Andrea Vaca, the co-founder of Knack Magazine, was finishing her sophomore year at College of Santa Fe when the university announced it was closing. That was spring of 2009, and by summer, Laureate International had snapped up the school and transformed it into Santa Fe University of Art and Design. Vaca’s junior year at the new institution was strange but inspiring.
"There weren't as many people, so I was able to use the facilities any time I wanted to. They really trusted us," says Vaca. She was a photography student, and all-hours access to the labs and equipment allowed for unbridled creativity. The transition was a lesson in seizing artistic independence, as a long line of substitute instructors cycled through her program. "It wasn't as consistent as I would've liked, but it was overall a great experience," she says.
By fall of 2012, Vaca had graduated and completed internships at Outside Magazine and here at SFR. "Publishing looked like something that I wanted to be a part of," she says. "The way I saw myself doing it was to feature emerging artists." Her idea for a new publication became Knack Magazine, a digital showcase for artists that will release its 42nd issue this Friday. Vaca's small team of editors has published an issue almost every month for the past four years, engaging an ever-expanding community of artists. Santa Fe was their incubator.
Vaca kicked off the project by calling up a few old classmates, most of whom had since left Santa Fe. Her friend Will Smith, who transferred to CalArts when College of Santa Fe closed, became her first collaborator and co-founder. Ariana Lombardi, who had just graduated from the creative writing program at SFUAD, signed on as executive editor. As creative director and designer, Vaca engaged Jonathon Duarte, a former SFUAD design student who'd moved back to his hometown of El Paso, Texas, to finish his degree.
"It was a bit daunting. The way she described it to me was pretty much a full-on magazine," says Duarte. "That's something I had never done before." The team started brainstorming names, a process that Vaca describes as "all over the place." They considered Art Hungry, Mustard Seed, Paprika and Project Lucida. "All of my Knack files are still stored in a folder called 'Project Lucida,'" Duarte notes.
One thing they settled on immediately was its purpose. "It was really frustrating to try to get our work out there in Santa Fe and to be respected as emerging artists," says Vaca. "There's so much art in Santa Fe, but it's really focused on making money. You don't all of a sudden become a famous artist. It takes a lot of time and exploration. That's mostly why I was like, 'I've got to do something.'"
Vaca's new collaborators were on the same page: They wanted to support artists who were at the bottom of the ladder. The name Knack—meaning a forte for something—evolved out of this ethos. Many of the artists they knew possessed an excess of raw talent, but needed a platform to tell their stories and build reputations. Flexing their skills for digital design and marketing felt like a natural solution.
Knack Magazine's first issue debuted in October 2012 as a 110-page PDF file attached to an email. The team had compiled an email list of about 200 friends and family members. Duarte says Santa Fe's tight-knit creative community lit up as they got the magazine off the ground. "Here, there's a more readily available network of artists," he says. "They know what it's like to be a young artist and not have a voice, especially in this age when people are able to consume art more ubiquitously."
The first Knack email included a call to artists and writers, and the submission guidelines swiftly passed from hand to hand. Since then, they've featured up-and-coming local creatives such as Brad Trone, Michael J Wilson, Austin Eichelberger and Laura San Roman, along with artists from across the United States, Europe and beyond. Knack now has over 800 subscribers, between its email list and other platforms. The magazine's readership and circle of collaborators has extended far past the editors' personal networks.
"Every time an artist submits to Knack, that's a success," says Vaca. "That's how this project keeps going. As the staff, we don't think of it as just ours. It's for everybody." Duarte returned to Santa Fe in 2016, but Vaca had moved back to her hometown of Chicago in 2015. Lombardi calls China her home, and travels frequently. Several other editors have rotated in and out, including Smith. The entire editorial team has still never been in the same room for a meeting, but Vaca says that's a reality of such an expansive project.
Still, Vaca has some analog plans for Knack. She wants to launch a print edition and line of merchandise, and open a brick-and-mortar space in Chicago. She's also considering applying for Masters programs in publishing. In the meantime, she highly values the freedom of the digital space. "Artists don't need restrictions," she says. "There are no rules, but getting to the point of seeing that is really hard."
For artists and art enthusiasts, the first step is one email away. Subscribe or submit at email@example.com. Knack Magazine's 42nd issue is due to hit your inbox on Friday, Jan. 27.