Will PrintAustin grow bigger, smarter and outside the box?
by Veronica Ceci
To the public at large, as well as for many of those in the arts, printmaking can be at best confusing and at worst impenetrable. Under the umbrella of printmaking exist many methods of execution, each with its own lexicon, tools and equipment. Fine art prints inhabit the world simultaneously with printed items like advertisements and t-shirts which may use some of the same methods but have little cultural import. This fracturing of technique and worth is paired with the fact that editioned prints are simultaneously original and multiple. Traditional editioned prints are further complicated by monotypes (unique prints) and the more modern phenomena of printstallation (when prints are used not as individual art pieces, but as components of an installation work). Even if a gallerist is fond of and educated about prints, it can be challenging to communicate their value to a potential collector.
PrintAustin board member Annalise Gratovich sums up the quandary nicely: “A question I’m asked often when exhibiting work is, ‘Where is the original?’ Or, ‘If this is a copy, why is it so expensive?’ I’ve found that when encountering someone who is not familiar with the idea of multiple originals, which is what traditional printmaking is all about, it’s a greater challenge to help them see the value of the work and creating it in the way I do.”
Elvia Perrin, who along with Cathy Savage founded PrintAustin in 2014, elucidates why this challenge led directly to the creation of the month long event: “I do have to educate individuals that my prints are original and not reproductions. I feel artists working in print media are underrepresented in the gallery world and have to find creative ways to market and show their work, like creating PrintAustin.” Indeed, one of the main goals of PrintAustin is also the simplest, to encourage local galleries to exhibit more print based work.
It is a goal that both Perrin and Savage agree has been one of the most successful aspects of PrintAustin. The beleaguered gallerist is assisted in explanations of print’s complex identity by a schedule of events that will hopefully shed some light on the murky depths of a medium rooted in ancient commercial technologies. Indeed, according to Perrin, “The Austin gallery owners have been open, warm and receptive to exhibiting prints and working with us to promote printmaking.”
The success of this one aspect does not mean there isn’t room for improvement. In my correspondence with the founders and board of PrintAustin, they universally agreed that the greatest need for refinement was not in the event that is PrintAustin, but in the entity that creates PrintAustin.
The sustained energy it requires to produce and manage the collection of demonstrations, exhibits, talks, and expos which combine to be PrintAustin doesn’t always positively impact its leaders. As spelled out by Savage, “PrintAustin is fun to plan and administer, but it does often trump our own studio lives, which in the end can be maddening.
PrintAustin’s goal is to help promote printmaking and the artists making the prints, but we organizers do it at the expense of our own work.”
Volunteers are the life blood of small organizations
Savage and Perrin do the major planning along with board members Gratovich, N.J. Weaver, and Brian Johnson. Large events are helped along with the aid of 10 to 20 volunteers. Says Savage, “I think many assume PrintAustin is a business with employees. We are a non-profit and volunteer-run outfit giving honorariums when we can, so building up an organization with staff and then of course securing the funding for it is where I see our biggest hurdle.” And as Board member Weaver adds, “As PrintAustin grows so does the need for structure, organization, and delegation. It’s easy to burn out due to the volume of work to be done and often the thought is ‘it’s easier to do it than to have someone else do it’ which may be true but in the long run, it’s not efficient or healthy.”
Moving forward, Perrin expressed a desire to create paid positions for key players, which invites inquiry as to how funding has been acquired thus far. The co-founder describes the current state of things, “We received a small grant from the city, [and] we received [a] $2,000 grant from Still Water, but rely on PrintAustin events like the juried exhibition . . . and the Trade Portfolio to raise funds for programming. We hope that the city funding will continue and hope to gain company and individual sponsors.”
Funding will allow PrintAustin to think bigger, smarter and outside the box and expand and/or refine its goals.
Co-founder Savage and board member Weaver both have past experience with fundraising for other organizations which has been useful in this respect. Weaver relates her experience at Habitat For Humanity to that at PrintAustin, “In my experience with [Habitat] fundraising was key to completing and planning projects for immediate needs as well as the long term. Very little money was allocated to administrative costs and overhead. As a new organization, PrintAustin is just beginning to see the need for donors [and] sponsors . . . Funding will allow PrintAustin to think bigger, smarter and outside the box and expand and/or refine its goals. Also, both organizations are volunteer driven . . . . Whether it’s building houses or celebrating printmaking techniques, volunteers are the life blood of small organizations.”
In running The Tesla Project, a daylong event on Nicola Tesla’s birthday, Savage learned how to request assistance: “Tesla helped me be able to ask for money without feeling weird about it. I have no problem requesting sponsorship, knowing that if I’m turned away it simply wasn’t a good fit for the business I was targeting.” Illinois-based ink manufacturer and printmaking supply retailer Graphic Chemical has already signed on as a participant for next year.
The hope for future growth of PrintAustin doesn’t lie solely in such practical matters. Originally limited to Texas-based artists, PrintAustin’s showcase exhibition, The Contemporary Print, was opened up to national applicants in 2015. This small step towards a larger pool of participants is reflective of greater ambitions says Perrin: “It would be wonderful to have the audience draw and organized programming similar to the Southern Graphics International Conference.”
It is certain that a city like Austin, TX, which is already host to a number of international events, can sustain the further expansion of PrintAustin. It is also certain that PrintAustin will continue to grow, says Savage, “We already joke that our next brochure will need to include reading glasses since the font size keeps getting smaller.” Gratovich sums it up: “We want to be a resource for the printmakers in our region. I think part of that is expanding our sphere nationally while retaining a balance of promoting our local area artists as well . . . PrintAustin is gaining momentum and I imagine it, or certain events and exhibitions, becoming a destination for printmakers regionally, nationally and internationally.” It may be an idea that is in their imagination now, but one that is sure to come to fruition soon.