North Adams, MA

Contact Name
Melanie Mowinski
Project Dates
June 2011-Present
Real Estate, Design, Business Planning, Marketing
PRESS strives to engage visitors, artists and students with hands-on, real-world printmaking projects. PRESS is a community resource and gallery, and a lab for learning and discovery for professional, artists, students and visitors.

PRESS offers three core services:
• a public, interactive gallery space—working Vandercook Universal III press as gallery centerpoint
• professional art and arts management studio for MCLA faculty and students
• letterpress studio for students and community members

Students serve as interns and work alongside faculty and community artists to create, install and build what is PRESS, providing different opportunities for civic engagement. These services contribute to each other and then collectively to the overall North Adams community.
Project Goals
What were the project goals?
Originally PRESS was a Downstreet Art project, slated to be open for four months with the goal of sharing letterpress printing with the general public.
Melanie Mowinski, founder, was to operate the Vandercook Universal III the center point of the gallery during open hours engaging visitors in conversations about letterpress printing and its origins. In some ways, the original project was an experiment in performance as well. Mowinski brought her practice as an artist into the public eye, opening herself and her process to conversation. Workshops and exhibitions were to be offered.
Have they changed over time?
The main thing that has changed over time is that PRESS remained opened well beyond the four month goal. It has, in many ways, gone from pop-up to permanent. The goals now are
• a public, interactive gallery space—working Vandercook Universal III press as gallery centerpoint
• professional art and arts management learning studio for MCLA faculty and students
• letterpress studio for students and community members
Who are the project partners and stakeholders?
Melanie Mowinski, Assistant Professor of Art, MCLA (Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts)
DownStreet Art
Project Specifics
How was the project implemented? What were the steps taken?
Looking back at the project, it was implemented first as an experiment, and then after its success, three specifics phases were defined:

Phase One was the initial summer experiment of 2011. During this four-month trial period, PRESS established a web presence, moved the press to the gallery, created a gallery, and trained the staff of five. PRESS employed a student as the Associate Gallery Manager (AGM), a program created by Downstreet Art—the structure that helped PRESS get started. The AGM position was funded by a grant from the College Book Art Association, Mowinski’s Creative Project Award and a small special grant from MCLA.

The AGM was the link to all things Downstreet Art. DSA has a structure for marketing and publicity, opening events, and other special activities. The AGM kept abreast of the timeline for DSA requirements, allowing Mowinski and interns/volunteers to focus on the mission of introducing students and community members to the magic of letterpress.

PRESS reached success on nearly all its goals, including attendance, fund-raising, student involvement, sales and community interest. Openings were well attended, people purchased work and subscriptions, students served as interns and valuable connections with community members were made. Bert Lamb, former co-owner of Lamb Printing in North Adams, gifted PRESS with oak cabinets for type cases and galley trays in exchange for prints. Other community members provided us with long-term loans of book presses and chairs/tables. PRESS developed a regular following of visitors interested in its mission.

Students completed projects during Mowinski’s summer course and then within two different courses during the Fall 2011 semester. As a result, a number of new students became interested in working at PRESS as interns during the spring semester, as well as using the facilities for upper-level projects. Students will continue to be the life-force behind making PRESS what it is, serving as interns, staff members and volunteers.

Because of PRESS’s success, MCLA committed to covering the fee to license the space through October 2012.

Phase Two is the incorporation of PRESS into the high-impact offerings at MCLA. It will begin in the Summer of 2012. During this time, resources will be secured to support the executive director, operational costs and the planning for future phases. The initial plan and budget, originally designed for four months, covered the operational costs (minus a salary for Mowinski) through fiscal year 2012. To secure funds for the next year, PRESS will create an Etsy site for online sales, offer workshops, begin another fundraising campaign, and secure additional funds through grants.

Phase Three is when PRESS will become the analog companion to a design program that includes traditional design education as well as a contemporary component that teaches current software and commercial design applications. As part of the process, a “college press” similar to the fine college press tradition at Scripps College will be developed. As part of this phase, additional community outreach and workshops will be developed and implemented.
Have they been refined over time?
Nearly two years into the project, the biggest refinement that will begin to happen this year is partnering with other organizations in North Adams to offer community classes and workshops. Most workshops and classes have been ad hoc or college-credit based and offered through MCLA.

An additional refinement will be expanding our reach to work with community artists.

What were your major obstacles?
Funding and staffing. Mowinski is a full-time tenured-track professor at MCLA. This project is her research. She staffs it when she can, and through offering arts management internships and studio apprenticeships with MCLA students. It is funded by grants, sale of artworks and support from MCLA. It is not a project that is sustainable on its own as of yet.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
MCLA internships, continued support through grants
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1. Secure funding before beginning the project.
2. Cultivate volunteers and community connections.
3. Spend time and money on fundraising/grant writing.
Project Impact
How has this project contributed to creative community building?
Because of the success, MCLA, the home institution for founder Melanie Mowinski, has committed to help make the project continue. This partnership helps bridge the gap between town and gown, a continual challenge for many towns that are homes to small colleges. The North Adams community recognizes that MCLA is part of the project and delights in this commitment.

As a result of the project staying open for more than four months, Mowinski has worked with area elementary schools to offer workshops. (With more time, this would be expanded.) This spring PRESS will partner with MASS MoCA to offer a series of classes for junior high aged students and then in the summer additional workshops related to the Johnny Carrera exhibit opening in March.

A final way of creative community building, at each opening, we print a new postcard that we give away. These cards are unique to that night and we encourage people to come back each month to get the new one/collect them all. We also take these cards out into the world and give them away at random. Every card has some sort of positive/uplifiting message.

There are many regular North Adams residents who stop by PRESS to engage with the interns and founder, and to learn letterpress printing.

This MASS MoCA partnership will hopefully link MASS MoCA visitors to Main Street even more.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
We achieved our original goals through creating exhibits along the DownStreet Art Cycle, so every last Thursday from June-November, a new exhibit opened. During the non DSA months, one or two shows opened and we operated with limited hours and by appointment.
Over 40 different MCLA students have received some kind of letterpress printing experience, through classes, independent studies and apprenticeships.

Six MCLA students have worked as interns to help write grants, staff the gallery, work on development and manage marketing.

Over 2000 people have walked through our doors and been given a free postcard that we printed at PRESS. Each of the cards has a positive mantra/quote/message. We want people to feel the positive strengthen of the printed word whenever the experience PRESS. This is a core part of the performance printing stated in the goal section. One way this expanded was to invite the visitor on opening nights to print their own card, to feed the paper into the press and then "press" the magic button to print it. This interaction keeps people coming back to PRESS regularly.
Were there unexpected impacts?
The primary unexpected impact is the success and love of the project by the community, visitors and MCLA students/faculty/staff.

When PRESS first opened, letterpress guru John Barrett of Letterpress Things in Chicopee said that people would come out of the woodwork to give us letterpress stuff. He was right. More than 80% of the equipment we have at PRESS, including the Vandercook, was given to us. This too, was unexpected.