The next Artist Interview Project installment features editor and creator of Surrender to the Flow, Christy Articola. The first part of this post includes a student’s reflective summary. It is followed by the full interview text.
Learn more about the Artist Interview Project course assignment in Dr. Jenkins’ introduction to the series. You can follow the Philosophy School of Phish on Facebook, Twitter (@phishedu), and the course’s public website.
It’s not every day that you have the opportunity to interview an artist who has dedicated their life to their passion and has found a way to share that passion with others. As a part of my final assignment for “Philosophy and the Arts,” I had the unique opportunity to interview Christy Articola. She has been an editor for the fan-produced publication Surrender to the Flow for the past 19 years, producing 56 issues with over 240 thousand copies distributed. I was not familiar with the publication prior to this class, but I quickly came to respect how much work is put into her publication and how significant it is in the Phish community. Surrender to the Flow is a completely volunteer based publication. Each issue offers articles of interest to Phish fans, covering topics such as travel information, show reviews, poetry, games, and news.
According to Articola, her life as a phan was born over the accumulation of several small moments, rather than through a single, large moment that caused her to realize how significant Phish was in her life. These moments were overwhelming for Articola and lead to her certainty that Phish is the community in which she belongs. The concept of a community is significant, because it is not every day– or even every decade– that a band is able to bring together such a large, dedicated group of individuals like Phish has and the Grateful Dead did. Community consists of individuals who have a commonality that bring them together in one common area, or in philosopher John Drabinski’s words, “a collection of humans that share something essential and decisive in common” (35). The Phish community is an example of what Drabinksi calls the “occasional community,” or a closely knit group that gathers every once in a while but still maintains a sense of intimacy, belonging, and friendship that is typically reserved for more regular relations. Anyone who has been to a Phish concert can attest to this fact. Many people meet up with friends and maintain relationships over the years, just by reconnecting through the band’s concerts and festivals. A genuine band like Phish attracts fans that are equally as authentic. In Drabinski’s words, “…the real freak show was the idea that such an assembly could be, against so many forces to the contrary, a genuine alternative ethos” (36).
Articola’s life centers around Phish’s concerts, art, nonprofit organizations, and community; to say she is a Phish Phan is the only way to describe her relationship with the band. Robert DeChaine argues that affect, or emotion, is important for understanding the human connection to music. He writes, “…without a doubt, affect is our first and remains our most fundamental relationship to the world around us.” I think every Phish Phan could relate to DeChaine’s analysis of the experience of “losing control” at a concert; music provides us with a way to confront the fear of losing control of our emotions. Dechaine argues, “The sometimes startling, often palpable affective pull of music offers us a re-cognition of this fear” (85). He is saying that it is music that brings us to the understanding that we sometimes don’t have control and our emotions give way to the music itself. He says, “Affect is the intensity that allows us to feel” and Phish phans, including Articola, are affected by the intensity of Phish. Surrender to the Flow offers an outlet for phans to share these intense experiences, through their writing, with each other.
Leo Tolstoy believes that it’s important for art to be able to connect individuals with something that is outside of themselves, the artists who made it, and the memories associated with it. In “What is Art?,” he writes:
Every work of art causes the receiver to enter into a certain kind of relationship both with him who produced, or is producing, the art, and with all those who, simultaneously, previously, or subsequently, receive the same artistic impression (2).
In our interview, Articola discussed what it means to define something as art and whether Surrender to the Flow would be considered to be a work of art. She spoke of her connection with the publication and how she doesn’t consider herself or the contributors to be the sole artist, but rather:
…everyone who reads it and everyone who goes to see Phish, and of the band members themselves, and their songs, and the venues and the road and the jokes and laughs and lots and so on and just all of it – it is everybody’s work of art, and in that sense, we are all artists, all people who are making Surrender exist, all people who are creating this community, a cohesive group of people and thing that is all art, living, breathing, traveling, dancing, feeling, being… art! So yes, I consider myself an artist in the grand scheme of the creation of Surrender but this whole thing is just art – life is art – and so is everything related to Phish, which is related to everything Surrender.
We can think of Surrender to the Flow, based on Tolstoy’s definition, as a collective work of art, because the publication connects Phish phans and celebrates their shared memories at Phish shows, in addition to practicing the craft of writing and editing.
Speaking with Christy Articola allowed me to see into the world of the “Phish phenomenon” (Blau) and get to know the Phish community. Surrender to the Flow is art and everyone who contributes are artists. I want to thank Christy Articola for her time and insight.
Can you name one particular moment when you realized you had become a “phan”? How many shows have you attended?
It’s hard to pinpoint when I truly began to consider myself a “phan” but it was probably sometime in late 1995, either during Fall Tour 95 (I saw four shows that tour) or NYE Run 95 (did all four). I saw seven shows before that but that was when I really started to “get it” and feel like this was what I wanted to do and spend my time and money on from that point forward. There wasn’t really a particular song or moment that did it for me, but something perhaps about doing several in a short time that made me really realize how big and important all of this was to me. Also, in Summer 1996, I only went to the Clifford Ball festival (their first festival) and that was a turning point too that really solidified it because I saw how big Phish was, and started to really see and appreciate the community that surrounds all of this, beyond the music.
I’ve seen hundreds of shows at this point and the majority of every tour since Summer 97, I have only missed a handful during 3.0, and no plans for stopping any time soon! I will always go, as long as they keep playing, although I have cut back a little in the past few years, because I want to do more non-Phish travel, particularly international travel, and I can’t afford to do that if I keep spending all my money on Phish. I am hitting a big milestone number in a few weeks during the Labor Day Weekend Dick’s Run in Colorado on the Sunday and really looking forward to that. But it’s not about numbers… some people don’t get to see them as much due to distance or money or time or work or kids or whatever, and they love them just as much as I do, but I do feel very lucky to see all the shows I have been able to see over the past 23 years.
You have a masters of science in elementary education. How did your education and interest in Phish turn you into a fulltime editor of a publication?
I do have a Masters of Science in Elementary Education but my undergrad degree is a BA in Communications/Journalism. I have always loved writing and when I initially went to college I mostly wanted to be a music journalist/writer. However I soon learned and realized not only that writing can be a very difficult field to break into but also that I would have to take a lot of assignments that didn’t interest me, and also that I would probably be edited fairly heavily by superiors who would need to change what I had written for space or other constraints. So, when I graduated with my undergrad degree in 1998, I knew that I wanted to see Phish as much as possible, and I knew I should use the degree I just got, so I merged these two passions into the magazine that exists to this day. Friends and I were traveling on Summer Tour 1998 and there were a lot of challenges in visiting places we had never been before, and cell phones did not exist, and internet was not easily accessible on the road, so I wanted to mainly put together a publication that included driving directions, information about the venues, and information about the cities we would be visiting along the way, to make things easier for people. In addition to that we included articles and reviews and interviews and games (like word searches and crossword puzzles), comedy, and so on, to round it out. All of that stuff still exists in Surrender but that’s how it all started. Putting together a music publication was using my degree and helped to rationalize my travel a bit to my parents, as well – I wasn’t just chasing a band around, I was writing, and editing, and publishing, and giving back to the community I love so much. I went to graduate school during the first hiatus to get my master’s in education because I also always loved kids and wanted to work with them; I have worked with children in some capacity or another (teacher, school librarian, nanny, teacher/naturalist at nature centers, tutor, camp counselor, etc) since getting my Masters, while still running Surrender on the side, which is great, because I still get to write/edit/publish on my terms, while making my income from another love of mine, working with kids.
You’ve been part of the Phish community for years, and you still find inspiration to continue producing issues of Surrender to the Flow. What aspects of the band and community continue to inspire you and keep you involved?
Sometimes I get frustrated with Surrender and for a minute consider calling it quits from time to time, because it is definitely a lot of work, especially when they are touring heavily, but when an issue is finally finished and ready to go out to the community, it is such a rewarding feeling, and people are so thankful, I don’t think I’ll ever really call it quits until the band does. Plus my love for this band and everything about our community is so strong, still, after all these years, and in many ways I love creating Surrender as much as I love attending shows and everything that comes with that. I love being able to put it together and give back in a way to something that has given me so much joy, and I also love that Surrender provides an opportunity for others (our writers, artists, proofers, distributors, advertisers, and so on) to do the same. Since Surrender has been around since 1998 I feel like it is a true part of this whole big thing and I love that, I am sure people would be upset if it was gone, so we just keep plugging along. I can’t believe our next issue is our 57th, I am sure if I told 22 year old me who started this thing in 1998 that someday we’d have a 57th issue in 2017, I can’t imagine what I would have said, I may not have believed it, I am not sure what I thought would happen then as far as longevity of the mag goes, but here we are.
How do you hope this publication affects your readers? The Phish community is vast, what makes Surrender to the Flow stand out?
I hope that people really enjoy reading it in general, and I think they do. A lot of it is information that I hope people find helpful although in the age of the internet much of it can be found online independently, I still like to include it all so people have it all in one place. Also there are a lot of essays and funny stories and just little phish facts and things that I hope people enjoy, it’s always good to get other people’s perspectives and hear their stories and so on. Also, because Surrender is a print publication, I kind of see it as a free souvenir from a place and time, something they can keep forever in their collection to remind them of a particular show, run, or tour. I think Surrender stands out because of that, there are a lot of online resources about Phish, but we are really the only regular, ongoing, tangible print publication out there and that’s what sets Surrender apart from other Phish resources that are available online and whatnot. Also I am happy to say that our Facebook page just hit 38,000 followers this week; I really love running that page too for more real-time updates than are possible for print, and Surrender has been the biggest fan-run social media page about Phish for quite some time. Some people who follow the Facebook page don’t even really realize that there is a print publication that existed first and still exists, but now that we also publish the print mag in digital form online as well I think that number is shrinking.
Also I think Surrender stands out because really anyone can contribute, and although I do run it and put it all together, we have had literally hundreds or maybe even close to a thousand contributors over the years at this point, and it gives people the opportunity to participate in something that lets them give back to the community they love also, its not a website or blog run by just a few people, it’s a community within a community, giving back to the larger community. I am glad that it gives people beyond just me a chance to do that.
How many submissions for Surrender to the Flow do you normally receive? Do you ever find yourself in need? If not, how do you decide what to include?
That’s a good question. The way we prep for each issue is I have several email lists (one for writers, one for artists, one for proofers, one for distributors, one for advertisers) and when Phish announces a tour I send out emails to all of them looking for submissions and help. For the writers list, I generally ask writers if they want to write for the upcoming issue, and if they have any ideas for articles, and then I usually have some ideas of my own for articles (and reviews and stuff) that need to be written, so if people want to write but have no ideas of their own, they can go ahead and claim assignments, and then I try to assign fairly evenly so everyone who wants to write something for a particular issue gets a chance to do so. A lot of the contributors are people I know personally, but a lot are also people I have never met in person – including some who have been writing for the mag for many years. It’s all done through email so sometimes we just have never managed to meet! With these methods of giving assignments though, it generally all just works out, I manage to get most things people want to write into the magazine, and everything I need written gets covered. It’s all volunteer but people are pretty on point about getting me stuff on time, I send a lot of reminders. Most of the articles people pitch I say yes to, it’s pretty rare that someone comes to me with an idea and I say no, because since everyone has read the mag before, they kind of know what sort of thing we are looking for.
How did the publication handle the breakup of the band from 2004-2009?
Actually, Surrender just plain did not exist during that time. I missed it as much as I missed the band and tour honestly, and when they announced the return I am pretty sure I went right back to work on it right away! We did 18 issues between 1998-2004 so really the bulk of Surrender’s life has been after they came back, mathematically, but I am glad it existed in all three Phish eras. When they took the first break from 2000-2002 we did a few “mini issues” – three to be exact, that were only 8 pages, we gave them out at non-Phish jamband festivals and during Trey’s Oysterhead side project – but my heart really wasn’t in it – so when they quit in 2004 I put Surrender to rest during their absence that break.
Are you personally involved in other publications and groups that the Phish fandom has formed?
I’m really not involved in other publications or blogs or websites that are Phish related although I have always thought that I should reach out and write for more Phish outlets, and I still really should, but Surrender really takes up so much of my time and energy – particularly my Phish time and energy in particular – that I still haven’t. I should though! As for participation in other groups, also not really, I am very active (addicted) on facebook so I am in a lot of Facebook groups about Phish, and also I am a supporter of things like The Mockingbird Foundation and WaterWheel Foundation, and Green Crew, and groups like Little Ragers (although I don’t have kids) and The Phellowship (although I am not sober) and The Phunky Bitches (a women’s organization) and poster collecting groups and pin collecting groups and our side project STTF Community Volunteering (which sends volunteers to local non profits in towns we visit on tour, like food banks and community gardens and stuff) and so on, but I am not a big participant in any of those, more of a supporter, I am kind of involved in everything a little, but nothing in particular majorly or intensely other than Surrender, which again, involves a lot of time and energy on its own.
Do you have one particular STTF issue that you’re especially proud of? Why?
No, not really, I am proud and happy with all of them; some I like better than others, I feel like the content is stronger or the layout looks better or I like the cover better or whatever on some, but there is no real big single standout in the 56 we have done so far. I do have a copy of every single one though and every few years I’ll pull them out and flip through them all. They are just so full of memories, not just what people wrote about, but also about where and when each was created and who I was – who we all were, the band too – at the time.
How do you define art? Do you consider the Surrender to the Flow publication to be a work of art? Why or why not?
Ahhh this is a good question too, because how does anyone define art? I suppose art is an expression of passion and deep emotions being expressed that is shared with an audience of some sort (even if that audience is just the creator in some cases though) – and with that definition, then Surrender is a work of art, indeed. However in the case of Surrender it is truly a collective work of art, the combined efforts of a lot of people, all of who are inspired by a band and music and a community and a lifestyle, who want to give back to their community and to others, who want to express their passion to an audience, to others, in this case, to others who feel similarly about all of those things. Again it’s important to me that Surrender issues be a physical thing, something tangible that people can hold in their hand and look at, and keep for as long as they want, a physical memory so to speak. I love the internet and so much that is produced and offered on it but I think the fact that Surrender is a *thing* rather than something on a screen further helps it be defined as a work of art, once it is printed and distributed, it cannot be changed, it exists, complete, and just IS.
Would you consider yourself an artist?
I would consider myself an artist because I am a writer and I do believe that writing is an art form, and I love it so. However, as Surrender goes I would consider myself more of a facilitator, I do write for it obviously, and I do the layout of every issue, but it is the work of so many other people being put together collectively, that I don’t consider Surrender MY work of art by any means, it is a work of art that exists due to so many contributions of other people, and I just help put it together and get it printed and make it happen and figure out how to get it into the hands of our readers. Further it is not just even a work of art of the specific contributors to a particular issue (writers, artists, proofers, etc) but of the entire community as a whole, and of the band themselves, as without the greater scene/community/music/shows/lifestyle there would be nothing to write about, nothing to create upon, nothing to inspire, no reason for there to be a magazine of this sort at all, so it is a work of ALL of ours, everyone who contributes surely, but also everyone who reads it and everyone who goes to see Phish, and of the band members themselves, and their songs, and the venues and the road and the jokes and laughs and lots and so on and just all of it – it is everybody’s work of art, and in that sense, we are all artists, all people who are making Surrender exist, all people who are creating this community, a cohesive group of people and thing that is all art, living, breathing, traveling, dancing, feeling, being… art! So yes, I consider myself an artist in the grand scheme of the creation of Surrender but this whole thing is just art – life is art – and so is everything related to Phish, which is related to everything Surrender, so yes. Indeed. 🙂