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In Living Passion: Alice Gage & Ampersand Magazine

Everyone has their own reasons for venturing out into their own endeavours – be it unhappiness with their jobs, a desire for flexible working hours or (likely), a grudge against their boss. But one thing that they all undoubtedly have in common is passion, and, if they’re ever to be successful, faith. Faith in their ability to one day not only do what they love, but actually make a living whilst doing it. It is an ever-elusive concept to most of us, and one that takes guts, drive and hard work – endless, endless hours of hard work – to pursue. For Ampersand Magazine’s editor Alice Gage, her belief in her idea and its ability to transform both magazine stands everywhere and her life is almost infectious, and leads anyone she shares it with to catch it as well. Determination is a force, and it is the exact reason why we are happy for you to mark our words - Ampersand is going to be sticking around for a while yet. We’re not the only ones who have come to this conclusion, either: Alice was recently awarded with the British Council’s Realise Your Dream award, so she’ll be taking her passion to the UK and spreading the rest of the world with it.

Ampersand was conceived at the start of 2007 while Alice was living in Melbourne, when she decided to use some of the inspiration she had gained through small arts publications overseas and start her own. “I realised that there was a whole actual medium we didn’t have here in Australia,” she explains. “Our small publications are either street press or dry political journals, but there is nothing really in between that is both smart and fun.” With non-fiction and visual art as the main focus of the magazine, Alice has been able to get a pretty impressive calibre of contributors, ranging from Christos Tsiolkas to Warwick Baker. Again, her enthusiasm and sheer belief in her project has been enough to attract their interest, as well as that of the grant givers, from whom she was able to secure enough funds to see her vision realised into print.

Of course, belief in an idea is nothing without the vision itself, and Ampersand has indeed managed to fill a rather conspicuous gap in the market. Focusing on quality content that embraces both intellect and humour, it is a rare and beautiful retreat from the rest of the titles in the typical newsstand. “There are all these magazines out there don’t represent US – smart people who also like art and like to laugh,” she describes of her desire to write what she wanted to read. As she had never worked as an editor before, Alice learned everything from scratch, which of course had its challenges. Cue three years later and it is clear that she has developed a knack for it.

“When you publish your own magazine, you are doing everything on your own, from commissioning to editing to sourcing content. Then there are things like distribution, production, design, events, marketing, budgeting… there is a list of 1 to 10 and you just go through it chronologically, but then you learn everything happens at once – i.e. thinking about design and then determining how to pay for it.”

Like any passion project, Alice juggles her determination to make it sustainable with – well, living – and acknowledges the possible risks in going such a route. “By doing what I’m doing, I am taking a big chance on my career – it’s very hard when you’re starting your own thing, because you can’t work full time anywhere and you cant start rising up the editorial ranks of a publishing house,” she says. Although it will take time to get to her dream of Ampersand being published four times a year and being self-sustaining, small steps are already being made. For instance, the magazine now has a co-editor on board, as well as an editorial assistant, and of course then there are the plans for the UK next summer, where Alice will undertake an internship with Frieze Magazine to learn how to succeed in independent publishing.

As for the present, Alice and the team are currently working on “Capture the Fade”, the next edition of Ampersand which will include an article by the likes of Craig Schuftan and Bill Henson, a personal friend of Alice’s who has also been the guest judge in the “Capture the Fade” photography competition, the exhibition of which is on tonight at Paper Mill Gallery in the city.

Although her goals are clear, Alice is certainly enjoying the moment and the fact that she is pursuing her ambition. “It’s amazing to see my vision realised… it’s just really incredible when in love with what you do. It’s a wonderful thing to be so passionate and sort of obsessed, in a love kind of way.

words: Seema Duggal


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