01 Nov 2017 12:00 AM | Deleted user

In his most recent post, Tate Shaw urgently concludes, “We need more books like Come to Selfhood. We need to support more artists like McFadden. You need to see and hear what is present in the quiet of this critically important work.”

Reading Shaw’s post, I am drawn back into one of the critical questions, originally posed by Susan Viguers, which I published in a previous post:

“To what extent does the intended audience have access to the work (more particularly, to the intended experience of it)?”

A new question simultaneously emerges:

What is my responsibility, as an artist and educator in this field, to ensure access to the work that I consider to be critically important?

After viewing Dr. Omi Sun Joni L. Jones’ "6 Rules for Allies," as referenced by Shaw, yet another question comes to the fore:

What “alternative academic strategies” can I pursue in an effort to advocate for this critically important work?

I am beginning to realize that it is not enough to simply make the work, appreciate the work, or even write about the work. We need to make space for the work–literally. We need to locate and activate the critically important artists’ books that sit on the shelves of our homes, our studios, our classrooms, and our libraries. We need to advocate for the creation, acquisition, and activation of artists’ publications that should be on those shelves, but are instead significantly absent. We have to locate the allies within and beyond our communities and institutions, do the hard work that collaboration necessitates, and dream up alternative, radical strategies for providing access to what we all “need to hear and see.” We have to “step up.”

As an example of how we can take such steps, I offer up an archive outreach event recently facilitated by the Center for Primary Research and Training at UCLA Library Special Collections, Activating the Archive, which “aimed to create a space for creative engagement with the collections” and highlighted “materials focusing on social justice initiatives, activist groups, and human rights.” The event was a part of a series organized in response to the 2016 U.S. election, which recognized “the vast number of groups on campus being directly targeted by the new administration” and opened up the archive as a “creative outlet to make their voices heard.” The program drew students and staff from a variety of departments on campus and invited them to make buttons and zines using materials from the collection.

Poster featuring buttons from UCLA Library Special Collections that were recreated during the event.

An additional, visionary example can be found in the Friends, Peace, and Sanctuary project at Swarthmore College, which recently received a Pew Center Grant “to create and exhibit artists’ books that amplify personal narratives of displacement, immigration, and sanctuary.” Marshall Weber, Curator at Booklyn, Inc., brought to my attention this exemplary project, which is a collaboration between Swarthmore College Libraries, the Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility, and the immigrant and refugee service organization, Nationalities Service Center. The project invites Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Philadelphia to explore Swarthmore’s library collections and create artists’ books via multi-day workshops facilitated by book artists. The project will culminate with an exhibition and documentary catalogue, the publication of which I eagerly anticipate.

Projects such as these serve as a beacon, modeling the alternative possibilities that can be activated in our field when allies organize, share resources, advocate, and step up.

Bridget Elmer is an artist living in Saint Petersburg, Florida. She is the co-operator of Impractical Labor in Service of the Speculative Arts (ILSSA) and founding member of Print St. Pete Community Letterpress. Bridget works as the Coordinator of the Letterpress and Book Arts Center at Ringling College of Art and Design and serves on the CBAA Board as Chair of the Publications Committee. She received an MFA and MLIS from the University of Alabama and her work is collected internationally.

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software