Newark Print Shop!
Newark Print Shop is among the many, many artist-originated spaces and projects that are part of Newark’s longstanding and ever-evolving cultural activity. And their Print Club on Wednesdays is the kind of thing that makes me say with pride, “We got that!” and makes other people say, with longing, “I wish I had something like that in MY town!” I love and cherish spaces, wherever they exist and however, they came to be, where everyone from serious fine artists to curious, creative people of any age, can co-exist, where everyone learns and has something to share. These kinds of spaces are welcoming and democratic and allow people to express themselves and gain skills, and I wish every town had lots! So if you are in town for even one night, try to make it a Wednesday, and stop by to learn how to make your first print.
I got the lowdown from Lisa Conrad, the artist founder:
Q: What is Newark Print Shop? Tell us what you do and how people can get involved or see art. Who is involved? Who makes it all happen?
A: Newark Print Shop (NPS) is a community fine art printmaking studio in Downtown Newark, NJ. Founded in August 2012, our goal is to support the fine art of printmaking by providing affordable and accessible workspace, educational programming through classes and workshops, and exhibition space dedicated to the fine art of prints.
The foundation of our shop and the best way for people to get involved is to come to our open studio program called "PRINT CLUB", which is offered every Wednesday night from 6-10 pm. During the print club, you will be exposed to a group of dedicated printmakers who can assist beginners in the various processes of printmaking that we are equipped for, including silkscreen, letterpress, and etching.
Q: How did it begin? Every cool project usually has a great origin story- what was the inspiration or process that led to NPS being what it is today?
A: Newark Print Shop began in my former artist studio on Broad Street in Downtown Newark. After setting up my studio with print equipment I wrote a grant to support a printmaking workshop series for a small group of Newark high school students. With the support of the Newark Arts Council, students learned about papermaking, printmaking, and book arts.
Local artists in the community began asking me about the opportunity to use my space to learn printmaking as well, and the idea for an open studio night was born. A small flier exhibited at the Newark Public Library revealing the existence of a Newark Print Club decades ago confirmed this vision and every Wednesday night was coined Print Club as artists gathered around the studio to make prints.
Just as the weekly Open Studio Print Club began gaining serious momentum in the art community, there was a fire in the building on Broad Street, consequently displacing the Newark Print Shop overnight.
Determined to keep the spirit of the print club alive, I partnered with local artists Jacqueline Cruz, Stephen McKenzie, and Samer Fouad to find new space for Newark Print Shop. With the help of Emily Manz, Brick City Development Corporation, and RBH Group, we secured new space to continue Print Club, as well as expand programming to include a residency program, workshops, studio membership, and exhibitions focusing on the fine art of prints.
NPS is now a fully equipped community print shop located at 304 University Avenue, across the street from Essex County College. NPS is still home to the weekly open studio PRINT CLUB.
Q: What is it like being an artist, educator, and arts administrator? How does one impact another, or not?
A: It is a challenge to be an artist, educator, and arts administrator, and to maintain a healthy balance between all three. Unfortunately, maintaining an art practice is often what suffers the most. Currently, I teach full-time as an art teacher in a middle school, which is a very demanding job often leaving me tired and low on energy.
I find myself catching up on NPS administration work on the weekends, where I can at least wake up early with a fresh start and get to work. Or I'll take a short nap after teaching, bring my laptop to a local cafe or pub and catch up where I can at least feel like I'm getting out and seeing other people.
At the end of the day though, it is my strong belief in the shop and our mission that drive me to find the energy to just get done what needs to get done in order to keep the ship alive. I think that is really what drives all start-up, passion project initiatives like NPS; it’s that deep belief in the project that keeps us going at it every day.
Q: I see tons of photos of Print Club online- do you have a favorite story about something that happened or happens at Print Club?
A: One of my favorite things about the print club is that we usually have at least one person printing for the very first time, and I love seeing their excitement when they make their first print. We document this happening by taking their picture as they hold up their print, and then share it on our Instagram with the hashtag #firstprintever.
Q: What has been the most challenging thing that you've been through
with NPS so far?
A: One of the most challenging things was the transition from my studio to our current space, and keeping the hope alive that it was even possible. We were forced to leave my studio suddenly because of a fire in the space below us, and it was a serious struggle to find a new space that we could afford in downtown Newark.
It took about 6 months until we finally saw the space we ended up taking. It was a vacant office space, with an ugly green carpet, drop ceiling, and walls everywhere dividing up the 900 square feet into tiny offices.
At first, I had to really persuade my team that this space was even possible as a workshop space, but it was the only space we could afford, so we finally took it. And then the real work began! We gutted the space, tore down walls, ripped up carpet, sanded floors, took out the drop ceiling, installed new lights, and then moved really heavy equipment.
All of this work we did ourselves and with the help of very generous people who believed in our dream. For anyone familiar with printmaking equipment, it is super heavy, and we were able to source most of our equipment, including our etching press, letterpress, washout booth, drying racks, and Hollander beater as donations.
The catch to these donations was that we would have to move it and get it out of people's studios, basements, storage, etc. ourselves, often twice, first in storage, and then to our space once it was secured. That first year was a serious test of our determination to our dream, and persistence to make it happen, somehow, someway.
Q: What does the future hold for NPS?
A: The future is looking bright for NPS! Although we’re not ready to announce any specifics, we can say that a move is looking promising for a new and better home, which will give us more space for our growing community of printers.
Evonne M. Davis and Emma Wilcox are working artists and cofounders of a Newark alternative arts nonprofit. Begun in 2003, Gallery Aferro offers exhibitions featuring local, national, and international artists, a wide range of public events, a year-round studio residency program, educational offerings, group tours, a publication line, a gift shop, and public art initiatives.