"There’s a Place for You, Too." A Chat With Tony Foley, Editor of Callosum
Several years ago, a group of high school students was crossing the street in front of my stopped car. I recognized one, whom I knew to be an incredibly talented visual artist. I wondered how many other gifted and passionate young artists were in the group, or among clusters of students at this moment in communities around the world; I wondered whether their talent was encouraged or even known. The artist I recognized is now visual editor of Callosum Magazine, whose mission is to create a community for emerging artists in all genres. The publication is second to none for warmth, energy, and raw talent. I recently spoke with the founder of Callosum, poet, essayist, and visual artist Tony Foley.
Interview by Robert Fromberg
Tell us about Callosum Magazine’s purpose.
I believe there are three primary avenues when you’re starting out as an artist. In high school, you can take classes, hand in your work, and get an A on your poem or a B on your painting. Or you show your work to your parents, and they will love it or they will say, “Oh, honey, don’t waste your time.” Or you show your work to your friends, and they say, “That’s great.” The fourth avenue is one where developing artists have less access, which is outside encouragement from fellow artists.
At our heart, we’re trying to encourage people who don’t have encouragement elsewhere to pursue their art, people who feel excluded, perhaps by lack of experience or lack of confidence, from other art world events and magazines. We want to say, there’s a place for you, too.
How did you start?
In the summer of 2013, while I was back home from college, a group of friends and I put together a showcase of young artists working in different genres. We wanted to see how these different languages interacted: dance next to a poem in front of some paintings. The showcase took place over one weekend, and the response was overwhelming. We had 160 attendees and about 13 contributing artists. Everyone who came out—students, parents, and community members—wanted to know how they could get involved. When I graduated college, I took the experience of that showcase, along with the know-how I had developed working on literary magazines in college, to create a catch-all for expression from developing artists where we were providing a reflective surface so the community could see the talents of the people within it.
What kind of work are you looking for?
I usually ask artists to send anything they can and as much as they can. I like when we talk with a photographer who says, “How many pieces do you want?” and we say, “As much as you can send,” and the photographer sends 70 pieces. We get a larger breadth of where an artist’s mind is working. When you give artists the freedom to submit whatever they want and not necessarily their best, then they are not going to be looking for your approval; they are going to be looking for honest feedback on something that they might think is rough. We often get works in progress, and those would be rejected by any other literary magazine. I’d rather give freedom of expression to the artist and make our staff work harder. I want to make it as fun and inviting for the contributor as possible.
Tell us about your name.
Corpus callosum is a band of neuro fibers that enables conversation between the two hemispheres of the brain. For a long time I have walked around with the word “callosum” in my mind—the idea of connecting binaries and enabling conversation and having something gained by the conversation.
Tell us about the form your magazine takes.
I used to call Callosum an online, in-person magazine. The broadness of the term “magazine” allows us to do a bunch of things in a bunch of genres. We publish online, but we can also have a workshop for poems, a dance performance, a meditation class. We continue to have showcases, which takes the idea of eclectic magazine contents and presents it in person. In June, we’ll publish the magazine in print form.
One thing that distinguishes you from most traditional literary magazines is the inclusion of music.
If you look at how youth culture approaches the arts, music is one art form that is defined by the hustle. Most student musicians, especially hip hop musicians, are working continuously. They have dedication to their dream and belief that the dedication will pay off. I don’t see that kind of optimism in young writers or young painters. Opening the door to music has been the easiest part of the magazine because musicians are ready to make connections and do shows. It take a little more persuasion to get young poets to participate.
What do you want to change about the experience of emerging artists?
The value system that we teach kids related to the arts is antithetical to getting kids to make art. Especially when you start grading poems or rejecting them, or continuing the myth that arts won’t pay the bills or it’s a waste going to art school. Any of these things are posed against the construction of art. The traditional accept/reject model of literary magazines doesn’t help. I don't think that rejecting someone's piece is a good incentive for them to keep trying. Callosum is presenting a new value for emerging artists, which is, how can we talk about it, how can share it, how can we make it more part of our lives and our friendships, and how can we grow as artists.
Robert Fromberg has fiction in Indiana Review, Bellingham Review, Tennessee Quarterly, and many other magazines, as well as a short book called Blue Skies from Floating Island Publications. He edits a website called Imperfect Fiction.