The back-story to Preview: the Gallery Guide is Vanguard magazine, a large-format 64-paged glossy, produced from 1972-84 by the Vancouver Art Gallery and subsequently, until it folded in 1989, by the Vancouver Society for Critical Arts Publications.
Janice Whitehead, now long-established as the publisher/owner of Preview: The Gallery Guide, was the managing editor for 13 years. Vanguard featured challenging essays in English or French about art, artists, art theory and events. It also included paid black and white or colour advertisements for galleries. Because colour separations (essential to the printing process) were expensive, they were used sparingly but at least both sides of the front and back covers were chromatic. It was certain that even with the low quality images together with the names of venues, exhibiting artists and articles, essential information about Canadian culture was being communicated during this time frame. Vanguards 100-plus issues are therefore safeguarded in many libraries, including the Vancouver Art Gallerys, just as are all issues of Preview.
In 1986, Vanguard magazine published something special in honour of Vancouvers centennial and Expo 86. Art86 was a $2 pocket-sized guide that encouraged visitors to see visual art attractions in several foreign pavilions and the public art made for Expo '86 by B.C. artists like Richard Prince, John Clair Watts and Beau Dick. The 30-page issue also contained information regarding galleries, museums and studios in the city and province that might be of interest to Expo attendees together with listings for walking tours, conferences and film festivals that were happening in Vancouver and Victoria throughout the summer of 1986. The tone of this "souvenier" was intelligent, taking care to inform and engage the reader. Even though most illustrations were not much bigger than postage stamps, they demonstrated Vancouvers sophistication in the arts.
The approximately 5.5 x 8-inch format established with Art86 remained constant in the subsequent '87 and '89 pocket guides that were later developed by Vanguard. Many aspects of their consistent design features (for example the three vertical division sections on each page of listings) were facilitated by the 1985 introduction of Superpage by Bestinfo, one of the first desktop publishing programs that allowed most of the writing and magazine layout to be done in-house. When Vanguard ceased operations abruptly in the summer of 1989, Whitehead decided to expand on the services-concept offered in Art86, Art87 and Art89 in her own independent publication, Preview of The Visual Arts, which premiered in the fall of 1989. The small guides had proven their usefulness and Whitehead knew how to develop the format and make the enterprise financially viable. Over the 25-year production history, the scope of the magazine has continued to grow and incorporate new technologies.
The name Preview was emblazoned in bold white letters on the cover of the inaugural issue. The city of Portland was added to Vancouver, Victoria and Seattle, which were already set out in Art89. At 31 pages it was thicker than it had previously been and colour illustrations enlivened almost every page. The light blue, half-page previews, a feature introduced in Art89, continued but were still unsigned.
A Saturday Review article in the January 5, 1991 edition of the Vancouver Sun describes Preview as the Vancouver-based counterpart to Slate, the Toronto gallery guide. The article further states that Preview is the only art publication to serve cities north and south of the border and east and west of the Rockies and it offers an excellent summary of what is important to see at 100 local galleries.
Four years later, Chris Tyrell via CARFAC nominated Preview for a Vancouver Board of Trade Business and the Arts Award. The submission praises Previews 1995 wide circulation of 25,000 copies to fifty major cities and communities, the fact that it advertises exhibitions displayed in over 300 venues, and that it selectively covers the specialized services of art-related businesses, all without receiving direct financial support from any level of government or other organization. The writing style was described as easily readable, objective and information-based, rather than opinion-based, since it is intended to entice viewers to attend exhibitions.
Launched in 1996, Preview's extensive and comprehensive web presence (where current and back-issues can be downloaded) receives over 70,000 unique visitors a month. Although there are local, regional and international annual subscribers, some 30,000 copies of five issues per year are now widely distributed throughout the Pacific Northwest at no purchase cost to the public. The relevant content, supported with the many finely reproduced true-colour images, continues to receive positive responses of support and appreciation from readers, clients and art-world participants alike.
In its 25th year, Preview: The Gallery Guide covers an ever-widening territory and, despite troubles in the global economy, ever-more cultural outlets and events. For example, the 104-page 2011 summer issue contains 350 gallery listings, 27 notices for art services and materials, and 20 half-page previews written by Mia Johnson and Allyn Cantor. As well, there are one-page articles on art conservation, feature articles by Jim Finlay and Ann Rosenberg, information on art catalogues, gallery openings and related events, and five pages of vignettes or mini-reviews by Robin Laurence and Allyn Cantor.
Thanks to the vision and expertise Whitehead brings to her successful business model, the hard work of a dedicated staff, and the wonders of digital cameras and scans, Preview: The Gallery Guide moves forward, and there is not an unclear sentence or baffling phrase of art-speak anywhere to block one's access to art.