A couple of years ago, Brian Hieggelke, the editor and publisher of Newcity, traveled to Brazil with his friend Ted Fishman, who was speaking at a summit on globalization. While he was there, Hieggelke realized a few things:
First, there’s a vibrant art culture in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, full of artists who are eager to talk about their work and also eager to sell it. Second, there are lots of tourists in both cities who speak English, though not necessarily Portuguese. Third, there was nothing to connect these English-speaking tourists with this vibrant art culture.
During those two weeks in São Paulo, Hieggelke built up an extensive network of writers and artists. “It was like nowhere else in the world,” he says. “Ted arranged things, but people were so generous with their time. It was so remarkable. They were taking me around, showing me things with no expectations.”
All of which gave Hieggelke an idea: what if there was an English-language website devoted to the visual art scene in Brazil, sort of like, say, Newcity? Or how about Newcity Brazil?
The more he thought about it, the less far-fetched it seemed. “As Newcity became more virtual,” he explains, “I realized we’ve become less tethered to space. You can do your work from anywhere in the world. At the summit on globalization [where Fishman was speaking], a lot of people were talking about globalization as an economic force. We started thinking, what about globalization as a cultural force? São Paulo seemed like a perfect place to test that idea.”
Newcity Brazil launched in February, at the same time as Newcity‘s annual birthday celebration and, not coincidentally, a special issue on globalization in Chicago. Hieggelke has decided to start very small. The publication will be online only and cover only visual art in São Paulo.
“Art is a medium that doesn’t require understanding of another language,” Hieggelke explains. “We want to play to our strength.”
All the writers will be local to Brazil, but all the editing will be done in Chicago by Jason Foumberg, an arts writer who has shifted over to the new project. At the moment, the new site publishes one story a week, but Hieggelke is actively recruiting more writers and hopes to ramp it up to three to five posts a week by fall and launch a Rio edition in 2016.
“The reception has been good,” Hieggelke says. “People are excited about the idea in São Paulo. We’re not trying to monetize it, so we can have a slower rollout. I hope by the time we get to ArtRio [a major art fair in September], we’ll have more of a critical mass and a frequent schedule. We want to have the greatest amount of arts coverage in São Paulo, to be more in depth and get beyond guidebook varnish.”
If all goes well, Newcity Brazil may branch out to cover visual arts in other countries, or perhaps other forms of art, such as music and dance, in Brazil. If it fails, he can chalk it up to a not-very-costly adventure.
“It’s a new idea for us,” Hieggelke admits. “It doesn’t fit in with what Newcity is doing in an obvious way. It’s a bit of a try to do something crazy and big and see what happens without betting the ranch. Trying new things is how you learn. It keeps you fresh. Everything about this is new. It’s reminding me of being a very young person and learning about the world for the first time.”