#28: Christy Thacker
Christy Thacker and life partner Jonny DeStefano started Birdy magazine on an idea and a dime (and the additional support of Denver entrepreneur and mayoral candidate Kayvan Khalatbari) in 2013, molding the indie periodical into a beacon of street literature that comes off as both polished and fiercely underground in nature. That’s never easy to pull off, but it’s all due in part to Thacker’s impressive intellect and editorial wisdom, a real appreciation for creatives of every stripe and a lot of hard work. And yet for all she puts into Birdy, it’s still just a fraction of what Thacker’s all about. Catch up with the rest of her story, as she answers the 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Christy Thacker: My childhood often drives my spirit. I’ve never allowed my creative flame to go out — or at least not for long – and have forever been grateful for my earlier experiences which embedded art into my being on a cellular level.
I’ve moved over fifteen times throughout my life, but spent several years with my family outside of Houston, Texas. During this time, we experienced a long bout of poverty. Because we couldn’t regularly afford to go to the mall, arcades, restaurants or other costly places, my brothers and I would spend most of our days making art, exploring outside or going to the library.
I remember just writing, illustrating and creating for hours and hours, even entering contests for things like LEGO creations, short stories ("The Elephant Who Went to the Olympics and Ate Pennies," to name one), and reading marathons. We attended as many free classes, day camps, cultural festivals and events as we could. I sewed my own Beanie Babies with felt and googly eyes, filling them with dried kidney beans. Created mansions out of trashed boxes and styrofoam for my hand-me-down Barbies and Polly Pockets. Spent whole days making short films and skits on a video camera my grandparents graciously gave us while sporting wigs and self-made costumes, props and scenery, all the while mimicking our favorite SNL, MAD TV, Chevy Chase and Steve Martin characters. Built bike jumps and treehouses in the middle of fields and in the woods, painting and decorating them with found objects. And we’d routinely ride through the neighborhood on garbage days finding loads of perfectly good dolls, toys, clothes and art supplies people would put on their curbside. Nothing was off limits in my world of limitless imagination.
I also read like my life depended on it. Libraries were my second home, and I loved it. Books significantly molded me — and still do — propelling me into otherworldly adventures, fueling my quest for knowledge and easing the hardships of what we were going through, all for free. At a young age I knew reading was my ticket to freedom, to a better life outside of what I saw in that community ridden with poor education systems, violence, drugs and poverty. And even today, I read every morning and in my spare time, and am particularly inspired by war and survival memoirs, international works and philosophical novels. I notice when I don’t read, my confidence in my creative work and inspiration dwindles, and I often become pessimistic and even hopeless. Books keep me in check, my mind sharp and my heart open. All that said, my early upbringing made me a survivor and, in turn, a ferocious creator. I will never forget my past and will always be that creative little girl.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
I don’t mind the occasional party, but I’m definitely a one-on-one/small-group person.
I’d ask Gary Numan to take me flying. Preferably we’d be in a four-seater, so we could pick up Trent Reznor and David Bowie (in the clouds, of course), since they’re all friends and all great influencers of mine. I grew up in a music-obsessed household, thanks to my parents and their love of sound was passed down to me and my siblings. Music heavily inspires every aspect of my life, from the way I dress to the visual art I make.
Scenario two would include Paulo Coelho guiding me on the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain and France, or some sort of pilgrimage like the one he took which inspired him to write The Alchemist. I’m enthralled with his books right now, as they’re teaching me about following my own personal legend, finding my own sword.
Lastly, Angelina Jolie and I would would go on one of her missions to Cambodia — a country that’s still torn apart by the atrocities of the 1970s Khmer Rouge genocidal reign — to assist with efforts in current de-mining programs, poverty eradication, human-rights issues and environmental restorative projects. I first discovered Angelina during my angsty hybrid goth/punk adolescent years and have followed her ever since. It was so reassuring to see this gorgeous, talented female in Hollywood who absolutely did not care what anyone thought or said about her. And to witness her transformative journey as a mother and UNHCR Special Envoy is beyond motivating, as collaborating with the U.N. in any capacity is a personal lifelong goal of mine.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
At fifteen I heard the classic quote “The pen is mightier than the sword,” and I was hooked in print for life. “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.” — U.N. 1948. Print, in all forms, is a fundamental pillar of democracy, a watchdog of our government and commerce. It lends a voice to the voiceless, creates a platform for dialogue, gifts our community with so many forms of human creative expression and more. And most important, it upholds our First Amendment. I feel so grateful to not only be a part of this pillar, but to self-publish, because that’s my right, too, as a citizen. Birdy is just as vital to our community as a traditional newspaper and publishing art, culture, comedy and opinion is fundamental to a healthy and free society.
I dislike the cutthroat competitive nature, propaganda-infused content and malicious misdirection that is the backbone of many media groups and organizations these days, and is why I’ve always stayed in print versus broadcast. Even more, there’s a major lack of publishers setting aside space for full visual spreads, beautifully crafted/ethical advertising, quality content, and just straight-up gorgeous paper (which almost entirely comes from well-managed, renewable resourced tree farms in North America). And we started Birdy because of this. There are enough contributors and advertisers to go around for all of us, so people simply need to support each other and print what they truly believe in more, rather than mimicking or competing.
How about globally?
Unfortunately, freedom of the press/media/speech is not an inalienable right to all. I often feel an overwhelming sense of fortune and gratitude that I am able to produce a magazine every month on my terms and never once feel threatened for my life. Furthermore, the media industry worldwide is run predominantly by people with little artistic taste and a lot of greed. It’s so boring to sit on a plane and flip through fifteen pages of ads — all poorly designed and smashed together — only to get to “What’s In Her Purse?” Or “Ten Ways To Get Him In Bed.” Innovation is everything to me. All us publishers need to take more artistic and heart-based chances.
Are trends worth following? What’s one trend you love and one that you hate?
Some without a doubt are worth following forever: standing up for our refugee neighbors, equal rights for women, minorities, LGBTQIA+, taking care of our earth, animals, the impoverished, the sick, our homeless. Those are trends that should always be on the rise, as is kindness, generosity and, most important, love. Together we all need to keep fighting the good fight.
It’s not so much hate as it is sadness, but all the illusionary social-media image-fueled trends for females in particular just need to go. There’s nothing wrong with taking care of and expressing yourself, embracing your body, owning your own standard of beauty. But cultural pressure — pumped through media platforms, and largely now, social media — is an undeniable problem in our world. I don’t regret things in my life as everything has brought me to where I’m at today, but I do dream sometimes I could go back to my little self and say, "You’re wonderful as you are. Don’t listen to what anyone thinks, and don’t try to be like anyone else." As Oscar Wilde says, “Be you. Everyone else is already taken.”
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as a creative?
I’ve had so many beautiful opportunities in my life, it’s hard not to acknowledge them all, from starting college at fifteen and graduating at nineteen with three degrees; serving as content writer and editor for Seattle’s KEXP FM; living in Kenya for a year, where I created a 100-page syllabus (i.e., magazine) for local farm apprentices to receive government-recognized college degrees — the list goes on. But Birdy is the most satiating accomplishment of all. Jonny DeStefano, Michael David King and I started in a tiny Capitol Hill apartment in February 2013 with a vision and one month of content. Some months later, with $2,000 in hand, thanks to our generous supporters — including our once-in-a-lifetime partner Kayvan Khalatbari — we took flight. And it was not easy. We volunteered our emotional, financial and physical health and faced our greatest fears of rejection and public criticism. But it paid off. We’re 053 issues deep now, recognized by creatives, museums, big establishments and beloved fans alike, and Birdy fan and contributor Mark Mothersbaugh of DEVO is even spreading our DNA around the globe. It’s absolutely mind-blowing, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for us.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
Travel. Travel. Travel! I want to see, taste, smell, hear, feel the corners of the world. I want to wake up on top of a mountain in Nepal, trek through the jungles of Vietnam, snuggle under aurora borealis, dive deep into shipwrecks off the shores of South America (and even New York!), train-ride up the coast of Eastern Africa, see ancient ruins and active volcanos, swim in every body of water I can...and, hey, even go to space if that’s an option. I want to produce and create music, curate large-scale international art installations, write a book (or five), get my private pilot’s license (1.5 hours down, so many more to go!), drink the best coffee and wine out there, and learn to truly love myself.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I come from a lineage of travelers, so bopping around is in my blood and will always be. But Birdy keeps me here, 100 percent. I truly believe Denver, and Denver only, allowed us to incubate and birth our idea. Our city is still finding and honing its identity in art and culture, unlike many other cities I’ve lived in and experienced, such as Seattle, San Francisco and New York. I swear it has more to do with the expansive skies and amount of open land in Colorado than anything. There’s room for all of us to breathe and enough space and resources to make our dreams transpire.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Michael David King. Hands down. Mike is art director and partner in Birdy, art director of Illegal Pete’s, and was layout designer for The Onion when it was in print. He’s a genius — though he’ll never admit it. An artist, musician, designer, writer, curator and more, he’s one of the funniest people you’ll ever meet. And no one can top his design/art direction and abilities in Colorado (and honestly beyond). His turnaround of an ad, spread or piece of content is mind-boggling and always on point, and he exceeds his duties, putting in precious time and energy in helping us succeed and maximize our vision. He’s also incredibly kind and generous, a rock for our team.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
I’m currently locked in to Birdy’s upcoming Denver Art Museum takeover for May’s Untitled event: The Cuckoo’s Nest: An Evening of Art, Beats & Laughs, which is inspired by Ken Kesey’s quote “Man, when you lose your laugh, you lose your footing.” The concept is that we’re all a little birdy. Between our fashion choices, taste in music, what we do for a living, our hobbies, the way we speak, beliefs and values — we’re all strange, curious creatures cohabiting on planet Earth. The event is a celebration of our idiosyncrasies through comedy, music and art (including a View-Master scavenger hunt); a reminder to not take ourselves too seriously, let loose and have more fun. I couldn’t be more proud and excited, as this is my first large curation project that Jonny and Mike nailed with design, help and support.
We’re also partnering with Alamo Drafthouse (Sloan’s Lake) and Illegal Pete’s for a new monthly Social Club every third Tuesday starting June 19. Jodee Champion is the host, and we’ll be showcasing a comedian, band and fun film of our choice each month.
I also am fleshing out plans for a custom-made View-Master-plus-nostalgia toy installation in hopes of showcasing it at a local gallery.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
I’ve put so much thought into this, and I have to be honest: Birdy. We’ve put literal blood (paper cuts are no joke, you should see our hands after delivery), sweat (again, those boxes are heavy) and tears (so many tears and sleepless nights) into our work, and the trajectory we’re on only trends upwards. My partner in crime Jonny and I have never been more serious than ever with the direction of the company, working with our mentor and business coach, Chris McDonald, every week (sending updates everyday), in addition to me working weekly with my mentor, Karen Wise. Both have set us on a path to say goodbye to our historical/cultural fear-based thinking, limiting beliefs and to be open to abundance. We’re praying with our feet right now. Chopping wood, carrying water. “If I have to fall, may it be from a high place.” — Paulo Coelho
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Also watch out for Denver librarian and Birdy Book Club author Hana Zittel. She just received the Public Library Association's Allie Beth Martin Award for 2018, is a powerful voice for women’s rights and is a serious mover and shaker in our community, creating synergy with local artists and writers with the Denver Public Library and other top-notch organizations. She’s on fire.
Join Birdy Magazine for Untitled: The Cuckoo’s Nest: An Evening of Art, Laughs & Beats on Friday, May 25, from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway. Birdy’s takeover includes a View-Master scavenger hunt; standup comedy by Ben Kronberg, Adrian Mesa, Nathan Lund, Jodee Champion and others; a Super Smash Bros. tournament; and more. Admission is $8 to $13 at the door (free for members and youth ages eighteen and under). Learn more online.