Friday, October 24, 2008

New West Philly Shop Committed to Popular Education

A Print Community Report by Beth Pulcinella

At the intersection of 49th and Baltimore Ave, behind a modest storefront, beyond a metal gate young entrepreneur Quan Blanche and his business savvy partner Darnell Thomas are building an impressive production silk-screen shop. Boxes, ink and piles of tee shirts set the stage for this young and growing business. The days here are spent hustling jobs, making prototypes, cleaning screens, negotiating new designs, printing, printing, printing and training and supporting the young people who hang around the shop, partly because of employment but really because this is the place to be. It hangs in the air here at The Grind House a calm sense of determination, an aura of magic, and a belief that our lives are our own and can be lived on our own terms. This is a special place for yet another reason; its founders have a rock solid commitment to using some of the profits from the business to support educational programming for youth. The questions of how to design a shop that can support production as well as workshops for folks in the community is forefront in the minds of Blanche and Thomas.

In line with this educational mission the shop decided to partner with teaching artist Beth Pulcinella. Blanche and Pulcinella met in 2001 when Blanche was a member of the Student Union, a group with which he is still associated. Pulcinella was an employee at Spiral Q Puppet Theater and worked with activist groups looking to make puppets, signs and banners for protests and actions. The Student Union was organizing around the state take over of the Philly school district. This past fall they realized that they share yet another common vision. Both are passionate about providing access to silk-screen skills to folks in Philly who might not have an easy time finding affordable ways to learn these skills, and also a commitment to the idea that art must support progressive political movements.

Blanche and Pulcinella applied for a Leeway Art and Change Grant. They were awarded $2,500, which will be used to run a free 15-week “Print for Change” class. This class begins on Saturday November 1st and will be from 3-6pm. The class is for individuals, ages 14- 21 and will explore how print and print shops have played an active role in movements for social justice. Participants will learn about South Africa in the 1980’s, Indonesia in the 1990s, Mexico during the Mexican revolution, Emory Douglas and the Black Panthers and more. Participants will print multicolored posters and tee shirts of their own designs. They will learn about the art of stencil cutting, of how to make screen prints with low-tech traditions and they will also learn about photo emulsion techniques as well as Adobe Photoshop computer skills. The class is also partnering with three or four Philadelphia activist groups who will present to the class and provide an opportunity for the participants to develop art and posters that will be used in current local campaigns.

The project struggles with resources, the small grant barely covers the cost of the materials required to provide the participants with a state of the art experience. The project could use of few things. The list is as follows; a metal spring drying rack (preferably a smaller size), folding tables, tee-shirts, squeeqies, hinge clamps, screens, silk screen mesh, water soluble poster inks, visiting artist one day skill shares, books, field trip opportunities, spaces to exhibit our work, and monetary donations are always welcome.

If you are interested in this project you can contact Beth at bettypulse at gmail. And if you have other Philadelphia area community print projects, please let me know at