Member Spotlight: Lucy Gellman

Posted by Lucy S. Gellman, Linda Lombardi, Jul 20, 2022 0 comments

Lucy Gellman is the editor of the Arts Paper and co-founder of the Youth Arts Journalism Initiative at the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. As a reporter and editor, she covers arts, culture, and community with an eye toward social justice and anti-racism. Prior to her time at the Arts Paper, she worked as a general assignment reporter for the New Haven Independent and a station manager at WNHH Community Radio. She holds degrees from Washington University in St. Louis and the Courtauld Institute of Art, both in art history, and is a former Fulbright fellow and the winner of a 2020 Connecticut Arts Hero Award. This year, she received recognition from the Elm City Freddy Fixer Parade Committee for her work. 

Arts Paper reports on arts, culture, and community in and around New Haven. I saw an interview with you where you called New Haven the “cultural capital of Connecticut.” What do you look for in a story?

Smiling reporter in the field, wearing dark-rimmed glasses, red knit hat and puffy maroon coat, with black bag slung over shoulder, and holding notepad and pen.
Lucy Gellman, photo by Tom Breen.

A lot of different things! I was a general assignment reporter and managed a low-power radio station before this job, and I think my first question is still “what is the news here?” That’s usually followed by “how are the arts showing up in a wider context?” and “how does this intersect with a larger dialogue about what’s happening in the world?” I’m an arts reporter in my professional life, but that doesn’t negate the fact that I’m also a Jewish, physically disabled woman with LGBTQ+ family members all of the time, even when I’m off the clock. And so I bring all of those identities to my belief that journalism can be rooted in joy and justice. 

What that looks like each day is different, which I love. That may mean a string quartet concert one day, a studio visit in a repurposed factory building the day after that, a Ukrainian church service with Old Slavonic hymns the day after that, and a late-night arts budgeting meeting after that. Or it may mean looking at how our local Planned Parenthood is using public art and storytelling to talk about abortion. Last week, my Friday began at a theater summer camp and it ended with a march against police brutality in which song, poetry, and sidewalk art were all used in the streets. In between, I talked to a singer/songwriter about how the pandemic changed his practice. The arts are essential to every one of those stories. 

I also try to spread coverage among different art forms, and make sure it reflects New Haven. My degrees are in art history and I’m a huge drama nerd (I will fight someone on why In the Heights has more heart than Hamilton), so I’m always checking those biases when I take and assign stories. I also love covering legislation and arts funding and think it’s surprising that more reporters don’t follow that beat. It teaches me so much about what a municipal, state, and federal government cares about.

As editor of the paper, you’re both reporter and guide for other reporters. What’s your approach to working with writers?

I’m very collaborative because I want the Arts Paper to be a place for growth and mentorship. And let me say on the record, that is hard! Before this, I worked in a newsroom where you had two or three chances to get it right, or you were done. No more stories on that topic for you. Now that I’m an editor, I both completely understand that approach (it’s extremely efficient!) and am trying to break the system of which it is symptomatic. That system is disproportionately male/cis/white, it thrives on the scarcity mindset, and favors people with a formal education and internship experience (which is often unpaid or underpaid) over those writers who may have great intuition but may need a little help telling those stories.

When writers cover something, they call me to “angle”—that’s the process by which we sketch out a story before they write—and then have a few hours to turn it around. I learned angling from my first editor, and I still angle with another reporter before I sit down to write. So I practice what I preach. After they draft a piece, I either return a draft with edits/questions, or, if it’s pretty clean, get it up on our site. My husband is also a reporter and knows the state of a draft that I’ve received by how much I’m swearing as I work.

I also believe in different forms of media, so we’ve had folks do podcasts and photo essays instead of stories. I still want to find a cartoon artist.

Drummers play congas, claves, shekere, and guiro, dressed in white Bregamos Community Theater t-shirts, perform outdoors in the park on a sunny day.
Rafael Ramos, Eddie Padilla, Jose Apache Rivera and Marco Ayuso from the Rumberos de Bregamos—drummers who play at Bregamos Community Theater—perform on the New Haven Green, “After Pandemic Year, Artists Activate The Green,” article and photo by Lucy Gellman.

About five years ago, the Arts Paper changed from a monthly print publication to a daily digital news source. Why the change and what benefits have you seen since that decision?

It wasn't just a monthly print publication: it was a monthly print publication contingent on a paying membership base. The difference is important. It meant that the Arts Paper was writing about the same small group of white-run arts orgs over and over again, and putting out a publication that didn’t adequately reflect the city. According to 2020 census data, New Haven is about 31% Latinx, 30% Black, 27% white, and 7% Asian. We’re also an extremely LGBTQ+ friendly city, a multigenerational city, and a multilingual city. I love that. I wanted (and still want!) a publication that reflected that diversity.

I came on in August 2017, and it was important to me to be able to tell people about arts events as they were happening. Being online and being daily allows us to be much more nimble in what we cover and how we cover it. When we were in print, writers were preparing their coverage for October and November in August and September. It meant that there was so much—exhibitions, concerts, neighborhood festivals, pop-up events—that we weren’t able to cover. And those are the cultural heart of the city. 

Now, a muralist can call me about their project Monday afternoon, I can drop by on Tuesday morning, and the article is up by Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning. Online, I and our writers also use tools like digital photography, YouTube and Facebook Live, which are fun and give readers more of a sense of being there. We still miss stories because we’re a tiny team, and I have to remind myself that that’s a sign of a culturally vibrant city.

I also love printed matter and will say that the decision to end print, rather than to have print and digital, came from my supervisors. I’m still sad about it. 

As newspapers go under or switch to digital, and more and more communities across the country call for increased diversity in arts and culture coverage. What do you think is the future of arts journalism and criticism?

That’s a great question. It’s a scary time for news, because of the rise of conglomerates like Hearst, McClatchy, and Tribune Publishing that slash staff and shrink newsrooms. Arts, as you know, are often the first to go. So when I think about the future of the field, I’ve been excited to see more online, nonprofit, and collaborative models pop up—the Colorado News Collaborative (COlab) and the arts collaborative between KERA and The Dallas Morning News in North Texas are both examples that spring to mind. As newsrooms are stretched, I hope that these kinds of models will become increasingly more common and make space for arts and culture coverage. 

Arts journalism and criticism—criticism especially—also needs to open itself to and center voices that have been and continue to be left out. We try to do that every day, and I’m grateful for community members who call me in when they don’t think we got the story right. So to my peers in the field, I would say: take a chance on a writer who has a story, but might need some help getting it on the page! Do more to support women, nonbinary folks, writers of color. Pay them a living wage. Learn gender affirming terminology! It’s not hard. 

* For more about YAJI, read the Member Spotlight with Gellman’s colleague, Markeshia Ricks.

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