It’s Thursday afternoon, and though the Free City Press’s submission deadline was yesterday, Editor-in-Chief J.P. King is still hashing out ideas with his writers. Post-deadline can be a stressful time for an editor, but pedestrians peering through the storefront will see only a calm, old-time newspaper man – suspenders, typewriter and all.
For the month of August, King ran a pop-up newspaper office out of the Whippersnapper Gallery (594B Dundas Street W.). On September 2, Free City Press will release its first and last issue. Not a victim of media consolidation, Free City Press’s short print run is instead an artistic choice. Where conventional papers seek to maximize readership, Free City Press seeks to maximize community space and content.
“The premise of the project is to open the space, invite people to come in and have conversations. Ultimately this project is in service of the community,” says King.
King has papered the windows of the gallery with questions, organized reading groups and asked strangers to fill out a survey on their “life of quality”- all with the hope that one of these avenues will be a means to a conversation.
Whippersnapper is uniquely positioned to host such a project. The Toronto artist run centre promotes the work of new generation Canadian artists. Situated at the foot of Kensington Market, King feels the gallery’s location is central to the project’s success.
“As soon as you walk into [Kensington], everyone is granted permission to do things they might not otherwise. The kinds of people that come to this neighbourhood are open to engaging with others.”
Engagement is a key component of the Free City Press project. King is facilitating contributions and conversations with the unique cross section of life that passes by Whippersnapper’s front door. In the hour that I sit with him, no fewer than five people enter the threshold to find out more, consult with their editor or ask for directions.
“What I’ve realized about this space is that if you are patient and open with people, they are very generous with their time and willing to share all sorts of fascinating information.”
The community contributed a variety of articles, illustrations and photographs tying into King’s central themes of waste, collecting, work and art. Today, contributor Sandy works with J.P. to shape an article on slow literature – an approach to reading and writing that encourages the reader to slow down.
In a way, this is exactly what King has achieved. He has created an eddy for the wayward and curious to gather and connect. The newspaper is a vehicle by which to claim community space.
For those looking to get out into the fabric of the community, King has created the Nomadesk – a nomadic writer’s residency made out of a wheelchair and typewriter.
“I see it as a reporting outreach tool,” he says. King pushes his writers through the streets of Kensington Market to observe the scene and collect their thoughts. “As an editor, I work in service of them – to keep them moving.”
Free City Press’s greatest success seems to be in turning a gallery space, which many find intimidating, into a vital community hub. King attributes this success to creating a space which doesn’t centre around an “ask”. He worries that our preoccupation with commerce and exchange in the urban environment creates a barrier to meaningful interaction.
“I wanted to make something that seemed entirely removed from the economic stream. We all put up barriers as we walk through the world, for fear that if we make eye contact or engage with people that we then owe them something.”
King insists that in a city where we must share space, it is essential to feel comfortable engaging with others. The newspaper is a unique vehicle for creating this kind of engagement.
Free City Press launches at Whippersnapper Gallery on Friday, September 2, 7-9PM. JP is looking for newspaper boys and girls to help get the paper out to the masses September 2-4. If you’re interested, please contact him at email@example.com. For more information about the Free City Press project, please visit www.freepaper.ca. For more information about Whippersnapper, please visit www.whippersnapper.ca
Photographs by Hilary Best