In 1995, the first issue of Tea Party was created by Founder and Publisher, David T. Pang, as a zine of which a few hundred copies were photocopied, hand-stapled, and distributed to Pang’s close friends and acquaintances. What began as a hobby and avenue to fulfill Pang’s personal creative expression eventually grew into a part-time publishing career. Pang funded the new venture and ultimately hired friends and other acquaintances to help produce and distribute the magazine. In its early years, Tea Party was an ad hoc operation with no formal submission process or singular editorial oversight. As a result, the publication’s quality and content was somewhat random, apolitical, and personal; however, the zine grew to be popular among a close-knit circle. Pang writes in [Issue #15] that his colleague and friend Slobodan Dan Paich once described the publication as “a train that came by and anybody could come aboard.”
In June 2000, David established a center for magazine operations in the San Antonio district of Oakland, California. With a central location and large backyard at the new ‘Tea Party House,’ Tea Party began to host readings and magazine launch events.
In 2001 Denise Mewbourne joined the organization as Editor-in-Chief for [Issue #12]. She worked to create a culturally diverse arts and culture magazine with a strong commitment to emerging and traditionally underrepresented writers and artists. To fully honor that commitment, Tea Party includes powerful writing illuminating the experience of homeless people, mental patients and incarcerated people. Although the magazine has a strong focus on the San Francisco Bay Area, it is open to like-minded national contributors as well.
With Issue #12 Tea Party transformed from a zine to a high-quality arts and culture magazine. For the first time the magazine was laid out by a professional design team, who established a template and the foundations of a graphic identity. The masthead was designed by Oakland artist and Tea Party board member, Betty Kano. The cover became full-color glossy and the black and white contents were printed on crisp white paper.
Formerly fiscally sponsored by [Pro Arts Gallery] in Oakland, Tea Party is now a non-profit organization in its own right. Thanks to generous funding from the city of [Oakland Cultural Arts and Marketing Department], the magazine quality has soared in both content and design. Tea Party is nationally distributed and is available in [independent bookstores] in major cities around the US.
In 1998, Tea Party was functioning as a sole proprietorship. Like many zines in the last decade, Tea Party contained subject matter that was considered too outside of the mainstream to be included in more traditional media, which made it difficult to secure substantial sales revenue. Pang applied Tea Party for nonprofit status in 2000 so the magazine could request financial sponsorship from the city and other granting organizations. In June of that same year, Pang established a center for Tea Party operations in the San Antonio district of Oakland, California. It was at this time that the magazine began to be professionally printed, with Oakland’s Pro Arts Gallery acting as the fiscal sponsor.
Denise Mewbourne joined the organization in 2001 as Editor-in-Chief for Issue #12, bringing in the editorial vision of Tea Party as a progressive, multi-ethnic publication. Mewbourne worked to create a culturally diverse arts and culture magazine with a strong commitment to emerging and traditionally underrepresented writers and artists. Pang supported Mewbourne’s suggested editorial direction and said, “There was a need to have different ethnic representations and new voices featured in a publication,” explained Pang.
With Issue #12 Tea Party transformed from a zine to a high-quality arts and culture publication with a full-color glossy cover and new logo designed by Oakland artist Betty Kano. For the first time the magazine was designed by a professional team of graphic designers.
After some years spent clarifying its editorial content, building audiences, and increasing its professional capabilities, Tea Party reached a critical juncture in 2004 when the organization changed its legal structure from a for-profit to non-profit business. This transition involved creating a mission statement, developing bylaws, recruiting a [Board of Directors], and fulfilling other 501(c)(3) requirements.
Operationally, Tea Party has had two long-term staff members: Pang, who continues to donate funds and contribute articles to the magazine, and Mewbourne, who has served as the Editor-in-Chief for five years. In 2006, Mewbourne produced [Issue #16]--with a new logo created by graphic designer Joy Liu of Revoluxin Designs--and announced that she would be stepping down from her position. In December 2006, Pang and Mewbourne welcomed Esther Lee as the new Editor-in-Chief. Under Lee’s guidance, the new editorial and graphic design teams produced [Issue 17], devoted to the theme of “Trans•” which was released in September 2007. Outside of Pang, Mewbourne and now Lee, Tea Party has relied on the generosity of part-time staff, freelancers contributors, and volunteers to produce each issue.
On a local level, Tea Party has emerged as an Oakland-based nonprofit publication that documents and showcases the art and word of many San Francisco Bay Area-based writers and artists. The magazine’s nonprofit status means that Tea Party relies on memberships and donations—in addition to store sales and subscriptions—to pay its artists and print its high-quality magazine. Therefore, the support from Tea Party’s local audience has been essential to the success of the organization.
Today Tea Party reaches a national audience, carried by eight major [distributors] and sold in 400 bookstores and other retail outlets in major cities across the United States. With Issue #16, the magazine became available in Canada. Despite this reach, Tea Party has struggled to continue because of operational and printing costs. Because of the high quality of Tea Party’s content and the staff’s resilient nature, the [City of Oakland Cultural Arts Department] generously awarded a grant with which Tea Party conducted a needs assessment in order to strategize how to improve Tea Party’s financial and operational performance, as well as succeed in its reach and sustainability. Future steps sponsored by the City of Oakland Cultural Arts Department include board development efforts and the creation of an organizational strategic plan.