Volume 49 marks the beginning of a new era for African Arts. Since the journal's inception in 1967 as “a quarterly magazine devoted to the graphic, plastic, performing, and literary arts of Africa, traditional and contemporary,” it has been produced out of the James S. Coleman African Studies Center at UCLA by an editorial board composed of scholars affiliated with the university's academic departments and museums. A consulting editor board of international scholars has contributed their time and energies in advising the editors and assisting with peer review, but for nearly half a century, African Arts has been primarily a UCLA production.
This situation arose almost incidentally. Unlike many journals, African Arts is not the organ of a scholarly association, and association journals rotate their editorship on a regular basis, first, as a reflection of their diverse membership and, second, as a way to distribute the costs of running an editorial office across the membership. Generally, the institution where the current editor resides kicks in with office space, release time for the editor, and at least a portion of the salary for support staff to manage the peer review process, while the association uses dues both to finance the layout, copy editing, printing, and shipping of the journal and to provide the journal as a perk for its members. African Arts was originally founded on a business model where operating expenses would be covered by advertising and subscription income, with a relatively small subvention from UCLA. There was thus not only no incentive to rotate the editorship, but there was, in effect, no-one to rotate it to. We are not affiliated with ACASA, ASA, or CAA, and whatever institutional support we got came from UCLA alone.
The onset of the Electronic Age and concomitant convulsions in the publishing industry have made our original business model no longer viable—as constant readers will have noticed, advertising in the journal is virtually nonexistent today, and consists primarily of exchange ads, where we publicize a like-minded journal in exchange for them doing the same for us. The African art galleries now buy ad space in magazines like Tribal Arts that are more narrowly focused on a readership of collectors and, even more, rely on the Internet to attract new customers. The readership and editorial focus of African Arts, in the meantime, has shifted from broad discussion aimed at not only academics, but also collectors and general interest readers—who were inspired by the social and political changes sweeping through Africa in the 1960s—to the work and interests of postmodern academics and curators. While this has arguably made the journal more intellectually adventurous, there is still the small matter of paying the bills to produce it.
After several years of investigating the opportunities and pitfalls that new publishing paradigms present us, African Arts has decided that the best way to ensure our long-term survival, both intellectually and financially, is to institute a consortium with other institutions that will contribute to editorial oversight and production costs of the journal. Consortium publishing is a new way to share the burdens of high-quality academic publishing in an era of decreasing academic financial resources and increasing administrative demands upon educators’ time. First instituted by the drama journal TDR under Richard Schechner at NYU in 2010, consortium editing allows for a variety of editorial viewpoints within a single journal.
The enhanced editorial board will now comprise teams based at UCLA—Marla C. Berns, Allen F. Roberts, Mary (Polly) Nooter Roberts, and Patrick A. Polk; University of Florida—Rebecca M. Nagy, Robin Poynor, Susan Cooksey, Fiona McLoughlin, and Mackenzie Moon Ryan; and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill—Carol Magee, Lisa Homann, David G. Pier, and Victoria L. Rovine. We are particularly excited to include editorial representation from the African continent—something promised in the very first issues of the journal and only now coming to fruition—commencing with Volume 50 in 2017, when Ruth Simbao of Rhodes University of South Africa comes on board.
Each team will be responsible for the feature articles and “First Word” opinion column for one issue per volume (i.e., one issue per year), while departmental and reviews columns will continue to be the responsibility of editors appointed by the consortium as a whole. The coordinating editorial and production office will remain housed at UCLA under my direction as Executive Editor and Eva Howard as Operations Manager. MIT Press Journals will continue to distribute the journal, with back issues available on JSTOR and, from this issue forward, Project Muse.
All four institutions contribute towards the production and staffing costs of the journal, making up the lost advertising income and finally—we hope—removing the ambiguity in some people's minds as to whether we are an academic or a commercial publication. We will still run the occasional ad for books and museum exhibitions, which will be handled through MIT Press Journals, but advertising will no longer be a significant source of operating funds. In addition to subscription income and UCLA's established support for the journal, funding will now also be provided by the University of Florida Office of the Provost; the Department of Art, Department of African, African-American and Diaspora Studies, African Studies Center, Center for Global Initiatives, College of Arts and Sciences’ Dean's Office, Global Education Fund, and Institute for the Arts and the Humanities of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill; and, as of 2017, Rhodes University.
Consortium members will participate in the review of independently submitted articles as well as overseeing themed issues. The latter will involve both commissioning themed articles and working with outside guest editors who propose themes to the board. Independent papers may still be submitted through the journal's online system (http://ucla.in/1ouUunc). Proposals (with abstracts and sample images) for guest-edited theme issues should be submitted to the Executive Editor at email@example.com. More information about African Arts and links to author guidelines can be found at our website (http://www.international.ucla.edu/africa/africanarts/).
the best of both worlds
Our early steps in instituting the consortium have naturally been a learning process, but so far, things are moving ahead remarkably smoothly. We intend to continue our policy of limiting themed issues to two per volume so that there is always room for over-the-transom submissions. Teams will take turns producing themed and unthemed issues in alternate years. As new submissions come in, they are assigned in rotation to the next editorial team on the list; when papers are accepted, they go into a hopper that the unthemed teams can choose from to assemble their issues. Themed issue proposals are presented to the whole consortium for assessment, and teams decide among them who will work on accepted themed issues with the guest editors. For the rest of volume 49, we are concentrating on clearing the books of articles that have already been accepted or were in review when the consortium was established. Scheduling may become a little more complicated than in the days when accepted papers just went into the queue and were published in order of acceptance, but we feel that by quadrupling the number of editors involved in the process, papers will move through review much more quickly than in the past.
Of course, our new colleagues at Florida, North Carolina, and Rhodes are not just welcome toilers in the publication mills that have ensnared the UCLA contingent for so long (mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!). Every institution develops its own habits of thought and approaches to scholarship, and opening up the editorial board(s) will bring fresh ideas and projects to the journal.
As we settle in to the new regime, we hope to explore new ways of presenting research, institute new columns exploring issues in curatorship and pedagogy, and who knows what else? (We are open to suggestions!) As the journal's first half-century draws to a close, we believe that the African Arts consortium will enable at least another half century of presenting the best scholarship in all areas of African visual culture to the academy and to the world.