By: Kevin Basl
As arts funding and programs continue to get slashed, more artists are becoming grassroots educators, taking art workshops directly to the people. To reach those who may not have access to creative opportunities otherwise, barriers must be removed. Instruction fees, extended commitments, transportation—these can be obstacles for overworked and struggling communities. Though mobile studios are not without their limitations (yes, a little funding must come from somewhere), they can help solve some of these challenges. That, and these workshops are just plain fun. Who doesn’t like to make art in the park on a warm spring afternoon?
While the idea of a travelling studio is no new concept, there have been recent innovations allowing for unique opportunities, especially in the art of papermaking. This 2,000-year-old craft, which usually requires a lot of special equipment, traditionally happens in a “mill.” Because the equipment is expensive and a relatively large studio space is required, the craft is sometimes perceived as elitist (of course, there’s nothing elitist about the “blender paper” you may have made in elementary school, using a window screen and pulp from old newspapers). Mobile papermaking workshops turn the highbrow image inside-out.
One innovation in particular, Lee McDonald’s portable Hollander beater, “The Oracle,” has helped develop the mobile papermaking model over the past decade, allowing instructors and partipants to produce pulp from rags (old clothes) on the spot. Workshops beginning with Combat Paper Project in the late 2000s, then later Peace Paper Project and Button Field Press, are some who have benefited from (and helped field test) McDonald’s clever design.
Beyond those already listed, here are three other projects who take papermaking and/or printmaking workshops beyond the studio, each offering their own crafty ideas and innovations.
1. Mobile Print Power (MPP) describe themselves as “a multi-generational collective based out of Queens, NY.” They raise awareness about social issues such as health equity, immigrant rights and brown-black solidarity. MPP has in-the-street silkscreen producing capabilities. Using their “participatory design” technique, they first pose a question to participants, to inspire a poster image. Next, they burn the image on a silkscreen using their refitted ice cream cart, which has a “dark room” and exposure unit inside the refrigerator box. Silkscreen posters are then registered (inked) by participants. Combat Paper NJ has had the opportunity to collaborate with MPP twice, at Interference Archive in Brooklyn. The question MMP posed during our second workshop was, “what is a ‘safe space’?”
2. People’s Paper Co-op (PPC) hosts free legal clinics in Philadelphia to help participants clean up their criminal records. Beyond helping with the expungement process, PPC shows participants how to make handmade paper from torn-up copies of their records. A writing prompt is also given: “Without these records I am…” The writing, along with a portrait photo, gets embedded in the paper. The individual pieces are then combined into a giant “paper quilt” for public display. While they work primarily out of a storefront space in North Philadelphia, they also host sidewalk silkscreen and papermaking workshops to engage more directly with the community. PPC is an initiative of the Village of Arts and Humanities.
3. The Mobile Mill is a project of travelling-artist Jillian Bruschera. According to her website, she intends to “actively challenge traditional notions of art practice, craft culture and education by broadening preconceived notions of where art can be made and who can make it.” Bruschera can take her workshops anywhere. Using miniature tools and recyclable materials, her workshop model is streamlined and beautifully simple. The Mobile Mill concept has recently been fitted into a small, briefcase-sized kit called the “Papermaker’s Pack.” It includes all the tools an artist needs to continue the tradition of teaching hand-papermaking to her friends and community.
Pulp as Portal Exhibition
Co-curated by Jessica Cochran and Melissa Potter, Pulp as Portal: Socially Engaged Hand Papermaking is an exhibition of work produced by papermaking (and printmaking) artists and workshops with socially and politically-minded missions—many of which are mobile. Most of the above projects are represented. It’s currently on display at the Center for Book Arts in New York (2/3/17 to 4/8/17) and at Salina Art Center in Salina, KS (5/10/17 to 7/23/17).