National Digital Publishing Award for Sofia Misenheimer

Judges call Misenheimer "a driven individual who is only going to continue to make a positive impact through her work in the digital media landscape"
Sofia Misenheimer accepting the Emerging Excellence award at the National Digital Publishing Awards in Toronto on May 29John Packman

Talk about bucking the trend. It takes bold confidence to launch a magazine in this digital age. True, the bilingual arts and culture magazine Art/iculation also publishes online, but any concession to paper – glossy though it may be – requires faith.

Sofia Misenheimer has faith. And why not? The graduate from Concordia’s journalism program and, most recently, with a Master’s from McGill’s Art History and Communication Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies programs, received a huge boost in May when she won the Emerging Excellence award at the National Digital Publishing Awards in Toronto – no easy feat when you’re up against more established media, including The Walrus and the National Post.

Nominated by Dr. Alanna Thain, Director of the McGill Institute for Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies, who has long sponsored Art/iculation, Misenheimer attributes her success to the community-building capacity of the magazine.

“The magazine is sustained not only by the brilliant contributions of writers, artists, students, and professors, but by the sponsorship of nearly 20 university faculties, student organizations, and granting bodies, who see value in Art/iculation,” said Misenheimer, creator and editor of the magazine that received $1,500 from the Mary H. Brown Endowment Fund run by McGill’s Office of the Dean of Students.

“While completing the journalism program at Concordia in 2015, the chorus many professors kept repeating was ‘Print is dead, print is dead.’ I think there’s still space for print. Maybe not what we’re used to, or what we grew up with, but there is space for this kind of cultural document.” Pointing to the latest issue of the bi-annual magazine Art/iculation that she launched more than two years ago, Misenheimer said: “It’s different from reading online. This you can hold and the art is more vivid.”

Germination of a magazine

The idea for the bilingual magazine that offers “artful critical commentary around a broad range of issues” not generally covered by mainstream media outlets had gestated for a long while.

Working for a humanitarian non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., some years ago, took Misenheimer to Gaziantep, Turkey, where she interviewed Syrian activists and refugees fleeing their war-torn homeland. The experience encouraged her to write about the disastrous loss of cultural heritage perpetrated by the civil war in Syria, “which many told me represents a loss of identity”.

She finished the article after moving to Montreal and completing a final interview with a Syrian PhD graduate of the McGill Art History program, but found few takers. “That’s where the spark for the magazine started.”

Shortly after that, Misenheimer became co-president of McGill’s Art History and Communication Studies Graduate Student Association, which for years had organized annual conferences.

“The team and I decided to pursue a project that spoke to the strengths of both sides of our department, so we agreed on an art exhibition and a print magazine around the topic of Montreal 375 (marking the 375th anniversary of the city’s founding). The ensuing While No One Was Looking project questioned whose voices were heard and whose stories were included in the wider celebration of the event,” she said.

“And Art/iculation was born.”

“Montreal is made up of so many diverse communities, and yet most of the anniversary ads we saw were all-white and predominantly francophone – ignoring the incredible contributions of local Black communities, Indigenous communities, and immigrant communities to Montreal’s vibrant history and its contemporary arts and culture scenes. The goal was to create a platform where voices from those communities would not only be heard and their stories celebrated, but that would also compensate them for their work.”

Platform for marginalized voices

Members from marginalized communities, including those that are LGBTQ2SI+, feature prominently in Art/iculation. In fact, the magazine’s editorial team is comprised of members from those very communities “so that all work is treated with care and understanding.”

“Art/iculation Managing Editor Vincent Mousseau (U4 Social Work) and I have worked together for several years to create a platform that values all forms of knowledge sharing,” said Misenheimer, adding that the magazine does not exclude anyone on the basis of identity or educational status. “We’ve published articles and artworks from white, straight contributors, from established and emerging artists and scholars, and from people outside academia altogether. We prioritize quality content and underrepresented perspectives that challenge the mainstream,” she says.

Each call for submissions is sent to hundreds of student organizations and local community groups in Montreal and Quebec, “but the word always gets out way beyond, especially on Facebook and Twitter.”

Submissions have poured in from contributors across Canada, as well as from China, India, Barbados, Brazil, and France, among others.

Each issue centers on “a narrative thread.” The theme of last fall’s edition was “The art of healing.” The diverse lineup included poetry in English by Sloast, a Montreal “queer street artist and educator;” an essay in French by Paris-based social worker Marcia Burnier; an illustration and excerpt in French from a recent book by Montreal writer and illustrator duo Lucile de Pesloüan and Geneviève Darling; black and white comics by Jess Murwin, “a non-binary queer artist and programmer of mixed Indigenous (Mi’kmaq) and Settler descent;” a report on artistic responses to gender-based violence and rape on university campuses; a feature on the use of plants for healing by Pamela Fillion; and an interview with celebrated queer and trans artist of colour, Vivek Shraya, who recently published best-selling book, I’m Afraid of Men. All of the writing and artwork touched on the theme of healing through engagement with the arts.

The next issue will reflect on 50 years since the passage of the 1969 omnibus bill (Bill C-150) that ostensibly “decriminalized” homosexuality in Canada and since the Stonewall Riots in New York City that sparked queer liberation movements across North America. “The submissions we’ve selected for publication consider the largely invisibilized queer histories that have shaped the city of Montreal, and Canada more broadly, and offer comparative and historical perspective on the implications of national policy and international events on LGBT2SI+ communities,” said Misenheimer.

“Highest degree of craft and promise”

The National Digital Publishing Awards judges were impressed, announcing during the award presentation that her “early work in Canadian digital publishing shows the highest degree of craft and promise.”

They added that Misenheimer is “a driven individual who is only going to continue to make a positive impact through her work in the digital media landscape.”

Molly Cockburn, an administrative coordinator in the Office of the Dean of Students, said the Mary H. Brown Endowment Fund dispenses about $20,000 a year for various projects.

“I think about this magazine every day, I’m constantly working on it,” she said. “If I could keep it going for the next 30 years. That would be a gift.”

View Art/iculation online or pick-up a print copy at one of these locations in Montreal