No expertise required: with her new self-published magazine, Vagabond Village owner Natalie Pierson wants to give anyone with something to say an artistic place to say it.

“I’m trying to make a safe house for anyone who’s got an idea to come share it and not be afraid,” said Pierson. “We are looking for people who are bored, who want to step outside of their box a little bit.”

Pierson began her zine in early spring of 2019 as a way of expanding her partnership with the Minnesota Valley Action Council’s Youth Employment program. (The vintage store has been working with MVAC for years.)

“I totally believe in what they’re doing,” said Pierson, who takes on young interns through MVAC to teach them entrepreneurship and life skills. “A lot of these kids who come to me in the program don’t have the skills that will advance them in life.”

Pierson leaves running the zine almost entirely to her young interns.

“This whole project is all about them,” she said. “This is me standing back, giving them tools, and letting them explore with my universe to see what they can do with it, and letting them learn through trial and error.”

(Never heard of a ‘zine? Short for “magazine” or “fanzine,” ‘zines are usually homemade, highly focused and reproduced crudely. The point is to be more grassroots, less slick production values.)

The internship program might target the 16- to 22-year-old age range, but in Pierson’s vision the zine will include anyone who wants to be heard. The zine evolved out of a community journal she kept on display at Vagabond Village. All visitors were encouraged to write or doodle across its pages and share whatever was on their minds.

“This has been going on for three years now,” said Pierson. “Once people get a second, they’re not afraid to speak. Someone else will read this and say, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s exactly how I was feeling, thank you for that!’ There’s this really awesome dialogue.’”

Local writer and zine contributor Esther Marcella Hoffmann credits exactly this kind of creative exchange with helping her through a tough period of writer’s block. She visited Vagabond Village during a zine crafting night, which is always open to the public, and joined other in playing around with Pierson’s huge stockpile of vintage paper and quirky antique prints. Her poem “Séance” was the result.

“As a writer, sometimes there’s this notion that it [writing] has to be really polished, and that you’re going to send it to publishers and they’re going to reject you.” said Hoffmann. “The difference with this is that you can create something and it will be encouraged and taken into the community.”

“There’s no rejection here,” Pierson agreed. She keeps files of all unpublished contributions and pledges that each submission will be used either in an upcoming zine issue or as artwork around her store.

The zine’s first issue is on sale for $3 apiece in participating stores such as the Coffee Hag and the Fillin’ Station. These businesses also have cash cans where community members can submit artwork for a future issue or donate toward the cost of publication. Pierson asks local businesses to buy a sponsorship for $25 each. In return, she features their business in the zine they sponsored and gives them four free copies of the zine.

Every sponsorship helps, because the zine is geared toward community involvement rather than profit.

“I’m a very community-oriented person, so money doesn’t come first,” Pierson affirmed. “I really just care about people getting a positive experience.” She and Hoffmann hope that contributors are encouraged to grow by sharing their authentic perspectives.

“Art is a way to integrate the painful stuff and the joy, and then you get to become this third thing, which is the authentic thing,” said Hoffmann. “If you ignore it, that’s when things act up.”

Pierson agreed, saying that the idea of authenticity goes back to her original passion for working with young people.

“If you suppress it and think that something is wrong with you, then you go the wrong path because you’re just trying to fit in,” she said. “You don’t have the confidence so you never show your skills, and that’s what we’re trying to break through.”

Anyone interested in contributing to the July-August-September zine issue can pick up a submission sheet at Vagabond Village or visit the store on Thursday nights from 5-7 p.m. for some spontaneous art time.

“Come down and find a different community and people who are like you,” said Pierson. “No idea is turned away.”

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Features Editor, Mankato Free Press Associate Editor, Mankato Magazine