AMA it has been vigorously supported by the Australia Council, initially with annual funding, now with triennial funding and another twenty-five from the Australian National University covering costs such as office and telecommunications. Sales and subscriptions, advertising and philanthropy account for the remainder of funding. Such modest funding permits one full time staff member, and two part-time employees, Managing Editor/Designer, and Publication Coordinator.

Another pertinent challenge is time management due to AMA’s monthly schedule. The writers must be treated extremely well as they write to a deadline and to keep the content as current as possible it may need to be juggled — their articles may be held for months before publication. And, there is always a concern of keeping the finger on the pulse.

How do you balance your editorial direction with the needs of advertisers?

We keep it quite distinct – editorial is not associated with sales/advertising. Gallery might find out that a story on one of their artists is running and request an advertisement placed on the same page, but usually that is as difficult as it gets. Most of the advertising comes from publically funded outlets as AMA is more affordable, and publically funded outlets tend to be less demanding. Finally, AMA has a cap of $15,000… once met call it quits. AMA does not cold call, chase advertising.

Like many of the arts organisations and practitioners we have spoken to over the past four months, Art Monthly Australia has to negotiate the tricky waters of keeping stakeholders happy, while producing a quality result with limited resources. What is clear, however, is the importance of reputation and maintaining a high standard of output. When this occurs the organisation can be a sustainable one.