PrintAustin: Interview

tcp 1A photo from the opening of The Contemporary Print exhibition at Big Medium at Canopy. If you look closely, you can see Elvia and Cathy in the middle.

Austin is a city that likes festivals. While it is known on the national and international stage for music and media festivals like SXSW and ACL, there are plenty of other gatherings and celebrations related to kites, bikes, books, cars and almost everything else. Almost. Though SXSW does include the Flatstock music poster convention, there has never been a concerted effort to celebrate printmaking though the city. At least not until this year.

PrintAustin is the brainchild of Elvia Perrin and Cathy Savage. The pair are longtime Austin residents who felt that print deserved greater attention in Texas’ capitol city. They conceived of the idea less than a year ago and started soliciting galleries to participate in a citywide print celebration that would span the months of January and February. I asked them a few questions and they were kind enough to share some thoughts.

Can you provide a brief introduction to yourselves?

EP: I am Elvia Perrin, an artist living in Austin, Texas. I have worked as professional collaborator and educator, while always maintaining my own professional art practice.

CS: I’ve been a working artist for 14 years–with the birth of two kids thrown into the mix. I teach printmaking workshops here and there, with a semi-regular arrangement at Griffin School. A year ago I decided to move my home studio to Canopy, which has been a great experience, though the pressure of having to pay rent adds a new and interesting angle that I’m still working through. I show work whenever and wherever I get the chance.

Why did you start PrintAustin?

CS: My in-laws live in Madison, WI, another town with a great university printmaking program as well as a recognized professional print shop. Over the last 15 years, I’ve always wondered why Austin didn’t have the same print presence in galleries as there seemed to be in Madison, a much smaller town. Elvia and I have seen Houston’s PrintMatters form and host their own PrintHouston for the last three years–spreading the love of printmaking throughout the land–and though I thought a similar event was sorely needed in Austin to help get our print community some recognition, I honestly didn’t think it could be pulled off without a group of dedicated folks to make it happen and I hadn’t seen that spark anywhere. Then, after a conversation with Katherine Brimberry about PrintHouston, Katherine indicated she might be able to pull together a group of advisers if someone was willing to take on the bulk of planning–could I help form a group? I saw it! The spark! I went off to ponder if was something I had time and desire to help orchestrate. I knew these things tend to fall on the shoulders of few and wondered if I had it in me. I had a little experience with event planning, so I had a slight (albeit wrong in the end) idea of how much work it would be. I knew I needed a dedicated partner–someone just as willing to put in the late hours. I sent out an exploratory email and Elvia joined in minutes later–she seemed confident from the get go that we could pull this off. The two of us have luckily had complementary skills and working styles and honestly, I could not have found a better Co-Chair. We’re both passionate about printmaking and even though it was a lot of work, we’ve managed to stay enthusiastic and excited through the process. Not to say there weren’t a few moments where we wrung our hands, but very few actually.

EP: I started PrintAustin to make Austin a place where artist would be able to make and sell original prints locally. I also wanted to share my love of prints and to educate the community of the versatility, possibilities and beauty of the printmaking medium.

How many events/exhibitions are taking place in conjunction with PrintAustin? Can you name a few highlights?

EP: For our first year, we are amazing and humbled with the supported we have received. We have 28 venues participating and 58 events. We had a kick- off event at Big Medium Gallery to exhibit our juried show “The Contemporary Print”, in conjunction with “Impressi” Exhibit at the Art.Science Gallery and “The Outlaw Printmakers” Show at Immediatag Gallery.

The Harry Ransom Center had a wonderful viewing of prints, which included Picasso, Jim Dine and Vik Muniz. Our anchor event is the Flatbed Contemporary Fair exhibiting over 30 publishers, fine art artists and university programs.

CS: Highlights. Hmm. I’ve loved every event I’ve been to so far. I think part of it is the excitement of knowing that I helped bring it to fruition, so I’m a bit jaded. Our Contemporary Print opening at Big Medium Gallery at Canopy was remarkable. I loved the work that was chosen and it was nice to have different pieces and techniques all together in one show. I love the Periodic Table at Art.Science.Gallery. Very cool. The show at Davis Gallery is really good. Gallery Shoal Creek has a great exhibit up, as does the entire Flatbed complex. I attended Slugfest’s show too with Kathryn Polk’s work. Amazing! (I added a piece to my collection!) I loved Deborah Mersky’s exhibit at Yard Dog because she was there and I was able to ask her about technique (I’m a technique junkie). OK, I’m about to name them all so I better stop.

As you’ve organized PrintAustin, what has been most surprising to you? In general, what have you learned?

EP: I have been surprised at how approachable and supportive the Austin gallery owners and their teams have been to help Cathy and I fulfill our vision for PrintAustin. I have learned that everything takes twice as long as you imaged and that organizing an event of this size is a full time job.

CS: We threw a wide net when approaching galleries/venues thinking we’d get only a few yeses. We were wrong. Sure, there was a lot of hard work in the mix, but I feel like the city was somehow ready for us. Five years ago, I don’t think it would have been so easy to get galleries to hop on as quickly. (Works on paper have been showing up over the last year or two, so the pump was primed so to speak.) Plus having Flatbed and Gallery Shoal Creek as our early anchors was influential I’m sure. As for the reception we’ve received, I knew the print community existed–heck, that’s why we did it–I just didn’t expect the events to be so well attended. We’ve had great media buzz and that was unexpected and delightful. Honestly in the beginning I was afraid I’d only see the same small sad group of printmakers at every exhibit and that’s it. I guess I can compare it to nerves before a a high school party. Are people gonna show, that kind of thing. (Yay! They showed!)

Are there plans for 2015 and if so, where does it go from here?

CS: We do plan on PrintAustin 2015. We’re investigating non-profit status and that kind of thing. For PrintAustin 2014 we had the benefit of using WPA’S (Women Printmakers of Austin) infrastructure–website, bank account, loans, etc–so there’s a lot of work in building our organization up between now and when we’d start on 2015, which is only five months away. (I wish I hadn’t calculated that. Miles to go before we sleep.)

EP: My personal goal for 2015 is to make Austin not just a destination place for music but for art too. I would love to bring in outside jurors, lecturers and artists to draw art collectors from all over to our event.

Do you have advice for anyone looking to initiate something similar in their town city?

EP: I would advise any one who wants to this in their city, to get a diverse advisory committee who is connected to the different facets of the art community; galleries, universities, and non- profits.  We had a strong vision for PrintAustin but it really took support from certain individuals to get our initiatives heard by key players who we needed to make this event happen.

I would also say it never hurts to ask- all they can say is no. That has been our biggest motto when approaching sponsors and participants.

CS: Yes, getting a group of advisers together is a great first step (university faculty members, print shops, a gallery owner if possible). Just having influential people on board is invaluable and they will help make connections and at a minimum, spread the word to their contacts. Having a really super detailed person on your team is very important. Make sure at least one of your major contributors loves to make spreadsheets to keep the project on track. Having a great network of potential volunteers is also important, but know from the beginning that it’s going to be a colossal amount of work that may very well fall on your shoulders. Start small. (We didn’t do that, but I’d advise that.) And the most important thing is to have fun. If you’re not passionate, about not only printmaking but the event planning part, it’s going to be a chore, so try and find a team of folks that can complement your skills. 


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