Aug. 15, 2012 - Issue #878: Snap Turns 30
Printing and Pressing Onward
SNAP celebrates its three-decade anniversary
SNAP 30th Anniversary Exhibition
Sat, Aug 18 – Tue, Aug 28
Thirty years ago, ambition and hope were the driving forces behind an organization that has reshaped printmaking in Edmonton, making it one of Canada's premiere facilities for the medium.
The Society of Northern Alberta Print Artists (SNAP) was conceived over a lunch between Walter Jule, Robin Smith-Peck, Mark Siedner and several other local artists as a way to meet a need within the city's arts community. Smith-Peck and Siedner had been hired as printmaking techs at the University of Alberta and were seeing students graduate each year and ultimately having to leave or stop making prints because there was nowhere to work once they left school. Smith-Peck says SNAP was created as a way to meet this need and allow graduating artists to have a means to stay in Edmonton and continue producing work.
SNAP's first home was on the fifth floor of the derelict Great West Saddlery Building downtown. The location may not have been ideal, but meant cheap rent, and a chance for the not-for-profit organization to get on its feet. The founding team went to work transforming the wooden shelves that once held saddles into artist studios in the hopes of bringing together Edmonton's fractured arts community. Smith-Peck had observed that artists of different mediums rarely interacted with one another and wanted to provide an opportunity to develop a cohesive community of artists.
"By having printmakers working next to painters and sculptors and musicians and writers, assumptions about each other's mediums would go out the window," adds Smith-Peck, who has continued a career in printmaking as well as teaching the medium in the arctic and at Keyano College in Fort McMurray.
Within a month, more than 10 artists were working in the studios, and SNAP was running its own print shop.
"Every time we made a decision regarding SNAP and what it would do, it was done to meet a need," Smith-Peck says. "We found that in the first year that it was working out that artists were talking to each other and getting to know each other's mediums, but we found that some artists, especially young artists, you often need a goal in order to get into the studio after working an eight-hour day job."
This motivation came after a request to the building's landlord, resulting in SNAP's first warehouse show, which took place on the bottom floor of the building. The unjuried show became an annual exhibition, allowing all artists renting a studio to showcase their art, and gave them a goal to work towards. Smith-Peck fondly recalls this show as one of her best memories of SNAP's early days.
"I remember us doing that and being really excited by the fact that we could make that happen," she recalls. "The building, for me, was like a home. I had a studio there and would come down every morning with my dog and hang out in the studio. The memories are of a very close-knit group of people."
Not long after the success of the first show, other artists began contacting SNAP requesting work space. The fourth floor was taken over to accommodate the new tenants, and the need for a gallery arose as a way to exhibit prints on a more regular basis. Eventually, curators from eastern Canada began contacting SNAP to meet with artists, which Smith-Peck says gave them the opportunity to take their work further than Edmonton.
SNAP was also structured to mitigate some of the effects of shifts between Canada Council and aid to print workshops, which was being cut. Smith-Peck says SNAP was structured so it would never have to rely on a grant to keep its doors open, which can be the downfall of many not-for-profits. Any grants SNAP applied for were project-based, which meant if the grant was not received, its doors could still stay open. Smith-Peck notes SNAP was also able to get started thanks to equipment donations from the University of Alberta and University of Calgary, as well as countless hours of volunteer labour.
"The testament is that if young artists want to do something, people should never underestimate the power of that kind of a labour force," Smith-Peck says. "We did it all with no money. We pooled what resources we had and we didn't require a huge annual operating budget to make those things happen."
This tenacity is what Smith-Peck credits for SNAP's longevity and success. Her hope for the future is that SNAP, which has evolved to specialize solely in printmaking, can utilize its organizational capacity to further the professions of printmakers.
SNAP's current president, Sean Caufield, remembers being a graduating BFA student from the University of Alberta and wondering exactly where to go from there, which is what has sparked his intent interest in SNAP.
"After you finish, where do you go to work, where do you go for a support network? SNAP was very important for me in providing that, so I hope that over the years we've continued to do that, and I think this shop is a demonstration; it provides a place for someone to go," he says
Now, with the gallery existing on 121 Street and the workshop around the corner on Jasper Avenue, SNAP inhabits a gallery space as well as a printmaking shop, where artists at all points in their careers still work in a communal fashion, and the artist-run organization dedicates itself to the promotion of traditional and experimental printmaking practices. Community programming is also a cornerstone of SNAP, and it continues to heavily value educating people about the medium through classes and exhibitions.
"We have probably the best shop we've ever had now and I think the best gallery we've ever had," Caufield says of the space, which SNAP moved into about three years ago. In the coming years, he wants to work towards stabilizing SNAP in the new building and ensuring it is sustainable there. "Once that goal is achieved, I think in the longer term, just building on some of our successes, reaching out more internationally and trying to build our visiting artists program; reaching out to the community more ... doing more of what we love."
"I think community is critical for most non-profits," says SNAP's executive director Anna Szul, who has been with the organization for three years. "We really have to make sure a lot, if not most, of the services we're providing are for the greater public and not just directed at very specific groups, so I would like it to become one of those places that people come to regularly just to get connected with the arts."
In honour of its 30-year milestone, SNAP is showcasing two exhibitions, 30 Love, which focuses on printmaking innovations from artists within the Edmonton area who experiment with the fluid techniques of printmaking, and the aptly titled 30th Anniversary Exhibition. The latter will display contemporary print art while challenging conventions and presenting new ideas of what print art entails. Artists in this exhibition will examine themes including memory, mystery and fragility within the environment, as well as the struggle for people to maintain a relationship with their surroundings.
"We wanted a breadth of artists, but we also wanted a breadth of conceptual concerns," Caufield says. "One of the things where I hope SNAP has helped contribute to the community is to have programming that is challenging and then ask viewers to think about concerns like the environment, like fragility, so I hope the show is reflective of that. One of our roles as an artist-run centre is to raise critical questions."
Szul adds the exhibition is a testament to the ebb and flow of energy that happens within an organization like SNAP as people leave for a number of years and return.
"What's beautiful is that they do return," she says. "The people that are going to be in the exhibition are a record of that. I think it speaks to the importance of how vital it is to the community and how, if people have the opportunity, they want to get involved." vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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