Jacquelyn Klein, CC ’19, and Caroline Wallis, BC ’19, wanted to name the visual arts magazine they founded during their first year after something that undeniably captured the spirit of the campus. As it turned out, Columbia was built above a layer of schist rock that lines the majority of Manhattan, coined by many as “rat rock” due to its proximity to the rodents we share the island with.
“We were like, ‘Should we call it John Jay?’ I really wanted it to be called—though I’m so glad it’s not called this because it’s really pretentious—but I wanted it to be called ‘In Lumine,’ which is part of the Columbia motto. It was really between that and Ratrock, and we decided on Ratrock because it’s punchy,” Wallis said.
Klein and Wallis met at a Hoot magazine launch event during their first year, one of their first attempts at finding an arts community on campus, though they quickly realized what Columbia lacked was a space for students with visual arts backgrounds to come together.
“It seemed silly. How was there not already an art magazine? How does this not exist? We’re in a college in New York, a hub of arts and culture,” Klein said.
Ratrock magazine was founded by Klein, Wallis, and Alexandra Warrick, BC ’17, with the intention of being a virtual forum for artists to connect with other artists while leaving behind a printed record of the art they created while on campus. A friendship that began at a magazine launch quickly grew to the launch of their own magazine, this time dedicated to the visual arts rather than fashion.
A Los Angeles native, Klein chose Columbia after spending several high school summers in New York at various arts programs. Wallis is a graduate of the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for Music & Art and Performing Arts on the Upper West Side, a mere train ride away.
Klein had seen the importance of dedicated arts spaces throughout her undergraduate experience after working at the Leroy Neiman Center for Print Studies in Dodge Hall as part of her visual arts major, while Wallis was grateful for the community she found at the Barnard visual arts senior studios when working on her art history thesis. They wanted all students to feel this sense of community even if they weren’t arts majors themselves.
Just as Ratrock developed a relationship to visual artists on campus, Klein and Wallis cultivated their own. Klein lived in Wallis’ apartment one summer, and the two went on road trips across New Jersey picking up art supplies they found on Facebook Marketplace. These experiences made Columbia meaningful to them, ultimately infusing their work at Ratrock with even greater personal significance.
Upon Warrick’s graduation, the two were left to lead a magazine that sought to celebrate all student art, a task which they began tackling by profiling their friends and friends of friends. They did not wish to be arbiters of what was “good” or “bad,” but also realized that highlighting only people they knew would exclude certain voices. As such, Ratrock’s open submissions began, inviting any artist with an established body of work to be featured in the magazine.
Though inclusivity was at the core of Klein and Wallis’ vision, the publication has recently become the subject of scrutiny following allegations of plagiarism, an incident which the founders were not involved with since stepping down from the board last year.
“I think [we] started with this really DIY, scrappy vision, and I think Ratrock has become a lot more professional, which is a good thing, because it’s important for us to take artists on campus really seriously. It’s important that there’s a gravity, which I think really got wrapped into this situation with plagiarism… But then [this professionalism] comes with greater responsibility,” Wallis said.
Besides founding the magazine, Klein was a copy editor for Hoot and held internships in the fashion industry at companies including Ralph Lauren and Victoria’s Secret. Wallis has served as a technical director for WBAR, a photographer for Hoot and The Eye—Spectator’s long-form magazine—and a curator at Postcrypt Art Gallery, among other activities and internships. Undeniably, however, Ratrock has had the most profound impact on their Columbia experience.
“We’re microcosms of Ratrock at its whole, because we’re so supportive of each other and each other’s art,” Klein said.
Days before graduating, they now find themselves preparing to switch places. Wallis will be moving to Los Angeles to pursue professional opportunities in the arts while Klein looks to stay in the city and work in marketing.
The support they built over the past four years has translated into a friendship that the two have carried even after passing Ratrock on to new leadership. When describing each other’s growth as artists, Klein and Wallis hold hands and speak directly to each other. Since meeting at the launch of an arts magazine to founding their own, the two are visibly proud of each other’s development as artists, ending so many sentences simply by saying: “I love you.”
Editor’s Note: Caroline Wallis was a former photo deputy for Spectator. She has no personal connection to the author.