MAKESPACE 2022: ACCESSIBILITY AND INCLUSIVITY AS PRACTICE // Elaina Brown-Spence, Meera Mittal, Erica Honson

01 Jun 2022 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

Share Public Access to Creative Endeavors, or the SPACE coalition, was created to combat physical and cultural barriers within the art world for marginalized communities. We, Elaina Brown-Spence, Erica Honson, and Meera Mittal, formed the coalition while in the MFA Printmaking and Book Arts program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We wrote a quasi-manifesto addressing our values as artists and issues of accessibility within the art world. This document, which was later offset printed by Erica Honson and Amanda D’Amico in the Borowsky Center for Publication Arts and made into a zine, was the launching point for us to join the movement to expand inclusivity within the art world.

We began specifically addressing book arts within our quasi-manifesto by asking, “Who gets to be in Special Collections, museums, libraries, universities, et cetera?” These establishments provide legitimacy, status, economic gain, and avenues for professional growth for the artists whose work they accept. The quantity and locations of exhibitions and collectors on an artist’s CV affects whether gatekeepers will afford that artist another opportunity. And each of those opportunities connects an artist to a network of people who may afford them further opportunities. Furthermore, an artist’s confidence in their ability to succeed professionally, and their sense of value within society, can directly impact their career. Part of that self-perception is built from the validation of being chosen by exhibition spaces — by seeing one’s identity, history, community, and voice as being worthy of public representation. 


makeSPACE, a quasi-manifesto, offset zine, 2022   

The way artist books, specifically, are presented, read, and interacted within exhibitions often limits their accessibility. Most artist books are meant to be interacted with by human hands as an integral aspect of their content, materials, structure, and reader experience. But many exhibition locations are inaccessible physically and culturally to numerous communities. This is also due, in part, to the practice of preservation in the book arts field. In response to this, we wrote, “Artist books, regardless of content, are not accessible when acquired by Special Collections. This needs to change. Books in Special Collections remain unread; they lose their “bookness.” Books need to be held, read, touched. Preservation shouldn’t be at the cost of seeing and handling books in person…. Liberate the libraries.” One of the tasks of the Special Collections librarian is to create a certain experience for the reader. When a librarian immediately acts suspicious towards a visitor, interrogates them about why they want to look at the books, and hovers over them during reading, all in the name of preservation, that artist book was not truly read, and the reader may not wish to return to any Special Collections. So, there is a need for more and different spaces for artist books to be read, for artists to have multiple avenues of advancing their careers, supporting themselves economically, and sharing their work as it is intended to be shared. For community members consuming the art, having opportunities to interact with artist books in spaces which are welcoming and inclusive could create richer dialogues and greater cultural impact which are essential to the purpose of art itself.

Our next action was curating an open-call exhibition, titled makeSPACE, held both in a gallery at the University of the Arts and virtually via Instagram. We sought to utilize the privileges of being students in a graduate program at a private arts university to create an exhibition opportunity for artists who may not have access to such establishments. Our open call for submissions encouraged artists with any identity, educational background, and level of artistic experience to submit their work. For one artist, makeSPACE was the first time they had work accepted to a gallery, and for another, it was the first time their pieces were accepted outside of a student show. The artist books in the show were displayed on open pedestals, with a sign that told viewers they could touch and handle the books (in our call for submissions, we stated that any artist books in the show must be available for handling). By opening this gallery to people outside of the university, we hoped to create chances for communities within and outside of the institution to connect, for people to experience artist books as they are meant to be experienced, and for marginalized artists to have opportunities to be seen and heard.

makeSPACE exhibition, Gallery 224, 2022

In joining the conversations on and movement towards accessibility in the arts, we wanted to acknowledge and speak with people who have been doing this work for some time, hear about their practices, and share space. To do so, we organized a panel discussion with Nasheli Ortiz-Gonzalez from Taller-Puertorriqueño and Yuka Petz. In tandem with the panel and the exhibition, we also hosted zine workshops at the Free Library of Philadelphia. All events were free and open to the public. It was important for us to meet people in their community at the library for the workshop and online via Zoom for the panel discussion to reach people wherever they may be.


Elaina Brown-Spence, Meera Mittal, and Erica Honson make up the 2022 graduating class from the MFA Book Arts and Printmaking program at UArts in Philadelphia, PA. Together they formed the SPACE Coalition in 2021 working towards accessibility in the fields of book arts and printmaking and the art world at large.




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