Feature: Open Spaces
This story originally in the Mountain Gazette Sunday email — our weekly newsletter. Subscribe to the newsletter here
A magazine about “perpetual movement of art and emotion into space”, the meeting of art, travel, and the wild world
This week, I (virtually) met with Yara Akkari, founder of Open Spaces magazine. Open Spaces is bi-annual print magazine that highlights the intersection of art, travel, and the wild world. Her current three issues focus on the “open path to experience that takes you to a destination; the state of transit, the perpetual movement of art and emotion into space.”
Zooming from her home country of France, Yara shares with me the story of how Open Spaces came to be, and both the struggles and freedoms of being a truly independent publication.
“I guess it started with me buying a lot of magazines. I always loved print,” laughs Yara. “I just loved growing up and seeing them on the coffee table. For my magazine, I wanted to bring together the world of arts – I grew up in a family of architects – and the world of outdoor and travel.”
Yara began her Open Spaces journey three years ago, when she was working in the development sector providing solar energy to developing countries. “I loved my work, and it was really just how it brought me to so many new and different places.”
Working with local populations gave Yara a sense of connection – both to the human and the natural world – that drew her to make something that focuses on places, its people, and their stories. “Whether it's a physical place, an artist, and Airbnb, even – I wanted to have articles that go deeper into those topics. I wanted to avoid people flipping through the pages and saying ‘That's very Instagrammable, I want to go there for the social media aspect’ because, then you miss the whole point, that whole understanding of the land, of why this piece of art is there…so I really wanted to go deeper in that.”
As I anxiously await the third issue Yara graciously offered to mail me, I asked what some of these stories consist of.
“It usually starts with me encountering a place through travel, but never just for the purpose of the magazine. It would actually be that everything in the magazine comes the other way around.”
The latest issue of Open Spaces features stories and images of Costa Rica, the theme sparked by Yara’s recent trip to the country. “I was there with my husband for three weeks this year, and I just loved the country, mainly for the stories of the local population, and their relationship with nature, and how they make sure that the environment is kept safe even though there's a big growth in their tourism…
Another example of this is when I traveled to Sea Ranch two years ago, a coastal town in Northern California. I had heard about Sea Ranch because of my love for architecture, and I was always interested in seeing these houses built on the ocean, and the story behind that community, how it was built. So we went to stay in one of the houses there, and I was just like ‘Wow, this is one of those places that you don't encounter very often.’ A year-and-a-half later, I contacted a photographer from LA. I told her about the spot and then connected her with an architectural focus writer from San Francisco. They didn't know each other, but the two of them went there and spent three days photographing the place and writing about it. It was beautiful and very organic.”
The process: a labor of passion, and staying true to
From the get-go, Yara knew what she didn’t want her magazine to be: unapproachable, too artsy, or ad-heavy.
“Art magazines are usually very edgy, and sometimes it’s just not approachable. And then you have the travel magazines where ads take up so much of the space. Being so small, I struggled to get ads in the beginning. Now, I’m happy that my revenue comes mainly from sales, ads only covered maybe a third from the latest issue.”
Like MG, Open Spaces works with purely original content from their contributors. Also like MG, Yara understands the time it takes to collect and cultivate it all.
“That’s one thing that kind of surprised me; it took about six months to create one issue. The photos you see are of course photographs that have never been published, or they were taken on a journey specifically for the article. And so the whole process takes a long time, especially with a very small team of freelance writers, photographers, a graphic designer, and an art director.”
Yara says she does her own distribution, and while this may to some seem time-consuming, for Open Spaces, it is key.
“I make it a point to connect personally with independent bookstores so that I can have that close connection with them, as well as the print house I work with here in France. They’ve been printing for more than 50 years. I really value their opinions, they give me great feedback.”
I asked Yara if she felt like she was taking a risk when starting the magazine.
“Honestly, no. When I started, I didn't care if I would sell. Obviously I hoped to sell enough to cover my expenses, and I wanted to grow, for sure. But what was more important than that was just staying true to myself and to the stories I thought should be told, and reporting them correctly.”
Yara learned early on that a big challenge that comes with being independent is the constant learning curve, and kind of having to figure it out as you go.
“You always have to be learning; you make mistakes, but you have to remain a bit flexible and open. And you have to also be fine with saying ‘Hey, I’m just starting out.’ Staying humble, not playing ‘the game’, the U.S. marketing game of being, ‘Oh, I'm so big, and I'm collaborating with this big brand’. For me, the challenge is letting time kind of teach you.”
Starting small, with little budget, and attempting to stay true to the heart of the magazine is the grind of independent publishing.
But this is also where you find the real win of the art – and makes the drudgerous grind feel more like zealous pursuit.
“Definitely the benefit of it all is the journey. It’s the love you put in it.” Yara says.
“Being independent, you decide the direction. And I think letting it grow organically is amazing in a way; the people you meet, the feedback you get being independent. People kind of understand the struggle, and they say ‘Wow. You created a print – who does a print nowadays?’ And I think they really admire the fact that you're doing it out of real passion and not just out of a business plan that's going to make you rich.”
The support for Open Spaces started off strong. A mock-up campaign of the magazine on Kickstarter with a goal of $10,000. “I ended up getting close to $24,000,” says Yara. “It was crazy.”
Yara’s fourth issue of Open Spaces will be available next year. Other upcoming exciting endeavors? Group trips and travel guides.
“One thing I’m really hoping to work on soon is creating guides for hotels. I worked with one hotel chain to start creating a guide for their Massachusetts location in Berkshire. Helping them by expanding experiences without going into the travel agency thing would be great. Another big thing is hosting group trips. I’ve been organizing weekend trips for people like me, who are interested in experiencing new places, and I actually took people to these places I had previously been – Jackson Hole, New Mexico – places that have so much to offer in terms of art, culture, history. I’d like to do more of those in the future, because it’s a really good revenue stream for the magazine.”
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