Creative Growth in the Pandemic

By Patrick Miller

Colleen Hugo, an art student at Tulane, is the 21 year old art director of the burgeoning literary magazine The Dilettante. Although the young magazine is focused on art and writing of a more literary nature, Hugo says that The Dilettante draws a lot of inspiration from ANTIGRAVITY, another New Orleans based publication that focuses on “under-documented stories and artists.” Talking to Colleen Hugo about the recent history of the magazine, Hugo focused primarily on the role of Vi Conway, now a senior at Tulane, who spearheaded a large part of the initial development of the project. According to Hugo, The Dilettante was originally free to acquire, and had a much smaller pool of contributors than it does these days. Now in its second year of publication, the fifth edition, as well as online format, drew contributions from across New Orleans and the United States as a whole.

Since its inception, the magazine has served as a sort of creative outlet and motivator for its contributors. In its original days, this may have been confined to Vi Conway and her group of friends, but as it grew, through a variety of outside events the publication’s umbrella rapidly grew to include writers from the University of New Orleans as well as Loyola University. Hugo attributes this kind of growth to thematic release parties for each physical edition of the magazine, alongside pop-up art installations and sales of local art and the magazine itself. Since then, the expansion of The Dilettante’s staff has also meant that staff members have been able to solicit submissions from their own home states — Colleen, for example, has gained contributors from Connecticut. Colleen believes that so many people are so consistently drawn to the publication because of the motivation it provides to create creative content. This leads to another important facet of The Dilettante that has developed in recent months — and that, as always, is the global pandemic.

While on the one hand, the same kind of creative motivator that The Dilettante has consistently provided has continued to encourage myriad new submissions, the magazine has also had to cut down its physical presence dramatically to be able to operate safely. This has meant an end to the release parties and many planned physical installations and other events, and therefore a decrease in cooperation with students from Loyola and the University of New Orleans. So, while people may be cooped up at home generating all kinds of new content and submitting it to the publication, it’s apparently been quite difficult organizing the kinds of in-person events that once characterized the spirit of The Dilettante. Additionally, Hugo thought it important to note that the publication doesn’t receive funding or sponsorship of any kind from Tulane — meaning while it was already rare for The Dilettante to appear at events on campus, the pandemic has decreased their presence at Tulane to almost nothing. The remainder of their physical events are composed of the occasional pop-up sale: featuring things like the physical copies of previous editions, paintings, and prints.

By its fifth edition, it’s also important to discuss the nature of the art and writing that appears in the publication. As the social sphere has become more and more political with the passing of recent years, so too has the content of The Dilettante. Talking to Colleen about the political nature of work in the magazine, it seems to be something of a source of pride at this point. The writing, the physical art featured in the magazine, and the cover art — created by Colleen for the past three editions — are mostly tied to something political. The most recent edition, in particular, was focused on the theme of revolution, for example. Hopefully, as the pandemic is broken, The Dilettante will continue to push both the creative and political boundaries; in Colleen’s words, “we won’t shy away from it anymore.”

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