As a student at Northeastern a half-dozen years ago, Jameson Johnson wanted to write about the arts in Boston. But there was no vehicle to publish her work. So she created her own.
Boston Art Review, a magazine printed twice annually, will be publishing its seventh edition this fall. Johnson, its founder and editor in chief, has received no salary for her work in rallying the Boston art community to put out the magazine and support it with donations and grants.
“I’ve had artists tell me that because of Boston Art Review, they’ve decided to stay in Boston, which is amazing,” says Johnson, who graduated in 2018 in political communication with a minor in art history. “There are studies conducted on how to keep artists in Boston, and we’re figuring out how to do it with a magazine. So connecting with the community has been super important to us.”
In support of her startup, Johnson has received an inaugural $5,000 Innovator Award from Northeastern’s Women Who Empower inclusion and entrepreneurship initiative. The awards recognize 19 women who are graduates or current students at Northeastern. The organization is distributing a total of $100,000 in grants to help fund 17 ventures.
Johnson was inspired by co-ops she served in New York and Los Angeles—in particular with ForYourArt, an independent clearinghouse of art information and events in California.“I saw the importance of arts journalism in other cities, and the role that it played for the artists that lived in those cities,” Johnson says. “That was something that was so lacking in Boston.
“I spent about two years going around and asking people, like, Hey, I bought this domain name, do you want to do something with it? And of course no one else is going to build your idea for you.”
As the first person from her family to graduate from college—having moved to Northeastern from San Juan Capistrano, California—Johnson was used to setting out on her own way. And so, in spite of her inexperience, she launched the Boston Art Review website in advance of the inaugural Boston Art Book Fair in 2017.
“We built the most rudimentary website ever: I think it had two pages and four articles,” Johnson says. “We made business cards and I went around to pretty much every table at the Boston Art Book Fair. It was there that I met people that really have become key stakeholders. After that point, we’ve operated as a volunteer team.”
The raw and unfinished nature of the project in its earliest days was attractive to artists who wanted to help create something for their community. They would meet in Johnson’s living room for workshop events to discuss what the magazine could be. Its title was ironic.
“The name is presumptuous—people think it’s this publication that’s been around for 50 years,” Johnson says. “I’ve met people who say, ‘Of course I know Boston Art Review, I’ve been reading it for decades.’ We picked this name that had some authority to it, and it turns out we were really scrappy, fresh-out-of-college students who were working on this.”
The editions are presented beautifully on 30-pound stock paper. Gloria Sutton, associate professor of contemporary art history at Northeastern, was a crucial ally as Johnson built a print magazine in the digital era. Sutton notes that Johnson has increased the reach of each issue without compromising on quality, enabling Boston Art Review to be available in museums and stores.
“Boston Art Review is a marquee project for Northeastern because it demonstrates how the classroom can be used to generate a public space for the exchange of cultural ideas,” Sutton says of Johnson. “While she founded and led Boston Art Review while still at Northeastern, she saw it as a platform to connect with a broader audience and amplify and extend the ideas of others, not just her own.”
Johnson is in the process of converting Boston Art Review to a nonprofit organization. The $5,000 award will provide her team with breathing space after operating hand-to-mouth for the past four years.
“I have this team of individuals who really believe in this work, and I’d like to figure out a way to make it more sustainable for all of us,” says Johnson, who for the past two years has worked full-time as a communications and development manager at MIT List Visual Arts Center. “Another thing we’re looking at is a collaborative workspace where members of our team could come, but also where we could invite artists to do something in the space, to have a space for our community. So between the nonprofit, looking for space, and making this a sustainable endeavor, we have our work cut out for us.”