Monday, April 1, 2013

The Question, April 1, 2013

Making the INvisible Visible
by Estelle Rosen

Christina Manolescu is the founder of Invisible Cities Network showcasing self-publishers, musicians and artists since 2001. Celebrating their 12th birthday April 1, 2013,  her reply to The Question incorporates a 12 year retrospective.

CHARPO: Invisible Cities Network provides an invaluable service to the Montreal arts community. What is its primary function, origin, goals? 

MANOLESCU: In spring, 2013, the Invisible Cities Network celebrates its 12th birthday. Quite a milestone! So what was its purpose? How and where did we begin?
Our ‘Indie’ Movement
The ‘big bang’ that sparked our existence occurred on April 1—April Fool’s Day—2001. We were a ‘gang of four’ enthusiasts who got together at the (now disappeared) Café ‘Porté Disparu’ on the Plateau. Our mission was a bit vague, but we did agree on one thing: to reach out to emerging and actual self-publishers in Montreal. Back then, we had no idea how much our nascent venture was destined to grow.

By Artists for Artists
We began by advertising in the free listings of the (sadly, also defunct) Montreal Mirror newspaper. Over the months and years, to my huge surprise, we evolved into a grassroots ‘indie’ movement, attracting artists of all disciplines: writing, publishing, spoken word, theatre, music, sculpture, photography, graphic arts, fine arts, and more. 
Blind & Invisible
Looking back over the past dozen years, I wish I could claim to having some coherent and visionary plan for the Invisible Cities Network as it’s now known! In fact, our core group merely responded to whoever came up with a new idea to try out or whatever else might be happening on the ground. 
These were exciting, fun, and often crazy days. From week to week. From month to month. Our members grew in confidence and we began to stage spoken word and cabaret-type performances in various free or low-cost venues across the city. 
Meanwhile, we met faithfully once a month—person-to-person social networking before the evolution of the electronic kind. First, it was at my roomy apartment on the Plateau and, later on, in bookshops and theatre spaces, cafés and bars. It’s no exaggeration to say that hundreds of artists and writers have attended ICN meetings over the years. 
Who were these members? Well, they were an eclectic mix of students, professional artists and writers, employed and self-employed people who shared an interest and passion for literature, music, art, writing, self-publishing and collaborative performing. Our numbers grew, and today there are over 300 members and friends on the ICN mailing list. Of course, we needed a web site to raise our INvisible profile. For the last decade, we’ve been posting news on arts events, book signings, and reviews of local theatre. Recently, we began ‘Twittering’ as well. 
Invisible Cities is proudly independent. It receives no outside support or funding of any kind. As an informal network of artists and writers, our aim has always been to support our members and create a public showcase for ourselves and our work. As such, our most ambitious event by far was the day-long ICN Book & Creative Arts Conference, attracting 125 attendees as well as Montreal Gazette coverage in September, 2005. 
I remember that it was after the success of this event that we held spirited discussions about formalizing the ICN ‘movement.’ Some of us thought we should apply to become a registered association, perhaps a non-profit organization. After all, we needed some sort of funding in order to develop and grow. But others who had experience going down that path disagreed. They warned about the bureaucratic obligations and restrictions it was bound to entail. In the end, none of us had the zeal to make it happen. And looking back, I’m grateful that we remained independent and free.
Moving forward
ICN has accomplished a great deal since its debut and it could still do much more. What’s needed is enthusiasm, ideas, energy, funding and ‘political will.’ With that in mind, and to celebrate our upcoming 12th anniversary on April 1, we’ll be posting a WISH-LIST of thoughts and suggestions for ICN members and friends on the homepage. 
Making the INvisible visible
Invisible Cities is the title of a book by Italian author, Italo Calvino, in which he describes imaginary cities that may be symbolic of states of mind. As a fledgling group with an experimental mandate, we too began under the veil of invisibility. But for us, ‘Invisible Cities’ conjures up the notion of artists of all disciplines toiling in obscurity, often in isolation, who nonetheless exist and are real. Twelve years later, yes, we are more visible than before. And our intention—this, too, is a work in progress—is to become even more visible, individually and collectively, over time.

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