Artistic Entrepreneurs: Alexa Sorensen ’22 on ‘community based art’

Alexa Sorensen ’22 makes zines, clothing and more in her work as an entrepreneurial artist. As a studio art major, she has been finding ways not only to create inspired and community-based art, but also to make some money from it. While establishing herself in the art department and in the exploration of art, she has been selling some of her creative and colorful work on Etsy.

“I didn’t really consider myself an artist probably until last year cause I think that growing up, I had this idea that artists have to be born with this ability to look at you and make a picture that looks exactly like you, and I’m still not like that,” Sorensen said.

For Sorensen, her work as an artist has been growing since she took the step to redefine the parameters around what is defined as art. Her work is not just about technique but also intentionality and community.

“It took expanding my view of what an artist is to be able to call myself that,” Sorensen said. “I came into it after doing some hard thinking about whitewashing in art, and pretentiousness in art, and how much ego is in art, and how that was never the kind of artist I wanted to be.

Her primary form of expression currently is the zine — a short, small, magazine-like pamphlet. Creators usually photocopy zines for distribution and have used them in many ways since their advent in the 1930s.

“The way that I think about it is that zines are a way to make art and knowledge accessible to people. You can make a zine and get a zine a lot cheaper than you can get a book or a college degree and I have learned things in zines that St. Olaf is never going to teach me,” Sorensen said.

Sorensen described being inspired by the riot grrrl movements of the 1990s, in which zines were an important tool in promoting the feminist punk scene. Sorensen is even working to create zine-themed clothing, like overalls with zine sized pockets. She is continuously trying to find new ways to combine her work with zines with other forms of expression.

“I’m going to put them somewhere on campus hopefully to encourage people to make zines and share knowledge with their community, and make knowledge and art accessible,” Sorensen said about the possibility of an on-campus zine themed installation.

The world and community around Sorensen constantly inspire her work. She describes her main inspiration as “community based art.”

“My work is usually about community, and whatever I am thinking about at the time, and what I think the community around me needs to talk about as well,” Sorensen said. “Right now, something that I’m really focusing on is how to get people excited about showing up for each other when I think that’s not something we really do here [at St. Olaf].”

Selling her art is something in which Sorensen has been increasingly interested. She has sold earrings, zines, clothing and pots on her Etsy page and continues to gain popularity. She has found Etsy to be fairly accessible as an online marketplace but continues to feel conflicted about trying to sell her work.

“I don’t like capitalism, but to some extent we have to exist in it. If I want to be an artist, I’m gonna have to sell my art. I hate that, and it feels scummy to make money off of making art about anti-capitalism. I think that’s something I struggle with,” Sorensen said.

Sorensen is currently most passionate and excited about one of her zines that she created over the winter break. It is entitled, “So you support survivors but don’t hold their abusers accountable.”

“I am especially passionate about that one because it is, I think, a real issue at St. Olaf. I wrote it about people I’ve met here, people I’ve moved away from as a result of being in situations like that, and I am so proud of it because I think, and hope, I found a way to talk about theory and transformative justice in an accessible and inviting way,” Sorensen said.

Sorensen is currently working on improving her sewing skills, creating her own clothing line, and finding ways to prepare for the possibility of graduate school.

“I would define art as expression in all ways. I’ve read essays that are art and academic papers that are artistic, and I think it comes down to showing yourself and your passions in a way that is vulnerable,” Sorensen said. “Having a need to share something with someone and finding a way to communicate that.”