July 17, 2014
Barnard Zine Library launches MTA Residency
by Eliza Gilmore
Remember when Amtrak announced its writer’s residency program this past March and the entire literary community went crazy? Remember then, when Amtrak dashed all our hopes and dreams by claiming “absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy” any writing samples submitted in the application? I can’t think of a more devastating betrayal this year. Okay, maybe when Game of Thrones introduced one of its coolest characters ever (spoiler alert) only to have his brains dashed out. But even George R. R. Martin gave us some poetic justice to mitigate the blow…
Lucky for the creative railfan, not all hope is lost. Last month, Barnard Zine Library proposed the first “MTA Zine Residency”, a peaceful two-day occupation of NYC public transportation for writers, artists, and zine makers. In reaction to the Amtrak fiasco, the Barnard event promised full transparency: “We won’t pay for your Metrocard, but we also won’t demand to own your stuff!”
The four-borough journey began last Friday, July 11th, when thirteen people boarded the Queens bound F train at the Fourth Avenue/Ninth Street stop and formed what the New York Times calls, “a sort of mobile salon”. The team rode the car out to Jamaica, back out to Coney Island, and returned to Manhattan by 4 PM. The event continued on Monday, when the group reconvened to finish their zines on the Staten Island Ferry. Among the occupants were a cartoonist, a subway map decoupager, and the event organizers—the Barnard zine librarian Jenna Freedman, and archivist Shannon O’Neill.
Maybe it’s not as scenic as riding on the California Zephyr through the Rockies, but there’s something about the subway that magnetizes artist types, and it’s not just the cheap fare. Ezra Pound, Duke Ellington, and Bruce Davidson are just a few examples of artists who found the rhythm, the people, and the darkness of the subway to be just as inspirational as anything John Denver crooned about. And let’s not forget that NYC public transport can serve as a canvas just as well as a muse. Add to this repertoire of functions that of a studio, and you have all the makings for an artist commune. It makes sense then, that several contemporary authors have cited the train as integral to their creative processes, and that the MTA Zine Residency should exist. As Erin Faye, who rode the train on Friday, stated, “You can have the introspective time to create, and also have camaraderies with the other people on the train.”
Besides, the subway has air conditioning. So get down there and do something productive.