Central Virginia arts and culture magazine 64 positions itself for challenges ahead. 

First Draft

People are talking about 64.

Some of them are even reading it.

For a magazine, that's a pretty good start.

Six issues since its high-profile launch, the Richmond-based culture monthly has taken its share of criticism and suffered its share of growing pains. It's had its moments, too, of course; a few of them shining.

Now it's time to see if it will last.

"What does it take to sustain a magazine like this?" muses Lorna Wyckoff, creator and editor of the nonprofit magazine, which aims to survey and support (through coverage and, eventually, stipends and scholarships) almost all things artistic in Central Virginia.

"Nonprofit magazine" may be redundant and, in 64's case, irrelevant. Magazines have an infant mortality rate probably exceeding that of restaurants, but few have 501(c)(3) status, or key backers worth a couple hundred million dollars each. Wyckoff says she started with nearly $1 million from the usual suspects here (about $800,000, according to an IRS filing) and has commitments to fund the first three years of operation. "Then we'll just cut and run," relying on subscriptions, ad revenue and lesser contributions.

The founder and former editor and publisher of Style Weekly, Wyckoff says the money men include 64 board members William H. Goodwin Jr. and James E. Ukrop. The former did not return calls for comment; the latter declined to discuss dollars and cents but calls 64 "a terrific success."

Ukrop says he supports 64 because it promotes the region as "a Mecca, a center for the arts," which raises the area's quality of life and aids economic development efforts.

It's got a ways to go. According to its 1999 tax return, 64 in its first year had $54,105 in revenue and $165,756 in expenses, $133,026 in assets and $244,677 in liabilities. Current-year data could not be obtained, but printing, personnel and other costs of producing the first six issues almost certainly outweighed subscription and advertising revenue.

Wyckoff says 64's circulation, mostly in the form of $29.95 annual subscriptions, is shy of 4,000 - about a tenth of the magazine's first-issue print run (40,000) and initial three-year target (50,000). Sources say that has occasioned cutbacks and turnover at the publication's Main Street offices; Wyckoff acknowledges a payment dispute with a printer, but insists 64's financial house is in order. "Things are going great," she says, adding the operation is running "lean and mean" with nine full-timers and a cadre of freelancers.

The amount of advertising in 64 has held fairly steady - 14 to 17 full-page ads per issue (with smaller ads on 15 to 20 pages) - but the magazine itself has shrunk — 112 pages in the January/February issue to 108 pages in March, 96 in April, 88 in May and June, and 80 in July.

Wyckoff says the August issue will be 96 pages. "We're trying to get to a formula of what people like," she says, shrugging off the page-count decline as seasonal to the publishing industry and part of 64's process of "determining what the core book is."

"It's evolving," she says. "You're watching our tests at work."

The first one had mixed results, internally and externally. Says 64 board member and attorney Thomas F. Coates III: "Obviously there's always start-up issues, whether it's a publication or anything."

Before it came out, 64's first editor, Garland Pollard, was gone. When it came out, it was several weeks late. After it came out, much of the design and some of the writing were lauded, but head-scratching ensued over the selection of 18-year-old runway model Amy Lemons as the cover subject.

"We got as many negative comments about Amy the model as positive comments," Wyckoff says. "I never said it was going to be a magazine about art. I said it was going to be a monthly nonprofit magazine about arts and culture."

64 covers since have featured more conventional cultural types - a painter, a photographer, sculpture, a high-tech entrepreneur and a poet - but other articles remain aggressively eclectic: "If we focused only on the fine arts ... I don't think we would have the readership."

Wyckoff's task now is to shift from product development to marketing. "It's going to take us two years to get our subscription base up" substantially, she says, adding 64 is mailing subscription offers to prospects and fundraising pitches to subscribers.

Individual contributions remain critical to the magazine's strategy of eventually funding stipends and scholarships for local artists. Wyckoff also plans to pursue high-dollar grants from foundations, which she says usually require a magazine such as 64 to have six months of issues behind it before they consider supporting it.

While funding is the focus, that's not to say 64 won't continue changing content. One goal: "Making the design more reader friendly. We had a lot of complaints about it being over-designed," Wyckoff says.

"Honestly, it feels like we're just getting

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