Guest post by Thea Liberty Nichols
Email interview conducted with Angee Lennard
Angee Lennard is the founder of Spudnik Press Cooperative, and currently serves as the Executive Director. She has participated in group shows at Green Lantern, Heaven Gallery, Butcher Shop, Beverly Art Center, and Chicago Urban Art Space. She has been an Artist in Residence at AS220 in Providence, RI. She currently teaches at Marwen, Spudnik Press, and through Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE), and has previously taught at Rumble Arts and Paper Source. She has been a panelist at Zygote Press’ Collective INK and moderated the panel “Printmaker as Distributor, Collaborator, and Facilitator” at DePaul University Museum through Nomadic Studio. She is a member of the Chicago Printers Guild and Southern Graphics Council. She received her BFA with an emphasis is Print Media from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2005.
TLN: I’ve read before, in your own words, about your inspiration for opening Spudnik Press, and since printmaking by nature is a very communicative medium, I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit about how you communicate with the public? And online? And in print? Is their a particular tone or house style that you’ve developed over time?
AL: I think the communicativeness of printmaking affects the visuals that go along with what I write more than the words. Or rather, I have more confidence and experience in tweaking aesthetics and design than I do language. I spend a great deal of time with every mass e-mail I write because I am acutely aware that through the words I use, I am presenting Spudnik Press as a certain type of community. But my lack of editing experience leaves me guessing at the impact of my words. We do have standard fonts we use for all of our literature. It took me awhile to settle on “Fuse Green” for our 2011 Brochures.
There are a few tiers of people I communicate with. The broadest being “the public”. I try to put together as professional of a package as possible for this crowd. People won’t take you seriously until you take yourself seriously, and we need to earn peoples trust that we are a stable organization that is well-run with clear goals. Next, we have a google group for members. This is a group that I am in more communication with about donations we need, classes that have openings, volunteer opportunities, etc, and I’m a little more conversational with. Lastly, we have the inner circle of keyholders, monitors, and teachers. This is the group that gets e-mails full of slang and at times gripes (“Squeegees don’t clean themselves!”) Maintaining a conversational tone is important to our mission of remaining approachable. With printing being derived from industry, we use a great deal of terminology and can often slip into exclusive conversations about extraneous topics like ink viscosity. We forget how unwelcoming this is to non-printers. I use the all-inclusive “we” so often that my family has been confused about if I had a business partner or not.
I also try to clearly communicate exactly what Spudnik’s needs are, which requires a little bit of subtle education slipped into e-mails, press releases, facebook posts, etc. It also requires a great amount of transparency. A few years ago, I couldn’t with words clarify how drastically we needed people to conserve ink, pay rent on time, etc, so I started prominently displaying our bank statements. About a month later our situation started to improve. We also had a member offer to be our first Treasurer. People can only pull their own weight when they are made aware of what their share of responsibility is.
TLN: Asking for help is really hard sometimes—on that note, why don’t you tell us a little bit more about the Space Race!
AL: Space Race is a moniker we are using for the fundraising we are doing to allow us to move into a larger home. Everyone who has worked at Spudnik knows that we are crammed in our current location and the quicker we can procure the needed funds, the faster we can breath a little and add resources like letterpresses and an offset press the better. We are approaching it like a capital campaign – we’ll keep having fundraisers until our monetary goal is met. Our first fundraiser was an Art Documentation Day where donors were able to bring in a portfolio of work and have it documented. Next is The Hashbrown, a Chili Cook-Off between many of Chicago’s biggest printers. Another component is selling Subscriptions. For $250, up to 12 people can receive a package of prints every quarter throughout the year. The prints included in the subscription will be the best of the best that is made here, posters for our events, collaborative projects, work from Artists in Residence, artwork we publish, and the like. We are planning on using Kickstarter for the tail end of our fundraising, and have already had friends of Spudnik offer to teach relief printing, screenprinting, and harmonica to backers pledging at different tiers. I am also keeping an updated list of materials, equipment, and furniture that we are seeking donations of online.
TLN: Wow! So this is a really big push to make Spudnik bigger and better. Can you tell us how this speaks to Spudnik’s mission? And let us in on how you crafted that statement in the first place please.
AL: Moving to this new studio speaks to our mission in a few ways. Although it will take us some time to get our offset press up and running, access to this type of printing is practically non-existent, affordable or otherwise. Even though offset printing can produce higher volumes of prints faster and cheaper than other mediums, artists often cannot experiment with it. The more people using the studio, the more the overhead costs are divided among all users, allowing us to either lower rates or offer more free or discounted services to the community. I am also hoping that once we have a few more people using the studio, it will be easier to expand our regular hours. We currently are only officially open two nights a week, and Saturday afternoons.
I did not initially sit down to write a mission statement. Our goals slowly became evident to me as Spudnik developed. I knew I wanted to create a studio that encouraged open dialog and a supportive environment, but I didn’t know what that would look like or how it would function. I looked at other models, but until I started the shop it wasn’t clear to me what would end up striking a chord and becoming our mainstays. Our official mission statement, to me, is pretty dry and concise, developed for grant writing and our tax-exempt application. I feel our mission is actually much broader, complex, and intangible; something in the vain of enabling individuals, both those who identify as “artists” and those who don’t, to contribute to the visual culture of our city and use art as a means for communication and building community.
Thea Liberty Nichols is an arts administrator, independent curator and freelance writer.