The impact of Coronavirus on the cultural sector has been catastrophic across the country. And it’s been felt acutely across the North East and our usually vibrant music and arts scene. We along with every other theatre, music venue, arts centre, community hub, performance arena and public space has been, until recently, forced to close. A normally packed social scene of gigs, performances, events, and releases as come to a shuddering halt.
Claire Dupree is editor of NARC Magazine. Much-loved and highly revered, NARC is a free independent guide to alternative music, art, literature, comedy, film, theatre and culture for Newcastle and the North East, so is usually brimming with the very best of what is happening in the region every month. Not anymore. But, in spite of seeing her beloved art scene decimated, Claire, like everyone else, is adapting; August’s edition of NARC is the fifth digital edition she’s put out since March; something which the Magazine had never even considered before:
“We’ve had some good responses to the digital magazine in the way we have conducted it and the sort of articles we are putting in. It would be really easy to go doom and gloom on the whole thing, but I’ve really tried to keep it positive and celebrate the stuff that’s happening rather than staying ‘we’re all having a terrible time'.” Claire told GCT Marketing and Programming Coordinator, Scott Forbes.
“It’s harder to find [the content], people are being a little bit more reactive and bands, in particular, might have had something ready before lockdown and are just putting it out there, without thinking about their marketing strategy.”
Normally, NARC would print 6,000 copies of the magazine a month which are distributed to 195 outlets, including theatres, venues, cinemas, cafes, art galleries, and cultural spaces. And there’s something tangible about the physical product that gives back to the industry that the magazine covers.
“Every time I want to reference back to an article or to a format or something I go back to my desk where my magazine normally is and it’s not there. I’m feeling sad at the loss of the physical product and a little bit concerned about how that looks in the future.
“I like the fact that people get a different experience online, that we’ve got clickable links and stuff like that, that’s really good. Then there’s the argument that if people can get it online then people won’t go out there and pick up a copy, and it’s not just about a magazine, it’s about going in to a venue like Gosforth Civic Theatre and buying a coffee or a ticket, or a record in a shop or whatever it might be. So it’s not always about us, it’s about people going out to another place to pick up the magazine and buy something else.”
This is why we love to stock NARC, and other great local culture magazines like The Crack and NE Volume. It’s another way that people are brought together, that sharing of knowledge and love of a certain band or venue really builds a community. Can digital versions work in the same way, or run side by side?
“I don’t know, maybe at the beginning it will be a 50/50 thing where we do half of our normal print run. Some venues might not be open yet, some venues might not want to take them so we might do a bit of both. We can’t print until there is a significant amount of events happening and until there is some advertising revenue, but printing compared to digital; the costs obviously sky rocket. But I’m desperate to get it back out there properly.”
There is no advertising revenue coming in, compared to 20-25 paid adverts per month making the magazine sustainable. Claire is keeping the magazine running using income from the small amount of self-employed benefit she was able to claim, with every penny she receives going straight on paying her designer and website editor.
“That was important as I didn’t want to lose any staff, so it’s good to have them still doing stuff and involved. Vicky runs a small design company so it’s important to keep her supported as she’s been with us for so long.”
Like everyone else in the sector we are leaning on each other and helping out. It goes to show that it’s not just venues and artists who are struggling; the knock on effects of this crisis are huge for the arts, and NARC’s example typifies that. But Claire is still fighting to help spread the word about great talent and causes in our region that deserve support.
“Apart from anything I want to make sure that everyone knows that we’re here to write about stuff. We’ve never been the sort of people to run after money all the time so more than anything I want content, I want to keep our audience engaged and help these venues and artists until they’re ready to be back up on their feet, so that’s the most important thing to me at the moment.”