Looking out onto the usually congested Canal Street (originally named for a paved-over sewage “canal” in 1814) is the headquarters of a design and media content firm called Sunday Afternoon. Co-founded by partners Juan Carlos Pagan and Ahmed Klink, and joined by executive producer/partner Audrie Poole and executive creative director/partner Rich Tu, this BIPOC- and women-owned collective works with and represents many indie designers/artists to produce a slew of work, the most entrepreneurial of which is a mixed-media (with AR capability) publication titled CANAL.
“Canal Street has been home to our office for a few years now,” the team announced on their vibrant website. “It’s been a tremendous source of energy and inspiration. We’ve channeled it all in a new broadsheet newsprint that pays homage to this wonderful New York oddity.”
Pagan was an engaging speaker at the recent AIGA conference “The View From Here,” and having been introduced to his work I wanted it to be more widely disseminated. I asked Pagan and the team to share their thoughts about CANAL, and they enthusiastically obliged.
Juan, how and when did you start your design career and the studio Sunday Afternoon?
Juan Carlos Pagan: I became a working “professional” designer in 2006 after graduating from Parsons School of Design with a BFA in communication design. A decade later, and after completing my post-graduate studies in typeface design from The Cooper Union, Ahmed Klink and I founded Sunday Afternoon, a design studio and artist management agency.
The name comes from our belief that Sunday Afternoon is the most precious time of the week. A special time where you enjoy doing and making things you love with the people you love.
Why did you settle on Canal Street as your studio’s venue?
Pagan: To be completely honest, we happened upon a lovely studio/office on Canal Street a little over a year after we started Sunday Afternoon. We were a bit smaller back then than we are now, and we really didn’t require much space, so it was a perfect fit. The studio was kinda old and run down. It had no private rooms. We used to take some of our client calls in the hallway for a bit of privacy. The floorboards had these large holes which would swallow any small object that hit the floor. The heat was always an issue, but it had a lot of character.
In a way, it perfectly encapsulated the tone of Canal Street. We really loved that space. As a studio, we kinda grew up there. We also loved the fact that we were located on such a vibrant and iconic NYC street, where there is so much activity happening all the time.
¥our self-published magazine is named for your locale, but is all the content about it, too?
Pagan: Yes, CANAL magazine started as a way of paying homage to the NYC oddity that is Canal Street. The history of the street, how it just cuts through the island, but more interestingly what it has evolved into. It’s a New York City treasure.
Audrie, Rich and I all grew up in and around the city, and even in this ever-changing environment, somehow Canal Street remains itself. It’s so incredibly New York. The first issue was really all about Canal Street, and our personal adventures and interactions being on this street. Lots of stories are born on Canal Street. The latest issue expands a bit to capture a larger area of the neighborhood. Which was necessary to help tell some of the stories we wanted to tell, but it really is still anchored around Canal Street.
Audrie Poole: CANAL No. 2 is a 108-page dual-language print and digital broadsheet that’s a true convergence of photography, design, typography, film and creative technology to pay homage to the quintessential NYC main street in lower Manhattan. The magazine is a playground to capture the vibe and energy of Canal Street, using AR and film to build an experiential project that pushes the boundaries of mixed media in a highly engaging way.
What is the foremost factor in creating CANAL? Is it design experimentation or community building?
Pagan: We like to think it’s both. It is an opportunity to explore new design ideas, collaborate with the brilliant artists on the Sunday Afternoon roster while also building community. The latest issue of CANAL is a perfect example of that. This installment includes a lot more stories and ideas than the first issue, which was much more of an experiment. In the first issue we really leaned into pushing design and technology. Breathing new life into the magazine cover by adding an AR filter, which lifts the typography of the front and back covers. CANAL No. 2 has that, but it also has more content that helps tell the stories of the people who make up our beloved neighborhood.
We worked with Geoff Levy, who is one of the directors on the Sunday Afternoon roster. He created a short film called “Chasing Light,” about the everyday people who call Canal Street/Chinatown home. It features Chinatown Partnership director Wellington Chen and five Chinatown businesses, who reflect on the neighborhood’s evolving identity, the imperative to document its change, and the importance of bolstering future generations while honoring its heritage.
We embedded that short film into this issue so viewers of the physical magazine can scan a QR code and watch the film on their phones via augmented reality. It is a true convergence of design, community, print, technology and film.
How do you distribute them, and to whom?
Poole: We print a limited number of copies, and they are sent by mail to a mix of friends and potential partners. Some copies are available to the public in our shop.
How much creative capital do you use for the publication?
Rich Tu: CANAL is exploratory by nature, so we end up using a lot when all is said and done. The beauty of it is that the goal is not to problem-solve, as we do every day in our commercial work. We’re free to wander and experiment a bit, and collaborate in a new way. The drawback in that process is that it can take some time to develop the full issue, but in the end it’s so rewarding to see a pure artistic endeavor that’s unlike anything produced by our peers.
If anything, the capital on display is the work of our artists and the studio, and the ability to push the boundaries of traditional mediums and tech. Everyone involved is personally invested in creating something wholly unique.
Do you contemplate trying to engage a more general audience at some point?
Ahmed Klink: CANAL magazine started as a passion project, a labor of love that was created in our “off time” from client work, so there were some natural limitations to our time and resources. That being said, we can easily see a path to where the magazine grows and reaches a general audience through some kind of distribution channels.
Rich Tu: We also brought CANAL to the local community by way of a large-scale AR filter that will live for a set amount of time on the famous red dragon-adorned NYC information kiosk at the intersection of Canal and Walker Street in Chinatown. The AR filter emulates the CANAL No. 2 cover, but on a massive 8-foot by 8-foot banner visible to all passersby. A companion AR experience for the embedded short film was also installed around the corner.
What do you want your audience to learn (and enjoy) from CANAL?
Pagan: I would like anyone who flips through the pages of CANAL to become interested in this little pocket of NYC. Perhaps get a mental snapshot of all the wonderful and odd things, places and people who work, reside and pass through Canal Street.
Tu: I want everyone to get a repeat viewing experience. The sheer density of the issue demands multiple reads. One moment you can enjoy the curated and designed spreads, the next you can uncover an augmented reality easter egg. There’s a lot to uncover.