***The Thursday Interview is a showcase for creators, innovators, troublemakers, business owners to share news and insight about the creative impetus and inspirations behind their latest project, launch or business.
Chicago based VAM STUDIO provides artists a community and platform to grow, fail and thrive. The VAMUNFILTERED | Lucy Stoole video reminded me how important it is to give artists a space to work out the thorny bits that come with living a fully engaged meaningful life. Thank you to Sam Bailey for introducing me to VAM STUDIO. And thank you to Jordan and Vincent for saying yes to a Thursday Interview.
Vincent Martell, Founder + Creative Director and Jordan Phelps, Founder + Art Director, VAM STUDIO
Describe the moment VAM STUDIO was launched.
Jordan Phelps: VAM started as an idea that Vincent and I had around 2011 when
he had returned from his studies in Europe and I had left school and began focusing on my acting career in Chicago. We attended the same school in 2008 and knew each other casually but didn’t study similar subjects and didn’t reunite until a few years later. Our first similarity was that we both had been drawn to arts of all kinds from an early age, so when we were beginning to establish ourselves in Chicago outside of school, we were both shocked at how few resources there were in our metropolis for new and emerging artists. There were local publications and art-houses that each had their own strong missions and
collectives, but none that attempted to unite the art community and share with the world what kind of creativity flows from the underground resources in Chicago. We ultimately wanted to represent our city by giving it the leg-up it needed, by introducing fresh faces to the limelight and bringing together opposing medias that normally wouldn’t have thought to collaborate.
Vincent Martell: VAM was birthed out of frustration. All of the incredible artists and art spaces we admired weren’t getting the adequate amount of media they deserved. A huge majority of the artists we vibed with relocated to either the east or the west coast to find an audience that could truly hear them out. They didn’t have that luxury of getting great coverage in Chicago so we worked to make that obtainable for the underground freaks that we loved and supported. We saw the lack of cool media outlets based in Chicago and knew we had to fill the gap.
How was the Big Night Showcase at Glappitnova?
JP: I attended in support of Vincent speaking but was so glad I went regardless of being associated. There were so many great speakers and I was particularly keen on the impromptu talk sessions of unscheduled speakers and collectives. It was so great to see certain artists and producers taking the initiative to start their own dialogue unscripted.
I also highly respected how each and every member of Glappitnova made an effort to speak to all attendees personally and introduce themselves. Often times the people running the event tend to hide behind the scenes, but you all were the forefront of the event and it was very effective.
VM: Glappitnova was great. I think what the team at Glappitnova is doing is very important to the art community. I think we’re currently trying to figure out how we can get VAM involved in the next Chicago showcase.
Can you share how living in Chicago fuels what you do?
JP: Because of Chicago’s rich art and cultured history it’s frustrating to be shadowed by other major cities like New York and LA. Chicago’s been described as having a minority complex in comparison to those other meccas, but we really are the breeding grounds for AMAZING art that often gets picked up and taken to NY or LA in order to get “discovered” or “noticed”. Our mission is to put Chicago in the limelight so our favorite artists don’t feel like they have to leave in order to succeed. We are the heart of the country and the epicenter of exciting new talent and fresh ideas.
Vincent: I don’t feel like Chicago is being overshadowed anymore. I think the art community in the city has to create its own narrative. Fortunately, we’re starting to see a major push to make that a reality (we can call it a renaissance). Our team is constantly in the scene and in doing so we’ve witnessed a sort of evolution in the underground art
scene in Chicago. The potential in the city is what fuels us. Chicago is already on the map…It just doesn’t know it yet.
How do you connect with VAM STUDIO collaborators?
JP: In the beginning, a lot of our networking and connections were found through personal research. It wasn’t until about half way through our first year of launching that collaborations came almost fully from word of mouth and personal references. Any event we do, or any video or any article we publish has become a window into a whole new pool of names and faces that we are inspired by. We learn more and more as we continue our coverage about who to collaborate with, and sometimes more importantly who NOT to collaborate with. Another important mission of VAM has been to eradicate the commercial, corporate and unoriginal bullshit art often praised in the mainstream media. We’ve learned a lot about how to spot those certain entities quickly.
VM: We worked endlessly for a year before launching VAM to curate a list of artists, content writers, cinematographers, and editors that could represent our mission. We try not to collaborate with people whose work we don’t admire. We’ve done it once and we’ll never do it again. Thankfully, now all of our content is pitched to us by our audience. We
want it to feel like an organic resource for the people and by the people in the community.
In the VAM STUDIO universe, money is……
JP: A resource. It does not dictate our company, it is not the driving force of our company and it is not our mission to require it. It is, however something that we can use to pay forward. In a lot of ways, without the official status, VAM operates like a non-profit. All extra proceeds from a successful event or donation or sponsorship gets put back into the communities and artists we support. We have always made it our goal to make every collaborator feel that they are being compensated in some way, however much or little we can offer gets put back into those hands. I think VAM has learned how helpful funding has been from outside sources, not only to relieve our personal pockets in the maintenance of the company, but also to see who is truly invested in our work and how those who can support CHOOSE to support us. We have never been one to rely on money to make a project happen, we were doing those projects anyway even when we didn’t have the funds, yet we’ve also learned when it is appropriate to reach out to others for support and
when to ask for help.
VM: A tool to be used to benefit your community. We turn down sponsorships and corporate money if we feel like it can taint our brand. We’re not afraid of walking away from a paycheck or network if it means we can keep our integrity.
I think it’s also important to note that everyone gets paid in VAM; our writers, our production team, our graphic designers, and all of those involved in orchestrating our events. We don’t believe in “volunteering” your time with us and that’s one really huge asset that separates us from every other creative space or media outlet in the city.
If you believe in their work and you think the mission can benefit from their talents…fucking pay them.
How can anyone who loves community, collaboration and creative chaos
support what you do?
JP: Being so diverse in the content we produce really allows for audiences of all backgrounds to appreciate what we do. I don’t think we’ve ever asked anyone or expected anyone to like EVERYTHING we produce. I think there’s beauty in the fact that one feature can make you laugh and the next one make you cry, or angry, or annoyed or whatever. As long as there is some reaction to our content, negative or positive, and we’re creating a dialogue that’s healthy and informative, then our job is accomplished. VAM is all about community, collaboration and is definitely creatively chaotic!
VM: The best way to support our mission would be to check out our work at vamstudio.net. We work around the clock to develop content and it’s a pretty rigorous process because what we’re doing at VAM is preserving and documenting art. We’re down with anyone who wants to witness and be a part of it.
Top photo credit: Greg Stephen Reigh