Flashes of color in a window at the Greene Block + Studios catch the attention of passersby along Waterville’s Main Street. A closer look reveals antique bookbinding machines with their vises, wheels, and gears painted fire-engine red.
Part of the former Hitchcock Bindery, the machinery had been housed—and actively used until recently—in the basement of Lorimer Chapel on the Colby campus and recently was brought into the light by Colby’s new Center for Book & Print. Launched this fall, the center grew from a burgeoning interest in the history, design, manufacture, and construction of books, artists’ books, broadsides, chapbooks, prints, posters, and more.
On Nov. 19, the center hosts the Elm City Small Press Fest at Greene Block + Studios. The community event will highlight contemporary print and publishing culture in Maine.
The center and festival are the latest examples of the creative energy the Colby Arts Office is unleashing on campus, in Waterville, and across the region. In a short time, the Arts Office has connected artists, created events, and brought disparate groups together to enliven the arts scene.
With the December opening of the Paul J. Schupf Art Center and the growing presence of Colby-connected artists in the community, the Arts Office, working in tandem with the Colby Museum of Art, the Lunder Institute for American Art, Waterville Creates, and others, is helping to reshape the region as a lively arts destination.
“In the Arts Office, we find synergies and common interests and implement what we believe will work well for the community, often in collaboration with faculty, guest artists, students, or partners locally and regionally,” said Diamond Family Director of the Arts Teresa McKinney, the inaugural director of the Arts Office. She began her position in 2020, arriving in Waterville with a background in community arts programming, most recently for New York’s Juilliard School.
The Center for Book & Print opened in September on the first floor of the Greene Block + Studios, Colby’s art-and-community space in downtown Waterville. In addition to the festival, it offers workshops, talks, and demonstrations that revolve around the craft of book and print production in both traditional and non-traditional ways.
A partnership between Colby Libraries and the Arts Office, the Center for Book & Print evolved from an ongoing conversation about ways to integrate artists’ books and zines, two formats the Colby Libraries have been collecting over the past five years, into the classroom, said Fannie Ouyang, the center’s project manager and the visual and interdisciplinary arts librarian for Colby Libraries.
Artists’ books are works of art that utilize the form of the book, and zines are self-published, small-circulation works. “These are two artistic formats that force audiences to look at art and think about books in very different ways,” she said.
Ouyang and Julia Arredondo, a 2021 Lunder Institute for American Art residential fellow, proposed a festival to celebrate the zine and independent presses. The Elm City Small Press Fest launched in fall 2021 with nearly 20 vendors and exhibitors showing their work and sharing information. The second installment of the festival Nov. 19 will include expanded programming and workshops.
Colby-connected community programming
The print festival is the latest example of new arts-related community programming with Colby connections. In September, the Center for the Arts and Humanities, Colby’s Creative Writing Program, and other statewide entities cosponsored the Maine Lit Fest with more than 20 events on campus, at the Greene Block, and in Portland. The festival brought together more than 50 writers from around the country for readings and workshops.
While these programs draw artists to the community, they also encourage the participation of local creatives and community members to make art using history and habitat to help define the community, McKinney said.
She defined a vibrant arts community not as a place where artists drop in, “but a place for artists to live and thrive and be in community with one another” with art-making happening at every level.
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