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Center for Book Arts

Now that there are 900 people on the list maybe you can help me come up with the next stage of cba's evolution.

I'm now thinking that the best thing for the Center for Book Arts might be an institutional affiliation. When I started it almost 25 years ago there was nothing around even vaguely similar. The closest place perhaps was the Centro del Bel Libro in Ascona. But not one independent organization existed to support the concept of bringing together the edge of contemporary art and the tradition of book crafts. By combining an artists' workshop with classes, lectures, conferences, publications, and exhibitions, a synergetic field developed.

The mutual influences of art and craft made for a new vision of what a book could be, and we promoted that vision to the public as well as to practitioners. By utilizing the great resource of artists, binders, papermakers, conservators, printers, scholars, conceptualists, poets, designers, and any other creative people we discovered in New York, and bringing in the best people from around the world, we were able to train a new generation of bookmakers with a comprehensive view of content, materials, form and structure.

The only other person that I recall using the term "Book Arts" in 1974 was Terry Belanger, who among his many fine incarnations, was the "Book Arts Press" at the Library School of Columbia University. "Book Arts" meant something quite different in that context than it conjures for us today. Soon other organizations began to appear-- in New York, Franklin Furnace began its Archive of Artists Books and Printed Matter became the Artists Bookstore.
Visual Studies Workshop was busy in Rochester, NY. The Pacific Center for the Book Arts started in the Bay Area of California, Artists Book Works in Chicago, Pyramid Atlantic in DC, BookWorks in London, Minnesota Center for Book Arts in Minneapolis, Abracadabra (Alliance for Contemporary Book Art) in LA, and more. Many college book arts programs developed, and a few that had been teaching traditional book arts for decades became more experimental and innovative.

We were able to take risks with exhibits that were so on the fringe of radical art that an institutional curator would probably have been fired for losing the support of the Trustees. As far back as December of 1974 we had an exhibit of bookworks by Barton Lidice Benes which included his "Book of the Dead" made from the ashes of Hans Schneider as well as his "Censored Book," which was nailed shut, tied in rope, gessoed and painted. The funny thing is, today that doesn't sound nearly as far out as it was only 22 years ago.

And many of the 140 exhibits the Center has mounted were so craft oriented no art museum or gallery would allow them. Right now there is an exhibit at the Center of student and faculty books and bookbindings from the London College of Printing. International artists have been featured, from the Bookworks of Tom Phillips to the bindings of Jean de Gonet. Group shows have featured British, French, German, Russian, and Latin American artists, Women of Color, Collegiate Book Arts, and the list is so extensive I can't find it right now.

But now that so many independent not-for-profit entrepreneurs have adopoted the paradigm of the Center for Book Arts model, and so many independent artists are engaged in making books, Book Art has evolved into an unstoppable movement with a life of its own. The question I am now dealing with as Founder and President is, where do we go from here? I've talked with the Chairman and the Board of Directors, and there are a lot of opinions.

For two decades I resisted the concept of associating the Center for Book Arts with an institution, fearing that the Art would suffer from affiliation with an academic or museum environment. Being an independent not-for-profit organization allows for a lot of freedom. But as the number of galleries and museums exhibiting book arts has grown, the Center's role has become more educational. What began as seven classes a week in bookbinding, printing and papermaking now is a faculty of forty professionals offering a hundred courses a year to about 500 students.

Perhaps the time has come to affiliate with a degree-granting institution or museum-school, either locally or, perhaps, to be the New York City location for an out-of-state University. Perhaps one of our listmembers is associated with such an institution.

The Center's exhibits have always been at the leading edge of the field-- even before there was a field. This has alwys been an important part of our educational and artistic mission and we would not want to lose that edge. The big question is: would institutionalization beauracratize the process and suck the experimental nature of an organization of independent artists into the mire of art historical curatorship?

You can e-mail inquiries to me directly if of a private nature, or to the list if you have comments about the general issues involved.

General information about the Center is at:

<http://colophon.com/gallery/cba.html> and <http://minsky.com/cba.htm>

If anyone is unfamiliar with the early history of the Center for Book Arts, and wants to know how and why it came to be, just ask.


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