This article was first published in The Oregon Humanities, A Journal of Ideas and Perspectives, Spring/Summer 2005
By Meg Daly
The Cereal Box Review mission statement – “Because you are what you read” – could not be more apt for a literary journal in the form of a cardboard container. The review’s goal is to give readers something more compelling than fiber content to think about during breakfast. Just fold the journal in to the shape of a cereal box, tape a few flaps together, insert a bag of your favorite granola or corn flakes, and you’re ready to take part in what Krista Arias calls “cereal eating sacrament.”
Arias is the founder of Fold Crêperie, Salon and Small Press, a 2-year-old media arts center in Northeast Portland. Fold consist of a cafe space for gatherings and readings, a crêpe-making kitchen housed in a trailer out back and a media publishing publishing studio down the street.
The Cereal Box Review is one of the many projects to come out of Fold (formerly La-Palabra Café-Press). Nearly every inch of the issue/box is covered in words and art. Issue No. 4, for instance, includes a short story by Portlander Stevan Allred, a poem paying homage to Elizabeth Bishop, a definition of the term “nervous breakthrough,” a quote from Matisse, and a hodgepodge of aphorisms, poems, essays, and photos crammed onto the broadside. The Reviewgives new meaning to the saying “a feast for the eyes.”
Arias is committed to creating public gatherings and arenas for philosophical and literary discussion. As if tipping her hat to Rilke who wrote “a work of art is good if it has grown out of necessity,” Arias started Fold — “think the the fold of the batter, the fold of the community, and the fold of the paper” — because she needed it.
“I wanted to create a space where I could have an encounter with myself and others as learners in the world,” she says. Chairs made of metal tractor-trailer seats are set around a hand-made table. A nearby wire contraption is decorated with slips of paper. Arias calls it a “poet tree” and invited guests to dash off a poem on an adjacent typewriter and add it to the tree.
Arias says the inspiration for Fold developed out of her own experiences as a student. Growing up as part of the working -class and of Mexican descent in Canada, she was “the kind of kid who didn’t expect to go to college.” But go to college she did, earning an undergraduate degree in Liberal Studies from the Evergreen State College, one master’s in Liberal Studies from St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and another master’s in philosophy from the university of Toronto. She is now pursuing a Ph.D. in communications from the European Graduate School.
Arias views liberal arts inquiry as a kind of ceremony. She is interested in what happens when a group of people come together around a text and “submit themselves to having their lives changed. I agree with Morris Berman
[The Twilight of American culture] that the liberal arts are what will save our culture,” she says. “Untangling the intellectual and spiritual traditions we are steeped in is part of being a responsible citizen.”Fold has found a receptive audience in Portland. The collaborative media publishing studio has attracted a core group of members who share Arias’s vision. The studio houses a darkroom, a letterpress, and facilities for silk screening, book binding, and film and video editing. Members make a financial and time commitment to the studio. “When I talked about these ideas in other places I’ve lived, people got afraid,” says Arias. “In Portland so many people don’t think I’m crazy! Not only that, they have good ideas to contribute.” One such idea is an upcoming 9 week Salon series on the nature of friendship. Arias also hosts an ad-hoc lecture series called “Colloquial Quadrivium,” which has featured speakers on Chinese shamanism, the history of video art, and avant garde music.
Maintaining a business based on such lofty creative and community ideals has not exactly been lucrative. In fact, Arias reports many sleepless nights worrying how to pay the rent. But a combination of self-sacrifice, loans, and a particularly generous anonymous donation have allowed her to keep the doors open so far. Now she and Fold regulars are developing ideas for keeping the café and the studio afloat long-term.
The main income producer is the crêperie Arias runs out of a trailer in the back of the café. Though Arias says she is not interested in becoming a restaunteur, she is no slouch in the kitchen; the crêperie was recently written up in Bon Appetit. Arias and studio members also make a little money by selling their wares at the cafe such as baby-clothes silk-screened with vintage images of clowns and airplanes. The walls are adorned with word-based paintings by a local artist. A postcard rack sports handmade cards as well as a little red pamphlet that Arias says, half jokingly, is her bible: It Works, by RHJ. First published in 1926, it proclaims, “If you know what you want you can have it.”
For Arias, having what she wants means creating an environment in which she can gather with others to wonder about literature, philosophy, and culture. She hopes to revive the tradition of Parisian intellectual salons and Mexican cultural cafés in which patrons linger for hours discussing those questions central to their lives. “We’re so polarized in America, and everyone is so sure they’re right,” says Arias. “I wanted to create a space where something else could happen, where we could discover the underlying questions and have a conversation rather than an argument.”