TED Fellows

Fellows Friday with Lope Gutiérrez-Ruiz

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Lope Gutiérrez-Ruiz’s eye-popping magazines and celebrated festivals are creating “pathways to coexistence and tolerance.”

Interactive Fellows Friday Feature:

Join the conversation by answering Fellows’ weekly questions via Facebook. This week, Lope  asks:

What do organized communities achieve more efficiently than government? What could they achieve?

Click here to respond! 

What made you decide to move your Gopher Illustrated Magazine operations from Caracas, Venezuela to Austin, Texas?

The previous publishing endeavor in which I was involved was Plátanoverde magazine, a publication that is almost ten years old. The aim of Plátanoverde was to showcase emerging South American artists to a Venezuelan audience. After traveling extensively for almost a decade through the Latin American region, and, in parallel, consuming English-language media (magazines in particular), I realized my next dream project was to bring a modern perspective of Latin America to English-speaking audiences. My partner, Michelle, and I started the Gopher Project, and The Gopher Illustrated Magazine, with that in mind.

The first (left, held by co-editor Michelle Benaim) and current (right, held by Lope Gutiérrez-Ruiz) editions of the Gopher Magazine. (Photo: Romina Olson)

To that end, and after living in Caracas, Venezuela for over a decade, Michelle and I moved the project to Austin about a year ago. In a very short space of time, we’ve become a part of the cultural landscape of the city. My in-depth, hands-on approach as a journalist and cultural manager means that I try to immerse myself in where I am, and to be an active part of the community. Michelle and I have devoted a lot of time to understanding this city and seeing it from as many different approaches as possible. We spend a lot of time talking and collaborating with people from different fields in the arts but also with people involved in journalism, advertising, entrepreneurship, science, research and social work. We try to keep our agenda very busy, meeting different people, so we gain a more holistic perspective.

Do you think that a holistic, immersive approach to culture is important?

I believe that the arts and culture are pathways to coexistence and tolerance. I think that fostering tolerance is particularly important right now in the U.S., with its growing diversity. Over 50 million people in the US are Hispanic/Latino — roughly 18 percent of the population. In the last ten years, it was this demographic that made up 85 percent of the population growth in the US. So I think the challenges facing this country now and in the future, and those pertaining to the multiple facets of a Hispanic/Latino identity, need to be addressed — — not only through top-down policies, but also through work, media, and other initiatives that each of us can enjoy.

“Marlboro Light” made in collaboration with The Gopher, Teleportal Readings, and Austin-based Total Unicorn.

I remember a particular moment in my life when the power of culture really hit home. As a kid growing up in South America I would listen to music in English — rock, electronic, hip-hop, whatever. And then one day I heard this amazing record, and I found out that it was from my own country, Venezuela. I remember understanding that not only was it good in itself, but that it was something I could find pride in — I was part of it, in a sense, because it was a product of my country.

I have always come back to that simple idea: that people should have reasons to be proud of their cities, their culture, their heritage. Taking pride in what one is a part of is a force that is far more powerful — and frankly, far more consequential — than any policy, budget or anything like that.

The power to create something beautiful connects individuals to the feeling that each of us has a hand in creating better futures. And we can all create positive changes, whether it is through a huge project, a small magazine, or just deciding to do whatever it is in your hands to do.

How did that philosophy influence the creation of the Por el Medio de la Calle festival in Caracas?

Caracas has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Some 100 people are killed by violence each a week. This is unspeakably high, especially considering that it’s a city that houses some six million people. Nobody walks in the streets after dark because it’s just too dangerous.

After we had reached some success with Plátanoverde and related cultural projects, it just seemed that the only thing to do was to address some of the enormous problems that the citizens of Caracas face, even with the limited tools we had. When we sat down and talked about this, the first thing that came to mind was violence and the (understandably waning) pedestrian culture. We created the Por el Medio de la Calle festival so that, for one night, people would come into the streets of Caracas after dark to celebrate arts and culture together, to have an opportunity to reconnect with the freedom to walk after dark. It’s grown from a festival of 2,000 people to one in which 45,000 people attend. It is now in its sixth edition.

Por el Medio de la Calle festival goers.

There are many aspiring social entrepreneurs out there who are trying to take their passion and ideas to the next level. What is one piece of advice you would give to them based on your own experiences and successes? Learn more about how to become a great social entrepreneur from all of the TED Fellows on the Case Foundation’s Social Citizens blog.

Be honest, listen to, and support others. When you’re part of a community, it is as important to support others, as it is to support yourself and your projects. As a community grows, there are more opportunities for everybody, so you and your projects will benefit by extension.

With the new perspective of Latin America that the Gopher Project brings, what eye-opening things should we expect to see from it?

For the near future, we have three plans: The first is the next edition of the magazine, and an exhibition that will run along with it, in March of next year. It will feature even more collaborations in literature, visual arts and design — not only what’s happening in South America, but also what’s happening worldwide, and featuring some interesting things from Austin. We print “Proudly published from Austin, Texas” on the cover of The Gopher magazine. We are interested in conveying to our national and international readership that we are part of the exciting stuff that’s happening in this city.

The second is that we are bringing an exhibition called “Tipos Latinos” or “Latin Type” to the U.S. for the first time. It’s a biennial of contemporary typography from Latin America, and is among the most important events of its kind anywhere in the world. We’re working to have some conferences and workshops that run parallel to the exhibition, and are collaborating with the local chapter of AIGA (American Institute for Graphic Arts).

And lastly, we are opening a design studio called In House International. In line with our other projects, it’s showcasing emerging designers. It has two different locations: one here in Austin and the other in South America. It will bring together a number of designers, illustrators and other artists from Latin America and other parts of the world, who will work together remotely.

In House International logo.

My really long-term dream is to run some sort of a cultural center that will celebrate Latin American culture in a cross-disciplinary way: visual and performing arts and music, as well as literature and design and innovative media. When Plátanoverde started, the idea was that it was a project that would grow in different stages. It would begin as a magazine, then evolve into publishing books, events, festivals, and finally a cultural center. It was slated to be a center based on the concepts of social inclusion and culture. Sadly, due to the really difficult political and economic situation in Venezuela, it’s not something that came to be.

It’s rumored you have a collection of over 2,000 print magazines. How do you feel about the transition to online magazines?

I once interviewed the editor of this very famous British magazine called Monocle. He said something very insightful. It was that the question is not whether we’ll be reading on paper or a handheld device or on the moon … it’s what are we going to be reading? From my perspective, having something on paper means that that content must earn its place as a permanent object in time. Publishing on paper should not try to compete with the Internet — they are different animals. But certain content earns the right to physical space, and to a spot on a bookshelf. A magazine is like a small gallery, a conversation and a cultural snapshot that you can hold in your hands.

The publishing of The Gopher’s platforms run at different speeds. The paper magazine is published every six months — it’s a highly curated process. Online we have small articles, interviews, features, and things in audio and video format — things that are more time-sensitive. The two parts complement each other.

Speaking of complementing each other, you’ve recently had a lot of collaborations with other TED Fellows.

Yes, the most recent edition of The Gopher featured four TED Fellows. One of the Fellows was Jon Gosier, who created an amazing infographic about “the population of the dead.” The data alone is amazing. We feature three different infographics in every edition of the magazine, because we feel that information design is a wonderful medium for conveying information.

We also featured TED Fellow Iyeoka Ivie Okoawo. Fellows Mitchell Joachim and Candy Chang both contributed their thoughts about the structure and future of cities. Candy had this amazing insight. She said, “I would have more places to sit down in the city. Because if you can’t sit down, you basically can’t live the city outside.”

I’m also working with Gabriella Gómez-Mont and Camilo Rodriguez-Beltran on a project to create an event in South America, bringing in different, alternative art projects and spaces in the region. We have a running joke — we call it “El TEDo.”