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High Performance magazine records, 1953-2005

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High Performance Magazine Records

Biographical/Historical Note

Linda Burnham, a public relations officer at University of California, Irvine, borrowed $2,000 from the university credit union in 1977, and in a move she described as "impulsive," started High Performance magazine. Burnham's belief in the transformative power of performance art had developed from her personal discovery of feminism and feminist art, which was an important aspect of much performance art at this time; her exposure to a number of early artists, such as Barbara Smith and Nancy Buchanan, UCI alumnae, who were still performing in the area; and especially her experience of seeing Chris Burden interviewed on television by Regis Philbin and realizing that others did not share her intense, positive reaction to his work. As the first magazine devoted exclusively to performance art, High Performance documented both the budding, local Los Angeles performance art movement, and its national and international counterparts, publishing artists whose work would not have been covered in more mainstream publications.

The initial issue of High Performance appeared in February 1978. The first few issues were produced on weekends in Burnham's office at UCI using materials pilfered from her employer, with Burnham as editor and her friend Richard Newton as associate editor and designer, but the magazine soon moved its production base to Burnham's loft in downtown Los Angeles. The quarterly magazine maintained an open submissions policy, publishing any artist who could provide black-and-white photographic documentation, dates, and a description of his or her performance. This "Artist's Chronicle" comprised the bulk of the magazine, which was then rounded out by artist interviews and alternative art space features. The magazine's uniqueness lay in its documentary rather than critical approach, presenting the work through the artist's own voice. Yet after only a few issues, it became clear that the magazine was not financially viable, since neither issue sales nor advertising sales were creating adequate revenue. Burnham had determined to end publication when the money ran out rather than compromise her vision of the magazine, but fortunately in 1980 she met Susanna Dakin, an artist with independent financial resources, who urged Burnham to continue the magazine and agreed to provide funding. Dakin already had a small publishing company, Astro Artz, which Dakin and Burnham merged with the magazine into a publishing partnership Astro Artz/High Performance.

The early 1980s saw a number of changes in High Performance. By 1982, the magazine had broadened its scope to include all the new and experimental arts, an editorial focus that developed in part because performance art had always been hard to define. Although the initial issues of the magazine had specifically excluded works of dance and theater, subsequent issues covered works with a certain performative aspect from a variety of genres, leading to a moment when High Performance frequently appropriated the work of artists who would not call themselves performance artists. In this same period, in a fundamental philosophical change, the magazine shifted its editorial focus from documentary coverage to critical writing and reviews. The last "Artist's Chronicle" appeared in Issue 22 in 1983. This period also saw changes in how the magazine was staffed and administered. In 1982, Steven Durland moved to Los Angeles from New York and began working for Astro Artz and soon Burnham and Durland moved in together as a couple. In the spring of 1983, Durland was named General Manager of Astro Artz/High Performance, the magazine's administrative body. At the same time, Astro Artz filed for incorporation, and in 1984 received its non-profit tax-exempt status, making it eligible for grant funding.

The mid to late 1980s saw further editorial and staffing changes at the magazine. At the end of 1985, after 32 issues, Linda Burnham resigned as editor of High Performance and Durland was named editor. Durland gradually moved the magazine into the area of multicultural and issue-oriented work and hired regional editors in an attempt to better cover the national scene. A further significant shift occurred in the environment in which the magazine was produced. In the fall of 1988 Susanna Dakin, who was still providing funding for the magazine, purchased the property that became the 18th Street Arts Complex in Santa Monica. Burnham and Durland soon moved into the complex where Burnham served as property manager. By the spring of 1989, High Performance also moved its offices into the complex in Santa Monica. High Performance was now one of several arts organizations operating under the Astro Artz umbrella at the 18th Street Arts Complex, a group that grew larger with the founding of Highways Performance Space in 1990.

By late 1992 tensions began to arise within the Santa Monica complex, again due to editorial and administrative shifts. Durland was taking High Performance in a new direction, focusing on social and cultural involvement, and community-based art. For a number of personal and financial reasons, Burnham and Durland left Santa Monica for North Carolina in the spring/summer of 1993. Durland continued to edit the magazine from there. In fact, at this point, the entire magazine was rather decentralized: it was printed in Michigan, distribution and subscription fulfillment were handled from Boulder, Colorado, and writers submitted their manuscripts by e-mail; only the administrative body remained in Santa Monica.

At this point frictions between the magazine and its governing body accelerated. Within the climate of pressure created by the "culture wars" and the NEA funding controversy of this period, High Performance no longer had anyone at 18th Street to fight for its share of the limited resources, and more funding was allocated to other areas of the corporation's activity, such as Highways. In 1992, Astro Artz had officially reinstated itself as the 18th Street Arts Complex, leading to changes in the Board of Directors. The new board members were not particularly interested in High Performance, especially with the direction in which Durland was then taking it. This tense relationship between the magazine and its governing body continued for almost two years.

Finally in 1994 it was decided that the differences between Durland and the Santa Monica board were irreconcilable. The assets of the magazine were transferred to Durland and Burnham, and in 1995 the two parties went their separate ways. Burnham and Durland started a new non-profit organization, Art in the Public Interest (API), which focused on bringing the arts together with community and social concerns. After a brief hiatus, they began to publish the magazine again in early 1996, with Burnham returning as a co-editor to the magazine she had founded almost twenty years before. At this point, High Performance was available only to members of API; newsstand sales were discontinued. Still, after the hiatus, funding the magazine became harder and harder and the magazine itself became slimmer and slimmer until it became clear that it could not continue. High Performance ceased publication with Issue 76 in 1997.

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