Local artists turn to nonprofit studio for printing

A Local nonprofit studio caters to artists trying to make it after college.

Leaving school can be a frightening thing: finding a place to live, a job, a whole new place in life and for the first time you’re expected to do it on your own. For business majors, this means joining a good company or, if you’re ambitious, starting one. For artists, though, it can get even more complicated.

For artists specializing in print making or etching, it’s less about the job or the location and more about the equipment. That’s why Studio Two Three exists. It’s a non-profit organization devoted to providing a cheap place for people, like those freshly minted college graduates, to get access to the equipment they need to make a start and, with any luck, make it big.

“Once you get out of school, you don’t really have access to this stuff anymore,” said Executive Director Ashley Hawkins. In 2008, Hawkins, Sarah Moore, Emily Gannon, and Tyler Dawkins opened the studio mainly for their private use. “We wanted to continue making print,” Hawkins explained. But like many graduates, they lacked the equipment.

So they got together and bought the basics.

They added other local artists and the studio became more than just a workspace. “It’s a community,” Hawkins said. “You get used to a community of artists in school. We try to recreate that.”

“I always feel more productive (here),” Sarah Orr, a photographer who rents space at the studio, said. She’s been working out of the space for over six months. “It’s worth every penny…It’s just better to work around other artists.”

Studio Two Three became a non-profit and in 2010 moved to a larger location at 1617 W. Main Street. “The non-profit route allows us to have equipment donated,” Hawkins said. Their current facility hosts 17 tenants with room for 25 full-time renters. The studio provides a print-specific gallery show every month and equipment for screen-printing, lithography, and relief art, along with a dark room for photography.

Hawkins doesn’t plan to stop there. As it stands, the studio is run by volunteers. While Hawkins has another full-time job outside of Studio Two Three, she insists that it’s “not about money.” Any growth she wants to see is that of the organization itself. “If anything, we’d want it to be self-sustaining,”

For now, the studio will follow its mission by “providing an accessible workspace and engaging the public through workshops, exhibitions, and outreach.” To that end, Studio Two Three regularly collaborates with the Church Hill Academy, a non-profit private high school and recently sponsored a group that went to Rwanda. There they collected photographs and samples of art and fabrics to create an art and exhibition book, the proceeds of which went to the International Rescue Committee.

The studio is also host to three VCU art students who are helping to prepare for this year’s Cultsha Xpo. “I really like the idea of communal space,” junior Emma Barnes said. Barnes, junior Grace Huddleston, and senior Elisa Rios have prepared shirts and a few other items to sell at the Xpo–all made with the studio’s signature printing.

Since students like Barnes, Huddleston, and Rios will eventually leave school, but would like to continue in this medium, places like Studio Two Three are a must. “I’d love to keep connections here,” Rios said.

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Stephen Nielsen

Stephen Nielsen is a contributing journalist for RVANews and makes a mean pulled pork sandwich.

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