Providence, RI

Contact Name
Marina Balko
Project Dates
2007 - Current
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2017
Workforce Development, Design
The AS220 Printshop is a public-access printmaking studio offering intaglio etching, traditional stone lithography, letterpress, silkscreen, and offset facilities. The AS220 Printshop is committed to promoting the full breadth of printmaking, supporting local creativity through affordable workshops, a vibrant learning community, and access to professional tools and facilities. The shop incubates new artistic voices through its educational opportunities, while simultaneously creating rewarding teaching opportunities for Shop Members and printmakers in the community. Since the Printshop’s reincarnation in September 2007, it has supported a wide range of activity from commercial offset jobs to show poster runs to fine art editions, and much more.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
To create a space and community that both provides training in the techniques as well as access to the tools required for printmaking. The community structure of the Printshop mitigates the large capital investments required to create a successful print business, while also providing in-house feedback and support. Outside of student-only university facilities, these resources are not readily available in the community, short of temporary journeyman roles that might be available at a previously established print businesses.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
Fundamentally the goals mentioned above have remained the same over time. We have widened the scope of our goals to focus more on aspects of social justice and expanding our user base to be more inclusive of young people and communities of color. The main strategy in achieving this goal is through AS220’s own Youth Program. AS220’s Youth Studios focuses on teaching skills and providing a supportive and creative environment for formerly incarcerated young people. Encouraging feelings of entrepreneurship through printmaking fits extremely well into the mission of both projects. Building personal relationships that foster trust and a sense of ownership in young people using the space takes time.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
Project partners are vast and diverse, from individuals interested in printing as possible income to institutions such as RISD & Brown. The Key Members and daily Shop Member users are considered the main partners in the project. After three months as a Shop Member, some members upgrade to Key Membership out of a desire to be more involved in the Industries community, daily operations, and decision-making. We receive sponsorship from Bottles Fine Wine for quarterly events held in the Printshop that introduce attendees to the equipment and space, but generally non-creative partners provide financial support through for-hire projects.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
The project connects to AS220’s larger strategy of creating open and unjuried spaces for individual artistic expression. Building community is at the core of AS220. Over 60 artists live in AS220’s buildings and 80% of these units are affordable housing. Creating space for artists to live also creates a need for direct access tools and knowledge. The Printshop’s Key Member program also gives artists round the clock access to to create work anytime, contributing to 24 hour vibrancy in downtown Providence. In addition, the project is connected to the larger strategy of the city of Providence in its branding as the Creative Capital. Printmaking is an extremely visible and democratic art form. Prints made at AS220 can be seen in windows on practically every block of the downtown Providence and in other neighborhoods of the city.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
The Printshop as a program took its underlying mission from AS220’s larger unjuried/uncensored mission. The shop as a creative economy project takes specific inspiration from the lineage of printshops acting as community centers used for the productions of goods and the dissemination of information. Founded in 1973, Los Angeles’ Self Help Graphics, for example, is a print-based arts organization that has resonated specifically with our shift toward better supporting young people and people of color. Self Help Graphics was founded on the idea that printmaking is a democratic art form that lends itself to giving visibility and voice to those that are otherwise not heard. Their vision is “to be the pre-eminent center for Latino art in printmaking, exhibition and training, and to be a resource for young and emerging artists”
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
The Printshop was founded by a group of RISD graduates looking to develop a shared workspace that focused on printmaking resources. Like many students exiting the art schools, they found themselves suddenly lacking the facilities they had been trained to use. In order to materialize the goal, consent and space from the greater AS220 was step one. Funding, acquisition of printing resources (machinery, supplies, etc), and space design followed. Development of procedures, programming and recruiting members is the last step, which is always ongoing.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
We are constantly adapting our efforts and resources to match the demands and interests of our community. This may manifest as developing novel outreach strategies (Drink+Ink events and free community print nights) or adapting the equipment to match a new wind of users (for example, incorporating more apparel silkscreen equipment).
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
One obstacle, which we also see as an asset, is that the project connects an incredibly wide range of interests. From those interested in historical processes, including those reviving lost letterpress fonts, to fine art printmakers, the project’s diversity goals include diversity of usage. We have experienced increased interest in apparel or product design, speccifially for marketing and promotion other artistic entrepreneurship projects. For example, writers and poets use the offset machine to self-publish books and tattoo artists print bandanas in their signature style. The difficulty comes in making sure the Printshop is meeting all of these artistic needs and making informed decisions in where to focus resources.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
The Printshop’s Key Members are the primary sounding board for staff in the decision making process. Key Members meet on a monthly basis to discuss new developments or whether or not programming is considered to be successful. Data from our booking system provides us with information as well. We are able to look at which pieces of equipment are used the most. For example, in 2016 our main silkscreen stations saw an increase in usage of 50% from 2015. By comparison, our etching/monotyping/lithography stations saw just an 18% increase over the same time period.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Think about who you are serving honestly.
Build as many bridges as you can.
Inspiring ownership in your community is integral to our success.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
We have 13 artist businesses running out of the Printshop year-round. This does not include any art sales made of print series or artworks created in the space. The project facilitates numerous sales opportunities for users throughout the year including a Holiday Art Sale, booths at AS220’s block party and other city wide festivals, and online sales. Other use of the space supports existing non-print businesses by way of inexpensive product packing or marketing materials. Many print focused artists have also moved on to open up their own commercial shops. The project is designed to act not only as a community space, but also as a stepping stone for emerging artists.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
The space has countless examples of successfully supporting creative individuals in generating partial, and in some cases, entire income. This is directly due to the original goal of providing significantly reduced financial investment when starting. The level of skill-sharing that takes place, both through formal workshops and informal interactions is remarkable. People start off doing silkscreening for example, then learn other skills that help them advance their in their careers. Seeing the sense of community that is built through learning has been remarkable.
How did you measure this success or progress?
We are lucky to measure success both objectively and anecdotally. We measure not just on expansion of membership, classes run per year, key memberships, but it is most easily seen in person almost daily at our spaces. People are creating and interacting with one another constantly.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
The vibrancy and growth of the AS220 Youth constituency in particular has far exceeded our expectations.
CCX Workshop Handout