Daily Herald Interview

This was published back in March 2009, but when the Daily Herald redid part of their website, this slipped through the cracks. They kindly gave us permission to reprint it.

New magazine profiles artistically minded Latter-day Saints

by Cody Clark

Originally published in the Daily Herald on March 27, 2009. Reprinted with permission.

What do Orson Scott Card, Stephenie Meyer, James Christensen, Michael McLean, The 5 Browns, Rick Schroeder, John Telford, Shannon Hale, Brandon Mull, Gladys Knight, Dave Wolverton, Janice Kapp Perry, Brian Crane, Jessica Day George, George Dyer, Tracy Hickman, Christian Vuissa, Anne Perry, Howard Tayler, Jack Weyland, Jennette McCurdy and Brandon Sanderson — to name just a few — have in common?

Each of them (including all five of the Browns) is someone who you might someday read about in the pages of the new(-ish) and rapidly blossoming bimonthly magazine Mormon Artist. Two of them, in fact, have already been there: Vuissa, a filmmaker and founder of the LDS Film Festival, and Telford, a noted landscape photographer who teaches at Brigham Young University, are in Issue 3 (January 2009).

Mormon Artist, which is available free-of-charge online at www.mormonartist.net and for $11.25 an issue via print-on-demand periodicals publisher MagCloud, was launched late last summer by BYU graduate Ben Crowder. Every other month, the glossy publishes interviews with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are engaged in some field of artistic endeavor.

The magazine took shape literally overnight in June 2008 after Crowder, who’s 25 and a Web designer for BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library, read about MagCloud, a Web-based enterprise backed by Hewlett-Packard. “I was making breakfast the next day and thinking to myself, ‘What kind of magazine would I like to read?’” Crowder said.

It came to him almost immediately. Being, as he put it, both “very Mormon” and “very into the arts,” Crowder quickly envisioned a magazine that would provide a forum for church members to talk about their artistic pursuits in their own words.

“I started writing down names right away,” he said. “Later that day, I started e-mailing people.”

The pace didn’t slow down from there. Crowder’s first interview was with Provo resident and painter J. Kirk Richards. The portrait lens he’d ordered for his digital camera arrived by mail the same day that the interview was scheduled to take place. “I got the lens out of the box and left for Kirk’s house,” Crowder said.

From one-man-band to volunteer symphony

For the first two issues of Mormon Artist, Crowder, who is single, but would like to change that, did almost everything on his own. He picked all of the subjects, arranged and conducted all of the interviews, transcribed them, and handled all of the design, layout and editing himself. A couple of friends pitched in to help with proofreading.

“It wasn’t really sustainable,” Crowder said, which is why, after Issue 2 (November 2008), he decided to ask for help. He sent out a general call for volunteers and quickly found out that he wasn’t alone in his interests. “Within five hours,” he said, “30 people had responded.”

One of the people who rallied to the cause is local playwright Mahonri Stewart, a freelance writer and married father of one who lives in Orem. Stewart interviewed stage director Christopher Clark, who teaches theater at Utah Valley University, for Issue 3.

The idea of a Mormon arts magazine, Stewart said, was instantly appealing to him. One thing he hopes that Mormon Artist can provide to its readership is a sense of possibility. The average Latter-day Saint, he said, may not realize the breadth and variety of fellow church members who, in some way or other, are making a living from their art.

More to the point, Stewart said, he hopes Mormon Artist can demonstrate that Mormon art is flourishing “whether you make your living off it or not.”

Nobody is making his or her living from the publication of Mormon Artist, or at least not at the moment. Visitorship to the Web site is a relative trickle — about 7,500 unique visitors had passed through as of February — and the print-on-demand edition is, for the time being, more of a gimmick than a moneymaker. “With the first issue, we only sold about 11 copies,” Crowder said.

Now that Crowder doesn’t have to do everything himself, however, there’s time for Mormon Artist to gradually build a following. With a pool of nearly 70 volunteers to draw from, the demands on Crowder’s time are very much within reason, down from between 50 and 80 hours every two months, to 10 or 15 hours.

Focused on people

Eventually, there may be art, poetry, photography, short fiction, essays and more in Mormon Artist. A short play titled “And,” by local playwright J. Scott Bronson, appeared in Issue 2.

Crowder’s hope, however, is that the magazine’s core content will consist more of interviews with artists themselves than samples of their work. “For me, that’s the most interesting part,” he said. “Without the people, there’s no art.”

Crowder intends to include superstar Mormon artists — Card, Meyer, Knight, David Archuleta, Donny and Marie — but he also hopes that the magazine can introduce people to lesser-known figures.

“Basically, I want the people who everyone knows, the people who no one knows and everyone in between,” he said.

And while there aren’t a lot of requirements to be profiled in the magazine — most of them are included in its name — there’s one that’s especially important. “The only real criteria is that [interviewees] be active, practicing Mormons,” Crowder said. “The point is to build a community of people where faith and art can interact without betraying either.”

Clark said that he thinks Mormon Artist can fill a void, in that sense. Church members and others, he said, tend to be aware of the religious affiliation of Latter-day Saints who are successful in sports or business, but LDS artists are often more obscure.

“There’s always that sense that if you go into the arts you’re going to lose your testimony or leave the church,” Clark said. With Mormon Artist, he said, there’s an opportunity to say, “Look, you can be a strong member of the church and you can also do some really great work in the arts.”

Whether or not a given LDS artist’s output is demonstrably focused on religious themes doesn’t matter to Crowder. “Because ours is a religion, when we’re living it, that extends into every area of our lives,” he said, “even art that isn’t overtly Mormon still has Mormonism in it.”

One thing that won’t stand in the way of future issues is finding people to interview. Once he started investigating, Crowder said, he realized that “there are tons and tons of people working in LDS art. It’s amazing.

“We will never run out of material.”