Norwich's Print to the People celebrates its 10th birthday
PUBLISHED: 11:28 10 April 2019 | UPDATED: 11:28 10 April 2019
A social enterprise in Norwich reaches a landmark birthday this month and will be celebrating 10 years of bringing Print to the People with a special exhibition at Norwich Arts Centre.
In the early days, co-founders Jo Stafford and Vicki Johnson really were bringing Print to the People with a mobile screen-printing operation.
Ten years later, and the artist-led social enterprise is based in central Norwich at The Old Box Factory on Pitt Street and runs a range of printmaking courses in addition to offering low-cost facilities that allow people to print independently. It is quite the most glorious, eclectic space filled with joyful art that makes your heart sing.
“If you’d have told me 10 years ago that this is where we’d be now, I just wouldn’t have believed you!” laughs Jo, who says the enterprise grew out of the founders’ own need to find somewhere to create their art, “it’s far bigger than we could have dreamt of. It’s great to think how far Print to the People has come.”
Jo and Vicki met after graduating from Nottingham and Norwich respectively. Both had studied print-making, both were struggling to find places where they could afford to work. Both attended a meeting organised by Stew Gallery, which was based at Fishergate in Norwich, about setting up a print-making studio.
“There were about 10 of us attended the first meeting but at the second, it was just me and Vicki,” laughed Jo, “so we started to set up the studio at Stew and it quickly became apparent that by working as a co-operative it would be easier to buy equipment and pass on the savings to other artists.
“The more people that heard about what we were doing and wanted to join in, the better the savings would be and the more artists we could support. The name came from our first attempts at letting people know what we were doing. We didn’t have any money for advertising, so we found an old trolley on a skip, loaded it up with screen printing equipment and took it out on to the streets of Norwich, taking…Print to the People!”
The group’s first exhibition was at Norwich Arts Centre and it will return there for a 10th Birthday Exhibition from April 11 to May 22 from 1pm to 5pm daily, with free entry and a chance to buy a special range of limited edition prints featuring work from some of PTTP’s artists.
There will be work by artists including Mandy Doubt, Lisa Zoylinos, Printer Johnson, Laurel Pettitt, Toby Rampton, Jo Stafford, Off The Press Collective, Genealityart, Bilos Mantho,
Gabbi Minas, Conner Perry White, Lily Blakely, Alice Lee, Peter Lubach, Chris Richford, Al Ex, Harriet Alana, Morwenna Farrell Illustrations, Pushkin, Bodgers Press and Carl Rowe.
“It’s always great fun to have an exhibition and we have a lot to be proud about – the artists who work here are fantastic,” said Jo.
“People are always surprised to hear that we are not funded – other than a few specific projects – and that the people who work here are volunteers. If artists teach courses, they get paid, but no one here is on a wage. It started as Vicki and I but now there are around 12 core members of staff.”
Paul McNeill teaches letterpress at PTTP and is also a volunteer at The John Jarrold Printing Museum: “What I love about what we do here is the do-it-yourself element of printing, that it’s something that anyone can do, quite quickly, and you don’t have to be hugely artistic to, say, just print a phrase or a word.
“There’s been a real resurgence of handmade items and I love that the things we make here look and feel as if they’ve been made by someone – everything made here has passed through the artist’s hands, and that makes it really special. People really engage with what they make here and the whole process of making it.”
Jo added: “I also love the fact that screen-printing has also been associated with protests and big statements – it’s a bit punk, a bit revolutionary. You can take your words and turn them into posters, bags, banners and you’ve made something that’s completely unique to you. Or it can help you set up another business, either selling your prints or making your own promotional material.”
With redevelopment of Anglia Square in the pipeline, as it stands PTTP face another move in the near future and although they would be sad to leave a much-loved building, they are hoping that if a move is necessary, it could be an opportunity to expand.
“It’d be great to be able to teach larger groups,” said Paul, “and put down proper roots. But we desperately want to stay in the city so that people can easily access us and get to the materials and equipment they need to be able to produce the art they want to produce.”
Jo added that long-term plans also include artist residencies for students, more classes, more opportunities for local artists… “so if anyone knows of a city centre venue which would suit us and which we could afford, let us know!” she said.
• Print to the People provide accessible and affordable open-access printmaking facilities and a varied course programme in a wide range of processes.