"Houston is about to be the third largest city in the country. It’s already the third largest artist city,” says Paul Middendorf. We’re sitting at Doshi House with his collaborator Michael McFadden, and in front of me is the first issue of Flak Magazine (actually called Issue 0), a new quarterly publication dedicated to art created in and inspired by Houston.
Middendorf, who is originally from Missouri and who spent a good part of his career in the Pacific Northwest, first came to the city in 2010 to help curate The Big Show at Lawndale. He instantly fell in love.
“Portland was amazing,” he says, “so it took a lot for me to move. I enjoyed the initiative and the collaborations I saw here. I don’t know if it’s the Southern hospitality or what, but Houston becomes home very quickly.”
The spirit of collaboration is the theme of Flak Issue 0, which features artists who influenced both Middendorf and McFadden when they got involved in Houston’s art scene. The magazine’s inaugural issue was released on December 8 with a party at Space hL, Middendorf's East End arts nonprofit.
Together with McFadden and Elizabeth Rhodes, formerly at both CultureMap and Free Press Houston, the trio behind Flak hope to create an artist-centric publication that is less critique and more conversation. All three have written extensively about art for Houston publications, including Houstonia.
To wit, Issue 0 features work from Cody Ledvina, whom Middendorf met on that first trip to Houston, during a seance at the Joanna. It also features a Q&A with Ryan Hawk, whose work McFadden helped curate during a 2014 show at Art League Houston.
“The concept for Issue 0 is to showcase what we want to do with the magazine, the kind of artists we want to work with,” McFadden says.
“Especially because there are so many transplants and transitional artists in Houston,” Middendorf adds.
“Houston is the core,” McFadden says. “But all we require is that they have a meaningful connection with Houston.” Ledvina, for example, now lives in London.
One of the biggest goals for Flak is sustainability, beyond just relying on advertising. Issue 0 was funded in part by an IndieGoGo campaign along with a Let Creativity Happen grant from Houston Arts Alliance and the Houston Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs.
“Houston is losing a lot of its paper publications,” Middendorf says, referring to both Free Press Houston and Houston Press.
“There’s a lot to cover in the Houston art community,” McFadden says. “No one is covering everything, and we don’t want to do that either.”
Middendorf hopes the magazine can be an exhibition platform for work that might not fit into the traditional environment of a gallery, whether that be interviews, essays, or something else entirely. Flak’s creators are open to experimenting with the format and structure of the magazine, including future plans for a Digital Artist Residency.
“We wanted to create a publication that represents the city and its arts community,” McFadden writes in Issue 0. “And something that does so properly cannot be the same thing all the time.”