Zine-making has never been a very lucrative endeavor. Ever since the self-publishing format was first conceived out of the 1930s sci-fi community and 70s and 80s punk scene, the intention has been to share unadulterated communication, free of censorship, gatekeepers, and commercial interests. That intention has remained consistent decades later with the New York-based zine collective 8-Ball. Beginning with their inaugural zine fair in Brooklyn in 2012, 8-Ball founder and photographer (and longtime VICE contributor) Lele Saveri and his 50-plus volunteers have expanded into multiple formats, including public-access TV and radio, and spaces, including a pop-up newsstand in a subway station—all while keeping an explicitly inclusive, uncapitalistic ethos. Now, as the collective aims at sustainability, 8-Ball has become a proper nonprofit.
This week 8-Ball has been celebrating its fifth anniversary with a bevy of fundraisers, including a dinner at Mission Chinese and a surreal, paint-drenched talent show. The launch of the collective's new 501(c)(3) model culminates with the 11th edition of the 8-Ball Zine Fair this weekend and features some of the best artists and small publishers the city has to offer, including TXTbooks, Endless Editions, and Pau Wau Publications. Amid a week of art parties and antics, I caught up with Saveri to learn where 8-Ball came from, where they're headed, and how it's still possible to make art in New York with shit you've found in the trash.
VICE: 8-Ball has taken a bunch of different shapes since you started it five years ago. What are some of the different iterations 8-Ball has gone through?
Lele Saveri: Our events have been something we've done for a long time. Once I felt comfortable and the ball was already rolling by itself, I moved on to do more publishing. Then once that felt more comfortable we started to do 8-Ball Radio. Then once that was comfortable we moved on to do the zine library and eventually 8-Ball TV. But all of these changes often come from me looking at it from the outside and being like, "What way can this same intention or philosophy be taken to the next step?"
It's incredible to see how much it's grown out of applying the same attitude to all of these different platforms.
The thing that really links all of these completely different things that we do is the fact that there's no commercialization of the original idea. It comes out of the fact that we're in a city that's entirely based on commercialism. Right now we live in a world in which the internet and technology have given us so many free opportunities, so why not try and use them in a way that's productive? Unfortunately, because the world that we live in is based on commercial business, companies add a price to anything that could be done freely. What we're trying to do is break down that concept, prove that it can actually happen with no money in today's world.
How has the internet affected the way that you approach creating an art community with 8-Ball?
The internet helps us spread the word. You have to be able to use those platforms if you want to really interact with younger people because you've got to talk to them using the language they know the best. It's also been the most important way for us to have a connection with the rest of the world, internationally. We even scheduled the TV in a way where it changes with your time zone, so something that's meant to play at 8 PM today, will play at 8 PM wherever you are in the world.
You've worked a lot in both the institutional art world and the DIY art world. What have you taken away from each environment?
To be honest, we work the same way with both. When you do something with an institution, you're a lot more restricted by rules that you're not used to. But on the other hand, through working with a museum like MoMA, we have had the chance to reach out to a completely different crowd. I think after the election, everyone knows how important it is to get out of our own bubble, and it's really important to not just talk to the people who already agree with you, or who already know what you do, or who would already be a fan of what you do. So the compromise of having to be more restricted by a museum actually ends up paying off by allowing you to extend your audience. Both are very valuable.
Has inclusivity always been the goal of 8-Ball?
I think, when I started it, inclusivity was already the main thing. Originally, I did the fair because I wanted to do something that wasn't as limiting as most of the other fairs that I had gone to. I've been making zines for a long time, and every time I ended up going to a fair, it was always limited by a specific type of zine or publication. There was a comic book fair, and a feminist fair, and an anarchist fair, and so on. Then there was also the fact that if you wanted to show, you had to pay for a table.
In what ways did you make inclusivity a part of the fair experience?
When I did the first fair, I made sure that the tables would be free so that even people that were selling at the tables wouldn't lose any money if they weren't selling anything. Since the first one we did, we've turned the first table you see when you came into the "drop-off table," where, if you only had one zine and you wanted to sell it, you could simply come and drop it off and we would sell it for you. Then, at the end of the fair, you could come back and pick up the remaining, along with the money you made. That's kind of how the inclusivity happened from the very first event we did. We felt like it was already very important.
It's interesting that you guys have adjusted into becoming a nonprofit since it seems almost impossible to operate any sort of zine publisher that's "for-profit." How will 8-Ball function differently now as a nonprofit?
When we were just doing the fairs and publishing, there was never an intention to make money. But once we started doing the radio three years ago, and then 8-Ball TV, and then the zine workshops, all of the volunteers realized it would be easier to exist if there was some money to spend. Right now, everything that we have is either stuff that people donated, stuff that we found in the trash, stuff that was gifted, or stuff that the volunteers themselves made. All of the equipment we have just came to us that way. So, eventually we realized that if we had an actual budget, we could keep doing everything. So we decided, without going commercial, the best way we could do that would be to become a nonprofit where you just get supported by the people that know and respect what you do.
You've been living and working in New York for a long time now. Does it ever feel discouraging to make art here, as the cost of living just becomes higher and higher? How have the changes in New York affected what you do?
I mean, it hasn't made it easier. We've been very lucky that so far we've always found someone who would donate some sort of unused space to us. Everything we've had, from Grand Billiards, to the Newsstand, to Muddguts, to where we are now, have all been locations that were unused by whoever owned them. So we haven't had to pay rent this whole time. But that will probably affect us in the next few years once we have to start renting space.
Were there any other art collectives who you tried to model 8-Ball off of, or who have been inspirational along the way?
There wasn't anyone who we based our structure on, because we didn't really have a structure when we started. As we've moved along I've done more research and found out about other organizations before us doing similar things. There are so many great ones, like anarchist groups like Black Mask, who were producing a lot of work in the 60s in the Lower East Side that were similar to what we do. Paper Tiger TV was a collective that was using public access platforms to share and show their work. The Living Theatre is a group that has nothing to do with what we do, but the spirit and the core of the idea is similar to our attitude.
What fundraising events did you plan for this week?
I don't think everyone fully understands what we do, so we thought, Why don't we try and showcase everything in one week. The same way that public radio or TV stations will do pledge drives, we decided to do a week of intense fundraising. The idea for that was to do something like a telethon so that people could pledge and donate money while the show was happening. This weekend we're doing two days of the zine fair in Koreatown. It's a small place where we do the fair—it's a pool hall—so we can't really add tables and we can only invite a few people. So we decided to split it into two days and each day will be a different group of publishers. Then on Saturday night the 8-Ball Radio is organizing a radio party at this place called Gateways in Brooklyn. It's going to be like six different DJs and three or four performers and we made a chill-out zone with videos. It should be a very nice party.
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