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Artists of color decide who gets attention in Search Party magazine

Tara C. Mahadevan worked as a freelance journalist for years before securing a grant from the Luminary that allowed her to start a new, annual publication in St. Louis.
Jeremy D. Goodwin
St. Louis Public Radio
Tara C. Mahadevan worked as a freelance journalist for years before securing a grant from the Luminary that allowed her to start a new, annual publication in St. Louis.

Freelance journalist Tara C. Mahadevan tweeted last spring that St. Louis needed a new publication covering arts and lifestyle — a publication that focuses on Black artists and other artists of color.

Shortly after that, she applied for her first-ever grant and got it.

Soon she was putting together the team behind Search Party magazine.

The results will be available when the magazine is published sometime around the end of October. The Search Party team will celebrate its debut issue with a launch party at Profield Reserve, a St. Louis streetwear shop. Another issue is planned in a year.

The grant came fromthe Luminary’s Futures Fund, a collaboration between the Cherokee Street art gallery and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Mahadevan is a native of Frontenac who now lives in Chicago, where she contributes to various publications. Some of her collaborators have made the same move, but their focus with Search Party magazine is squarely on St. Louis.

“There’s so much going on in St. Louis, and I’ve always been interested in the artists and the people behind the scenes,” Mahadevan said. “It was really important to take the things I’ve learned and try to create opportunity or a moment or build something that’s beneficial for everybody.”

The debut issue includes an essay by Mvstermind about why he stayed in St. Louis rather than pursue his music in a larger city and the link to a playlist compiled by deejay Police State, with the intention, he wrote in the magazine, “of covering the many different sounds of Black music in St. Louis.”

The Search Party team will provide updates about the magazine launch on social media.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Jeremy D. Goodwin spoke with Mahadevan about the impetus behind Search Party magazine, and some of the artists who contributed to the first issue.

The logo for a soon-to-be-launched magazine focusing on artists of color in St. Louis.
Search Party
The logo for a soon-to-be-launched magazine focusing on artists of color in St. Louis.

Jeremy D. Goodwin: What is the hole in the St. Louis media landscape that you are trying to fill with Search Party magazine?

Tara C. Mahadevan: In terms of artist-led publications, that was important to me: to create a publication that was led by artists, led by creatives. I just felt that was lacking here — something artist-driven and collaborative. And not only the intersection of music and lifestyle, which I think is often what publications target, but also fine art. And really spotlighting digital artists.

Also key was that it really centers on underrepresented communities. Everyone who worked on the magazine is either Black or POC.

Goodwin: How many people are working on Search Party magazine?

Mahadevan: It’s a three-person team, but including everyone who contributed it’s about 25 people. I’m the editor-in-chief. Ryan Brown, who goes by Big Esco, is the creative director. Stephon White, who goes by phonzz, did the design and art direction.

Goodwin: Let’s talk about some of the other people who are involved. Shana B, a hip-hop artist; Trina Rager, a photographer and digital designer; Noel Spiva, a visual artist and graphic designer. It’s interesting to look at the people involved in this and see rappers, photographers, visual designers. People who are artistic in all sorts of ways.

Mahadevan: Yeah, and I feel that often when those fields are covered, it’s very separated. You’ll have a fine arts magazine, and then you’ll have a music and lifestyle magazine.

It turned out really cool, all the different kinds of visual art we got, from paintings to illustrations, graphic design.

Goodwin: And you were working exclusively with Black artists and other artists of color. Why is that piece important?

Mahadevan: In the writing world, in the media world, a lot of gatekeepers are white men. Not to say that white artists and white creators shouldn’t be, but historically —

Goodwin: There’s not a shortage of white people in media.

Mahadevan: Right, right.

Goodwin: Including in this building. I’m speaking to you as a white man who covers arts and culture in St. Louis.

Mahadevan: For me, I’m Indian, I’m a woman. And I just want to create a space where everybody can really be heard, where all these underrepresented communities can be heard. It’s just beautiful to have all of it together in one space.

St. Louis is very DIY. I think there are a lot of talented people here, and sometimes they don’t really get the shine they deserve.

Goodwin: What kind of infrastructure would the scene benefit from?

Mahadevan: I think more education around what you can do in the industry that isn’t — if you’re not a rapper, you’re not a singer. You can be a manager, you can be a publicist. I think there’s a lot of avenues where people can do things.

Goodwin: What does it mean to have an artist-driven publication?

Mahadevan: I think it really speaks to what’s happening in St. Louis, and all these people that are doing things that when I grew up here I didn’t see. Even coming back here after college, I didn’t see people starting podcasts and opening stores and making clothes to the degree I see it now. I wasn’t even clued into women who are rapping here. Not that there weren’t: There were.

Just the volume [of creative people] is really cool, and I know I’m just scratching the surface.

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.