Our Homes Zine Launch
'What does home mean to you?'
Every event Short Supply produces can feel like we're starting from the ground up. Working with new artists, in new spaces, on different projects and programmes. Speeding towards deadlines and riding the excitement of making something new, we can sometimes forget the important stuff.
For the Our Homes Zine Launch, we wanted to learn more about how we could provide better access in the events we produce. We invited artist and writer Bea Albanese to give us some feedback on what she thought of the event, particularly from an accessibility standpoint, and how it could be better. We've used this to inform our future events, creating a checklist of action points to take forward. Below, we share Bea's feedback more widely, in the hope that others can learn from her expertise too.
Rather than some events, where you’re expected to enter and explore in isolation from anyone involved, I was greeted at the entrance of the event space by Grace and Mol of Short Supply. Being welcomed in was a nice feeling, reminiscent of visiting someone’s home – them greeting you at the door and inviting you to, for a time, be a part of their home life – which is essentially what the zine offers to the reader.
Before I explored the space, I was given the opportunity to take a sticker to wear, to indicate to other attendees how much interaction with them I would prefer. The sheet explaining the stickers read: “Do you like interaction? [Red circle] No interaction please. [Yellow circle] Interaction on my terms. [Green circle] Happy to interact.” The wording felt well thought out, avoiding pressuring language and allowing the individual to choose based on how they felt, without judgement of that decision. People were also informed that they could swap their sticker for another colour at any time, if they wanted to; something that I saw several people do over the course of the evening.
I really enjoy the use of the traffic light colours in communication, and particularly like how it was implemented here for the stickers. As someone who is colour-blind, I sometimes struggle when people use colour to represent specific things, but traffic lights are a familiar set of colours to many, and the particular shades used were still clear to me; the red dark, the yellow light, the green a medium shade (sometimes red and orange can be too similar to differentiate, and the same goes for yellow and green).
Some very gentle music was playing in the background, removing the possibility of uncomfortable silences. Thankfully, communication was encouraged in this space and attendees seemed comfortable to make the most of that, so it was a long while before I even noticed the music. I could always hear at least a couple of conversations going at any one time, yet it stayed at a level I didn’t find overwhelming – perhaps a combination of the ample size of the room and the quietness of the background music.
The layout of the room seemed well planned, with enough space around the different areas (Our Homes zine table, zine-making table, zine library) and access around the room for people using mobility aids.
Physical copies of the Our Homes zine (along with goodies such as stickers) were at a central table near the entrance, with everything appearing in reach for wheelchair users.
A selection of pages from the zine had been blown up to A1(?) size and were hung along the right-hand wall; this I loved! The prints were high-quality, and their size really allowed you to stop in front of them and delve deeply into their detail. In between these were hung bios of the artists, as well as some additional text on the ‘Making’ of their contributions. Because they weren’t inside the actual zine, they wouldn’t have been part of the audio description, and the text was quite small, which looked nice on the wall as it drew the eyes to the artwork, but was difficult to read unless very close. Also, the height of some of these information plaques could have been slightly high for a wheelchair user, particularly when taking into account the small font size.
I really liked the inclusion of the digital and audio described zine as accessible within the event space via the poster (as opposed to sending it out after the event in an email, for example). I listened to the audio described version online following the event and found it both enjoyable and enlightening – it’s amazing what eyes can miss!
QR codes are a great way to provide quick and simple access to media online, so it’s good that this was utilised. I have seen them used more than once as a ‘one size fits all’ approach to access – providing with them no other means of access – so as someone who’s phone can’t utilise QR codes, I was glad to see a web address provided. On the down side, the address provided was quite long and cumbersome <https://padlet.com/DrawnPoorlyZine/vyw1bv9fx5w3jkx5> - it took me 3 goes typing it into my phone to get to the page.
A URL shortener/customiser, such as Bitly or Cuttly might have been a better option, and also (I think) would allow you to track how many times the link was followed to measure its impact. It might have also been useful to provide a QR code and shortened link for both the digital zine and the audio description, them being on separate parts of the website; I found it helpful to have the digital version open in one tab and the audio description playing in another, but it was fiddly to set up, and if I was low on energy or had brain fog then I might not have tried.
Another way of accessing the zine was provided at the rear of the room in the form of a big-screen slideshow. This was a really nice use of the technology available in the space. My only pointers would be that it felt a little too fast to read (if someone had wanted to just use the screen to access the work, rather than the physical zine). Also – and I admit I don’t know how technically difficult this is – but it might have been even better to have something (even just a wireless mouse) near the screen so that someone viewing the slideshow could control when to move to the next page. Alternatively, a sign next to the screen might have said ‘if our slides our moving a little too speedy or a bit sluggish, let us know and we can adjust the settings for you.’ My own experience of arts events like exhibitions is that it can feel intimidating to ask for specific access needs just for myself, but inviting people to do so might be a way of reducing that internal pressure.
A BSL interpreter was on-hand during the whole evening, and seemed to enjoy exploring the zine library, set up on a small table next to him. I’m not sure if it was clear that he was a BSL interpreter, as I wasn’t aware of this for at least a couple of hours, but this might have been something I missed.
The zine library was an inspiring collection of material that had been brought along to the event by the organisers. I could have spent hours just in that spot reading through them, but the couple I did pick up were wonderful. Again, this might have been something that was there and I missed, but it would have been great to see something advising visitors where they could access more zines, whether that was through websites or local shops/libraries.
The event brought together diverse groups. Before this, I don’t think I had ever been in a room with so many disabled people that identify as LGBTQ+, and I hadn’t realised what I’d been missing; it was extremely refreshing and I experienced some very interesting discussions.
On one side of the room, a circle of people had formed, which I was told had developed naturally during the event. There were enough chairs within close proximity for those who needed them, as well as wheelchair access, and the circle expanded and contracted over the evening as people moved in and out of the group. It definitely felt like I wasn’t the only person enjoying the in-person contact with local people I could relate to.
There was a dedicated area for zine making, with lots of seating and materials, and there were always at least a couple of people there. It was really wonderful to see people working individually, in pairs, and in groups, in order to create their very own zines – some perhaps for the first time. It’s testament to how welcoming the space felt that so many were comfortable getting stuck in.
From a sustainability viewpoint, it would have been good to see second-hand materials on the table for people to use. Things such as magazines, packaging, and excess promotional material are all perfect zine-making materials. Not only could this have been an opportunity to bring new life to something that was destined for either the bin or hypothetical recycling, but it could have inspired people to look around their own homes and consider what might be reusable, either to turn into a zine or something else.
Around the table, along with the crafting materials, were sheets of prompts to help inspire what you might like to create a zine about (classic questions such as ‘What’s your favourite animal’ and ‘If you had a superpower, what would it be’). There were also little sheets offering a web address (much simpler this time) of where you could find “a step-by-step guide on how to fold and make your mini-zine”. Although it certainly didn’t seem to deter people on the day, it could have been helpful for some if there had been a physical copy of the guide there on hand.
Also (and this may seem simple, but I get asked this question a lot), it could have been helpful if there had been a little ‘What is a zine?’ poster near the door. I know that you wouldn’t explain what a portrait is, or short film, but whenever I’m talking about zines to friends, there’s often one that hasn’t heard of them. Another question I get: ‘Is it z-ee-n or z-eye-n?’ Giving the public an insight into the art form might help them better understand the work, and also inform them so they can pass that knowledge onto others.
‘What does home mean to you?’
At the far end of the room, in front of the slideshow screen, was a series of 3 boards hanging from an outstretched line (reminiscent of a washing line); each reading ‘What does home mean to you?’ Beside them hung a peg basket so that you could attach your answers to the line. As an alternative, there were post-it notes available that could be stuck to the boards. (I noticed from the back of the boards that they had been repurposed from somewhere else: nice one!)
I loved this as a form of engagement with those present. Not only was this an opportunity to actively engage them into thinking about the subject (home) and how they view that concept, but they got to share those thoughts/feelings and exhibit them in the same space as the zine.
That being said, the boards were the only space within the event that allowed visitors to leave their own mark. Therefore, I also think that this idea could have been taken further, and the fact that the boards each read the same question was a missed opportunity. As one idea, simple questions such as ‘What colour is home?’ and ‘What does home taste like?’ would have given attendees the chance to bring a part of their home into the space. The potential was also there for those involved in the production of the zine, particularly the lead artists, to have asked questions that were meaningful to them.
My only other point is that I wonder how much more the essence of ‘our home’ could have been leaned into within the space. While there were little hints of homeliness here and there, I think it could have added to the experience even more if it had felt more like I was stepping into someone’s home, or a homely space.
The event clearly emphasised that the human experience of home can differ widely between people, and so perhaps I’m being unfair. Still, I can’t help but wonder how the space would have felt if people had brought a little piece of their homes with them, or if a kettle was set up near the entrance so that people could ‘make a brew for a friend’.
I understand that in any event space, especially one within a larger venue such as Contact, and with limits on personal and funding capacity, there always needs to be a balance between pushing boundaries and making something achievable. However, I also feel like our ideas of these spaces need to be challenged and queered in order to not only make them accessible to a great number of people, but also to allow for a greater access to depth or immersion within the art/experience being showcased.
It was clear that the entire team had worked extremely hard to not only form the zine itself, but to consider the needs of those that need this kind of artwork and create a highly accessible event to celebrate its launch. At the event, I saw the different ways we communicate acknowledged and embraced, and although certain aspects could have been refined or leaned into further, I believe that the organisers were ultimately successful in bringing people together into a space that felt like ‘Our Home’.