Philagrafika’s Biennial Festival Is a Dream Deferred

Regina Silveira’s Mundus Admirabilis and Other Plagues, incorporated vinyl along with screenprinting on porcelain and embroidery on fabric at Moore College's Philagrafika exhibition.

I heard about this on WHYY this morning and the written story can be found on their Newsworks website. Excerpted from the web version:

One of Philadelphia’s art organizations is close to broke.

Philagrafika, which held a huge, citywide festival in 2010 called “The Graphic Unconscious,” has laid off its entire staff of three.

The notion of “The Graphic Unconscious” developing into a biennial is now far-fetched.

The organization will have an all-volunteer staff, returning to

its original mission (as the Philadelphia Print Collaborative) of promoting regional print artists through portfolios.

“I thought it was important to carry on with that program, and develop other initiatives for Philadelphia printmakers and artists,” said incoming board chair Rick DeCoyte. “That doesn’t preclude us from doing another festival in the future, which we would like to do, but right now there isn’t the funding support.”

DeCoyte says that while Philagrafika is not carrying any debt from the 2010 festival, it also isn’t attracting new funds.

Back when I was considering where to go to graduate school, the lure of 2010’s Philagrafika festival and matching visit from the premiere printmaking conference, Southern Graphics (SGC International), tipped the scales and I chose the Tyler School of Art at Temple University over schools elsewhere in the States.  As a printmaker, that Spring semester in graduate school was exhilarating.  We went from Philagrafika show to Philagrafika show talking about “what is printmaking?”  We blogged.  We talked about it in reference to our own work.  And we’re still talking about it, actually.  Many a time I have heard someone say something like “well, it doesn’t have the finesse of those enormous Christiane Baumgartner woodcuts” and “it kind of has that same appeal those Oscar Muñoz charcoal prints on water that slowly evaporated,” etc.  As a contemporary artists, a printmaker, and a lifelong student, the whole festival was an education in what a diverse range you can get from a couple processes and how they can bolster the conceptual side of any work of art.

Oscar Muñoz prints charcoal on water and the image distorts as the water evaporates over time. Shown at the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Philagrafika exhibition.

I relished the idea that my new hometown would be the face of contemporary printmaking and that every year, without budgeting for travel and hotel, I could be inspired by a breadth of new ideas happening in printmaking.  It saddens me to think this is a dream deferred.  As DeCoyte says, the announcement of their current financial situation does not “preclude us from doing another festival in the future,” but, as WHYY puts it, “the notion of “The Graphic Unconscious” developing into a biennial is now far-fetched.”

A Yurt made in collaboration by the members of Space 1026 on display at the Print Center's Philagrafika Exhibition.

We still have some of the best printmakers and great print supporting organizations residing in this town, but I wonder if there is a way to help Philagrafika with its goal of a periodic print festival.  If anyone has ideas, please comment below.  I know I was looking forward to the next Philagrafika festival, but I also wasn’t doing anything to make it happen.  Maybe this is the kind of wake-up call the print-seeking public needed in order to support this amazing organization.

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