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The New Orleans Community Print Shop and Darkroom



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Standing serenely on an undisturbed street corner of the Bywater, the New Orleans Community Print Shop and darkroom melds seamlessly into the surrounding neighborhood. And while this particular section of the city shrouds itself in relative quiet, at a moment’s notice, the shop can turn into a zoo of activity, with community children congregating outside, periodically disappearing into the premises to show off their latest sketch, or serving as impromptu aides to whatever printmaking project one of the many members may be working on.

The shop initially came to life in 2009 at the hands of printmakers who were in search of a space that would be affordable and accessible. And while the creation of the workshop served a unique need, it also fulfilled a vision. Explains member Vanessa Abrams, “we were motivated both by our collective desire to develop and support a thriving printmaking community, and also by our real need or equipment to continue to making new work.” So while members utilize the facility for personal projects, they also donate between 16 and 35 hours of their time each month through hosting on- site art shows, open houses on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and youth day Silkscreen workshops one Saturday each month.

During my visit, the member artists were similarly gracious with both their time and patience, minding unannounced children while simultaneously serving as tour guides to curious visitors, all while placing the finishing touches on each individual artwork. The interior of the shop is cluttered and diverse, though initially no more remarkable than an undisturbed attic. But upon closer examination, order is apparent in the vast array of supplies and equipment flowing from every corner. wall-to-wall shelves house innumerable mesh screens and paint cans, while a large stack of wire trays holds an endless amount of drying prints, all centered around one enormous work table where a solitary artist quietly pushes paint onto her creation.

Printmaking may be an alien art form to most, but the print shop is happy to lend a helping hand to anyone willing to learn. Says Abrams, “we help ‘drop-In Night’ visitors of all skill levels explore print media.” Fellow member Sarah Ball adds, “Open Shop was at full capacity in the weeks before Jazz Fest, as people printed their original artwork to sell.” In effect, all are welcome. So put down your keyboards and touchscreens, and rediscover what your hands can do away from modern technology.

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