Vernacular is an online journal for art criticism with a focus on artist-run and independent projects in Aotearoa. Vernacular commissions and hosts critical responses and discussion papers in order to highlight spaces, projects and artists who might otherwise go unnoticed.

Established with the support of its community through crowdfunding, writing is supported by Creative New Zealand, commissioned and edited by a small and nimble team, led by Orissa Keane.


To bring awareness to and create an archive of smaller project spaces around the motu, with a focus on Te Waipounamu, offering critical feedback to artists in a productive and nourishing way, and providing writers (and artists) with a supportive space to write and publish.


To provide a platform, feedback and editorial support and remuneration for writing about artist-run initiatives (ARIs) and independent exhibitions.

Guiding principles

Vernacular will:

    1. Present remunerated opportunities for writers and diversify the landscape of art criticism in Aotearoa.
    2. Commission and host critical responses and discussion papers in order to highlight spaces, projects and artists that might otherwise be under-serviced in terms of media and visibility.
    3. Publish writing to a high standard, encouraging a diversity of format, perspective and style that accurately captures the nature of independent writing and practice in Aotearoa now and in the future.
    4. Offer support and critical feedback to writers in a kind and nurturing manner.
    5. Present opportunities for writers and artists to be uplifted and celebrated.
    6. Seek new art writers as well as more established authors, offering entry-level opportunities or in-depth editorial support towards a writer's development.
    7. Add unique value to the local and national art and culture sector.
    8. Promote and celebrate smaller, independent art spaces through Aotearoa, with a focus on Te Waipounamu.
    9. Within this initiative, Vernacular will maintain sustainable working and funding models which work to its small scale and capacity.
    10. Provide additional resources and services such as the Current Exhibitions index and seek collaborative opportunities to support the arts community through advocacy and opportunity sharing with the likes of Aotearoa Arts Makers. 
    11. Contribute to an ongoing archive for independent galleries and ARIs by providing a long-term website with documentation of exhibitions and external links. 
    12. Maintain independence from any exhibiting institution, acknowledging an ARI model at its foundation.
    13. Acknowledge and use Te Tiriti o Waitangi as a guiding principle by:
      • Consciously seeking to provide opportunities to Māori writers, and to commission exhibition responses about Māori exhibitions.
      • Developing and maintaining connections with Tangata Whenua writers, artists and galleries when it is helpful and useful to the person/s or gallery.
      • We will endorse the regular use of te reo Māori by including kupu Māori across the website and within essays where appropriate.
      • We will maintain a Māori or Moana editor and call on them where appropriate in addition to editing other non-culturally specific texts. We will endeavour to seek mentorship where Vernacular or the writer identifies the want.
      • When seeking advice / guidance / translation / engagement from Māori this is valued through reciprocity and remuneration.
      • Writers and editors will be remunerated for their work and editorial support will be offered. Writers will either be assigned or recommended by the gallery. 

Accountability (impact)

We at Vernacular will know we are achieving our vision when:
  • We maintain a thoughtful and sensitive publishing output that seeks to represent and connect with the diverse context in which it operates, that being a multicultural nation situated within the Asia-Pacific region, with a flourishing indigenous art scene.
  • Writers are pleased with and feel supported by the process as well as the outcome.
  • Editors and members of Vernacular feel fairly remunerated and not worked past their capacity, noting that many of those involved in Vernacular have other full-time commitments.
  • We continue to sustain and strengthen deeper engagement with art writing and criticism.
  • An adaptable focus is maintained, acknowledging that what Vernacular is, and who it is for, will develop over time.
  • Artists and galleries find value in the writing/coverage demonstrated by referencing the article or website on their social media or website.
  • The platform will maintain its presence and slowly develop over time into an archive and public resource for artists and researchers by maintaining the website domain and rights.
  • Fair remuneration looks like at least $0.50 per word (approx.) as a writers’ fee and a rate of at least $30/hour in editing and other paid work.

Vernacular’s best practice principles

  • Be sensitive if contacting an artist or gallery to advise who to write for their show or to provide images, being aware that they just completed an exhibition and don’t need more on their plate.
  • When asking for assistance or approaching a Māori-led gallery, do this in a way which works for and with existing networks and communities without putting a strain on those communities to share resources and knowledge to our predominantly non-Māori audience.
  • As editors, be generous and communicative with writers, check in about the level of feedback and editorial engagement they want and expect. Know that it can be overwhelming to see lots of changes on a Google Doc especially if they’re not used to working with tracked changes.
  • Give the artist whose exhibition is being written about a friendly heads up that we are publishing something about their exhibition. Give them the link ahead of time,  emphasising that they may wish to check the accuracy of concrete facts and references surrounding the works, as opposed to encouraging or expecting artists to approve of subjective content—this is how we stay neutral and independant.

Current structure

  • One facilitator who directs the publication, manages communications and website, commissions and edits texts, and manages funds. Approx 6 hours per week plus editing hours.
  • One commissioning editor, approx 2 hours per week plus editing hours who works closely with the facilitator.
  • Several casual editors to be called on where needed or appropriate.
  • One designer, contracted now and then for promotional material.
  • Several mentors—currently inactive.
  • We are currently funded in part by Creative New Zealand (until August 2023) and by remaining Boosted funds (2021). Boosted crowdfunding and a subscription model feels like an achievable model for the scale of Vernacular moving forward. 

ISSN 2744-7952

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Vernacular logo designed by Yujin Shin

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