It's been well over a year since MCLA art professor Melanie Mowinski (right) committed to a gallery project that not only quickly became a DownStreet Art success, but a permanent fixture on Main Street.
Because the centerpiece of "PRESS: Letterpress as a Public Art Project" is a 1969 Vandercook proof press, it's much more than a gallery: it's also a teaching and studio space. And, as Mowinski explained, "It's also a place where people can come together and experiment creatively and have some good conversation, and try out something that's kind of archaic and unusual."
The sense of community is strong here - one of the reasons for its success.
"Community members like that MCLA is a big part of this project. They see that MCLA is committed to the North Adams community. People who are traveling and visit the gallery say, 'Oh, the College is doing this?' Where else do you see an active letterpress anywhere, especially in a storefront? Dovetailed with DownStreet Art and the Berkshire Cultural Resource Center, they see that MCLA is committed to the city's success."
Even when no one is printing in the space, there's always something going on, according to Mowinski. "It's really interactive," she said. "There are things to look at beyond the images on the wall, as the gallery assistants and interns engage the public and teach visitors about printmaking. It's a great way to help people make connections about what they do in their office or on their computer. It's that historical link that I think is one of the cool things that happens here."
With a little help from the press, anyone can be an artist.
"The machine inks everything perfectly, and you can control things you can't always control when you're painting or drawing, so it looks professional. It comes together," Mowinski said.
Between grants, art sales and memberships, the gallery is on its way to sustaining itself.
At each of the monthly openings, members receive a special, printed card that's available for that month only, which they can frame or send as a greeting card. A line of greeting cards is for sale, as well as a number of different prints. And soon, Mowinski will put out a call for entries to be included in a 2013 calendar that will feature drawings and images of North Adams.
While it's a big responsibility to keep the gallery running, Mowinski said the rewards far outweigh the challenges.
"When somebody comes in and I can tell I've really touched them from the expressions on their faces, that certainly makes it worthwhile," she said. "Sometimes I walk into the space and I'm speechless. I can't believe I decided to do this and that it's so successful. It's a wonderful space."
PRESS may be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/letterPRESSaspublicartproject, or check out the gallery's blog at: http://letterpressasapublicartproject.wordpress.com.