JAWS: Starting a Student Project

Francesca Peschier, CCW PhD student, wears many UAL hats, including administrator of Performance Research Network, Creative Opportunities assistant, associate lecturer and member of Process Arts. She is also the founder and Editor in Chief of JAWS: The Journal of Arts Writing by Students. The bi-annual journal was originally published through funding from the Student Union, before being picked up by the ‘publishers of original thinking’, Intellect. The next issue of JAWS is due out in autumn 2014.

‘In the back of a taxi heading to the Intellect Books Editors convention a few weeks ago, I encountered another UAL based Editor. Discussing our babies, I started to explain JAWS, the Journal of Arts Writing by Students in my best proud mother tone. “Oh that,” she sighed, “I think I’ve seen you speak about that about five times.”

I reiterate this anecdote, not to prove that everyone is bored of me popping up around UAL in various guises, but how much pushing you have to do to get a project like JAWS off the ground. JAWS began as an extra curricular project lead by myself and other members of CCW’s MRes Arts Practice in 2012. We felt we had spotted a gap in the market for a “studio space” for academic arts writing- an experimental platform where students and first year graduates could judge for themselves what they felt were the most current and relevant themes and have the chance to disseminate new thinking.

Following moral support from CCW (in particular from our champions Paul Ryan, Malcolm Quinn, Cate Elwes and Donald Smith) and financial support from the Students Union, we put out three editions completely edited, written, reviewed and designed by students.  During a visit from the late head of Intellect, Masood Yazdani, I asked him to take a look at a copy of JAWS to give us his professional opinion. The incident stuck in my mind particularly as my vintage skirt had ripped in half at the back when I nervously approached him so I spent the whole conversation with my back glued to the wall. Despite this, Masood rang me from his train back to Intellect saying that he loved the journal and he would love to publish it.

What I wanted to share in this blog post, beyond my pride in how hard everyone has worked to get JAWS to where we are now, expecting our first professional, international edition in the next few weeks, was what I have learnt so far. Unusually for a scenography researcher, I am not a great proponent of Rancière, but I do feel I have become something akin to his ignorant schoolmaster in this role. I have found myself the editor of a professional arts/practice as research focused journal despite not being an artist or a researcher who employs practice.  I am also not an entrepreneurial, branding or PR expert. I am not even that great at spelling or spotting that bane of an editor’s job: ‘misuse of inverted commas’. As Paul Ryan said, we who started the JAWS project simply saw something we wanted was missing and tried to fulfill it.

So therefore, in the spirit of blog posts, I wanted to share my five, not quite tips, but perhaps things I have encountered (often unexpectedly) during this experience:

  1. Accept that most ‘collaborations’ will unavoidably become a benign dictatorship. I have often feared that JAWS has been in danger of becoming a cult of personality with my blue-haired bonce popping up everywhere as the main point of contact. At JAWS we make sure that the co-editors and image editor (who is a BA student that also heads up JAWS as a society) make decisions and lead elements of the project. However, there will always have to be someone who has the final responsibility, not just with decisions but also in terms of organization and delegation.
  1. Organization systems are key, and don’t be afraid of them evolving. Oh how I wish we had had our Intellect editors’ training a year ago! We use a combination of Google apps, doc spreadsheets and dropbox to keep track of submissions and reviews. With any big project like a publication or exhibition, limit your administrators to a maximum of three, otherwise there are emails and dropbox documents flying about all over the piece and no one knows which is the latest version. Social media is fantastic for engaging institutions and students outside UAL, learn to love 140 characters.
  1. Be prepared to hold hands. We are not the same as a normal academic journal as most of our contributors have never submitted an article before. Whilst sparing no wrath for those who send you their entire dissertation using you as a free proof reading service or those who don’t even take a glance at the guidelines and send concrete-block-style experimental poetry, you will have to hold the hand of others. I think whilst this particularly applies to JAWS, this will prove true for any large project. You will end up providing extensive technical help, in my case explaining a hundred times how peer review tracking boxes of word works and why photos taken on iPhone aren’t 300dpi, through to pastoral and academic care, with JAWS reviewers steering writers to key texts and arguments they might have missed. In the end it is rewarding, but you are going to spend a lot of time on this.
  1. People are busy and people are flakey. Everyone is busy, you have to learn to not take it as an insult on the importance of your own time when you end up drowning in work and terribly dull admin to make things happen when others turn it down. Initial enthusiasm can quickly disappear for a project when real life takes over. If you can’t take it on, sometimes things have to be dropped. Try not to take it personally.
  1. Funding is hard. Ah the permanent cry of the life of a postgrad. Even with the most successful projects, funding is an elusive unicorn. You will end up spending your own money on big projects and as much as I have stamped my feet in the past, it is systematic of getting something off the ground (a lesson from Dragons Den). I had high hopes after we got a professional publisher who covers all our marketing and printing costs but other things mount up. Travel to conventions and the publishers, posting journals out, website charges etc etc. Every penny you are granted you will have to justify repeatedly until you feel like the Victorian deserving poor in a Dickens novel.

These experiences are not supposed to put a damper on starting a student led project, they are just things I wish I had thought more about and which became key. I would still do it all again tomorrow and I look forward to seeing the journal continue on, even when I (hopefully) eventually graduate and can’t serve as editor in chief anymore. In fact, I especially look forward to handing it on to future students and seeing the publication change and evolve.’

If you would like to submit a piece, peer review or find out more about JAWS please email Frank at [email protected]. The current call for papers runs until the end of April 2015 and full details can be found at www.jawsjournal.com

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