Two print shops, two sides of the pond.

Interview facilitated by Sonnenzimmer. When running a print shop, we found our best bet is to surround ourselves with other believers and dreamers. We, for one, would not exist without the ongoing support and kindred spirits of places like The Bird Machine, Delicious Design League, Ground Up, Starshaped Press, Ryan Kapp Studio, Baker Prints, Ork Posters, YouwithRhinestones, the Chicago Printers Guild, the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative, Crosshair, Drugfactory ( to name just a few places from here). While the city can be quite tough, this community is where we find good mojo. Many people approach us about printmaking and logistics and we found it's best when people can connect 1 : 1. There is never a One-Size-Fits-All-Answer when it comes to running a studio. Last fall, when we met Emily Hopkins from the East London Printmakers at the London Art Book Fair, we knew, we needed to follow up with her on an exchange... And what better resource then to have two artists talk about how they go about their activity — while living in different parts of the world? Angee Lennard, who is Director  of the Spudnik Cooperative Press constantly finds new solutions for figuring out how to deal with ongoing shifts in operations — while engaging in the arts. We thank them both for their valuable time to engage in this discourse. This is to all young artists who dream about a shop! Do it, reach out, grow as you grow, ask questions and connect! We make it all happen together. Emily Hopkins: What was your inspiration to set up Spudnik Press and how did you start? Angee Lennard: In many ways, Spudnik Press strives to offer the level of camaraderie that I felt as a student at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, so could be said to be my inspiration. I have always valued collaboration and prefer working in shared space than a private studio. My motivation to establish a community-based print studio came about a year after graduation when I was frustrated that I was loosing contact with my friends from Advanced Print at SAIC, and most of us were not printing regularly, or even making much art at all. I had set up a small home studio with a press on the floor of my back porch and a drawing table in my attic. Neither space had heat or ventilation and were in general pretty glum. The next year, I moved apartments and set-up a work/live studio that I could share with friends. EH: Can you explain a bit more about the different ways people can use your studio? AL: A big idea behind Spudnik Press is to allow flexibility in how and why people use the studio. Regardless of what one wants to make, their availability, or their experience level, we have a program to fit that need. For example, a musician is able drop into one Open Studio session a year to print a run of t-shirts, and need not be more involved than that. A young artist might first enter Spudnik as an intern, then apply for our fellowship program, and years later, continue on to be a keyholder and teaching artist. We have 8 program areas: Studio Use, Education, Young Artists, Residency, Exhibitions, Publishing, and the Printers Ball. EH: How have you grown since you first set up shop? AL: Spudnik began as an extension of my own studio practice. I created a space in which I wanted to make art, and invited others to use it as well. Over time, my knowledge of and philosophies regarding arts administration, community spaces, and the function of a space like Spudnik have expanded tremendously, and directing the studio has become more than a full time job. I have shifted my identity away from an Artist and towards and Arts Administrator. I am often asked about my own art, and have a hard time convincing people that the administrative side of the studio utilizes the same set of skills as art making and that it is fulfilling and creative work. One thing we seem to have in common is that we both came to our respective print studios as artists and working in an administrative capacity came later. Emily, can you could talk about your role as the marketing coordinator for East London Printmakers and how it relates (or doesn’t) with your role as an artist? EH: It's interesting that you say that you have shifted your identity more towards Arts Administration. I do think its hard to separate the two. When setting up a community space such as Spudnik and involving other artists I think that cross over is almost inevitable. I guess you could call it a collaborative project (if not an extended one). ELP predates my involvement in the studio by about 15 years! Despite this my role at the studio has tended to become part of my work much more than I anticipated. The studio relies on the 34 artists that use it to volunteer their time maintaining it in various ways. As you can imagine rounding up a load of artists is never an easy task in itself. I agree sometimes it's difficult to communicate the value of marketing/ administration compared to actually making work but certainly the same level of dedication, thought and care goes into the roles we play in the studio. If not more than your average 9 to 5 job, as you're invested in the space, the artists and the promotion of creativity. In relation to my work at ELP, I've had the opportunity to work closely with some incredible artists that make beautiful and engaging work. From graphic designers, illustrators, designer-makers and those who just work in the field of print. I've seen artists put work together from initial ideas through to the finished prints. It's been a real eye opener and has expanded the potential of printmaking for me. More and more the work I do at ELP and outside of the studio involves discussion and documenting various practices. It has given me opportunities to discuss printmaking practice and my work and meet people from all over the UK and different parts of the world that work in similar spaces. Since graduating a couple of years ago I haven't made as much print based work as I thought I might but the work I do is still as valuable and as you say requires the same skill set. However for me making is still really important. At the studio, we have many people from different backgrounds and making is the common ground if you like. Remembering what the print department was like at my University, moving to work for ELP and then being in discussion with other studios I feel like studios often isolate themselves. In recent years in London there have been a whole host of print studios popping up here there and everywhere. This, along with the fear of developers who seem to be gobbling so many creative spaces in the city, means the studio is having to change its way of thinking to survive. (My employment was pretty much the beginning of this). Angee, can you talk about the way your studio has evolved or what challenges you've had to overcome in order to be able to offer high quality and affordable printing facilities? AL: Spudnik Press is definitely an extended collaborative project and evolution is a major aspect to running a studio! We have had plenty of evolution based on gradual growth, such as adding and revamping programs, rearranging the studio, and changing staff positions. And we've also had giant leaps, such as when we expanded our studio. In all cases, change is tricky and is all about balance, close observation, and iterations. One big thing we are currently working through relates to what ELP is experiencing in London: How we can evolve as the city around us evolves?  For example, there are more alternative education opportunities like The Center Program (at HPAC) and The Bolt andThe Hatch Residencies (at CAC) and more cooperative studios likeAutotelic and Chicago Art Department. How does Spudnik fit into this landscape? The solution seems to involve reorganizing resources, programs, and schedules. A big push this year is to build connections across our programs, which as it turns out, involved a lot of high-level logic problems using very tangible things (equipment, money, time) to create very abstract things (artistic growth, community, accessibility). These "problems" are insanely interesting to me, and I believe working through them is making Spudnik evermore sustainable. 2015 programming is hands down going to be the best we've ever put together. You mentioned that the 34 artists that use ELP all volunteer to maintain the studio. Here at Spudnik, we have a larger pool of people using the studio (ca. 150 members), but a much smaller group that are tending to the maintenance of the studio (ca. 10) and a different group develops our programs, mainly our Board of Directors. We want to bring more printers into the fold, but are hesitant because, as you say, rounding up volunteers can be tricky, and we fear having "too many cooks in the kitchen". Emily, is volunteering a required part of using ELP? How much programming is driven or led by members? Do you have a formal system for dividing the workload of maintaining the studio? How does the staff of ELP find the right balance of meeting and mingling with printers and buckling down to get that email campaign out on time? Do you have incentives for artists who help out? Or if you prefer one straightforward question, how has ELP found the right balance of work carried out by staff and work carried out by members? EH: I think things in the UK might change to that effect as well. The rise in University fees has certainly seen a drop in applications. Print studios in the UK have already begun to offer longer courses and other creative spaces are starting to provide opportunities for creatives. A local example being New Creative Markets at [space]. Your plans sound exciting and I think making connections with other studios and institutions is really valuable. When I really think about it, we have a relatively complicated structure here at ELP! So I'll try and explain the best I can. We are made up of about 300 members but only 34 of those members have access to the studio 24 hours. The rent is very reasonable and in exchange the 34 key holders are expected to help maintain the studio, help organise events etc. ELP is run by a management committee made up of 10 key holders who volunteer each year. And then we have 3 members of staff, a studio coordinator, maintenance technician and marketing coordinator. We offer courses on Wednesdays where people can come and learn to print and on Thursdays and Saturday mornings, those who know how to print (both members and non members) can come and use the facilities. You might be thinking how do the other 270 members get involved? We exhibit together as a collective and we have various opportunities throughout the year that are offered to members. Each year we elect a management committee and key holders sign up for a role they would like to perform through the year, key holders also have to provide support during the time we are open to the public. We don't really have a way of monitoring this and it fluctuates from year to year depending on who signs up for what role etc. At the studio we offer a programs of artist talks & master workshops, we take part in numerous art fairs across the year and organize an exhibition for members and an annual box set edition. These are all member initiated programs. ELP encourages members to get involved as much as possible and this year we worked hard to run an interesting artist talk programs and a diverse calendar of events and I think/ hope it paid off. The role of studio co-ordinator and technician have been around for a while and the roles they perform are clear and their outcome is tangible (to relate it to the terms you used). Marketing on the other hand is a very recent role (I'm the first to do the job)! It involves discussing work with the artists as well as grinding through emails, website maintenance and social media. I think some members struggle to see what benefit it has because marketing is a long game and they often (but not always) result in less quantifiable things. It's also where the blur between staff and keyholders is largest. How much / how people get involved and how much time they give changes each year as different keyholders perform different tasks. This makes it difficult to achieve continuity. But I hope that my presence in the studio is helping to keep it moving in the same direction. There are similar studios across the UK that still run or have run with this cooperative structure such as Spike Island Print Studioor Hot Bed Press. As staff, we're having to overcome a lot of challenges all the time, and keyholders are always having to reassess how and where they are involved in the studio. I think its a great way to start out but growth often means that you need to change the way you approach things and I think that's the period we're going through at the moment. Investment in my role was one of the steps they felt they needed to take. Angee, I'd be interested to know what value you give to marketing. How do you direct it? Do you have someone specifically to look after that side of things? Has it helped you to drive things forward in terms of making connections with other programs/ institutions? AL: I haven't heard of Spike Island or Hot Bed Press and am flabbergasted that they are running year long courses. Right now at Spudnik, we are working to provide more opportunities for advanced artists, but are struggling with enrollment for advanced classes. Perhaps we were being too modest and we should offer a truly immersive experience! Regarding marketing, I disagree and find it to be very tangible and easy to create measurable goals, such as a target number of students enrolled in each class, attendance at an exhibition, or something statistical such as email open rates and click rates. Still though, I agree that it can be hard to clarify the benefit to members. I think there is an assumption that community studios like ours don't need to bother with things like brand identity and marketing strategies. I've come to see marketing as a very integral part of our mission by considering it a capacity-building activity. We offer classes that have vacant seats. Our keyholder program can easily accommodate more artists. It is our responsibility to reach out to our community and make sure those that can benefit from these programs know these opportunities are available. Our studio is also contingent on support from people outside our organization. So it is important to be intentional in how we tell our story and how we present the value of our work. Right now, I lead all the marketing efforts. I have no marketing background, but find it a somewhat intuitive role because I am so close to everything Spudnik does. As the founder and director, I have no problem taking on the "voice of Spudnik". In the near future, we will be hiring our first Marketing and Development Director. So yes, marketing drives our studio forward. However, building connections with other organizations and programs happens on a much more personal level and usually begins with a concept for a class or exhibition, or a realization that we and this potential partner are either using different methods to work towards the same goal or are using the same methods to work towards different goals. Our deepest collaborations have evolved slowly over time, just like a good friendship. We seem to keep bringing up the importance and the struggle of adaptability and connectivity (between those using our studios, our greater community, and other spaces and institutions). This leads to an interesting friction between a strong identity (or brand?) and a willingness to let programs evolve as participants turn over or evolve themselves; the balance between inviting others to program into your space versus being the sole author of your offerings; planning far enough in advance to collaborate with large institutions while keeping your calendar open to respond to short-term needs. Ultimately, I don't think there is a right answer, but what ever the balance ends up being will help define the style of the organization. Bios: ► Angee Lennard is an artist, art administrator, and teaching artist. As Founder and Executive Director of Spudnik Press Cooperative in Chicago, Angee oversees a range of community-based arts programming including classes, residencies, apprenticeships, youth programming, exhibitions, publishing and collaborative projects. As a teaching artist at Marwen and Spudnik, her classes address print media, community projects, and illustration. Her own artistic practices combine fine art printmaking and free­lance illustration. She holds a BFA from SAIC. ► Emily Hopkins is an artist and marketing co-oridinator at East London Printmakers. At East London Printmakers, Emily aims to encourage the practice of printmaking in the local community by promoting courses, open access facilities and residencies as well as developing opportunities for artists and designers to discuss and exhibit their work. Emily graduated in Fine Art from Aberystwyth University in 2012 where she worked primarily with etching and now continues to develop her work through the medium of print. ► Sonnenzimmer is an art and screen printing studio in Chicago. www.sonnenzimmer.comBookmark / Share / Print
Categories: Interviews

One Response to “Two print shops, two sides of the pond.”

  1. Luther says:

    The awesome