Self-described best friends since seventh grade, Conor Cook ’13 and Maddie Lear ’13 were separated for a full school year when Cook attended School Year Abroad in Spain last year.
Upon reuniting in June, they decided to start a project together.
Cook was the editor-in-chief of the literary magazine at his school in Spain, while Lear was on Harvard-Westlake’s art and literary magazine, “Stonecutters.”
Lear said she found it odd that Stonecutters didn’t have an online version.
The two created a website called “Before the Letter,” an art and literary website by which high school and college students can display their own photography, music, film, painting, drawing and writing.
“The idea is that kids are creating art all the time and we wanted to make something that could showcase art as often as it’s created,” Lear said.
The two enlisted Josh Shapiro ’14 to code the website.
“We reached out to anyone who could help us make our vision into a reality,” Cook said.
The three worked throughout the summer to launch the website on Sept. 4.
“[Shapiro] is the best,” Lear said. “We were just trying to figure it all out because we knew nothing about websites.”
Lear emphasized that posts are coming directly from the artists themselves, without any reblogging or reposting.
“Everything is with the artist’s permission and generally if you click on the name of the artists, you can be forwarded to their contact information in case you want to commission them, or work with them, or write them a letter to tell them you like their stuff,” Lear said.
So far, Lear and Cook have received submissions for “Before the Letter” from Harvard-Westlake students, as well as students who live or attend college in New York, Texas, Michigan and Canada.
Artists submit their work through the website, or can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Lear and Cook read through the submissions and decide when to post each piece to vary the content on the website.
“I think we’re both really committed to it and inspired by a lot of the pieces,” Cook said. “We’re both really enjoying the process.”
Lear and Cook publicized their website through Facebook and word of mouth, with the help of friends they have made at summer camps and school.
Both photographers themselves, Lear and Cook are each currently doing independent studies revolving around photography this year.
Lear’s independent study is about dance in film and photography while Cook’s is on platinum and palladium film printing.
“Cook emailed me and told me about the new website,” Rebecca Moretti ’13 said. “I think that in this increasingly digitalized world it is important for people to still have a means of sharing their art, and the Internet is an efficient way to do that.”
Their goal for the website is to act as a middleman for an artist to have his or her own work expanded, Lear said.
Sarah Shelby ’13, another Before the Letter contributor, said, “I think Before the Letter is a fantastic idea. It is not only inspiring because it was created by high school students, but also because it showcases the talent of young artists that can make amazing and unbelievable works of creativity.”
Lear and Cook plan to continue the site, even as they go off to college next year.
“It’s nice because I think as we both go off to college, and we might not be at the same school,” Cook said. “It would be a nice way for us to keep in touch and work on something that we’re both really, really passionate about.”