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Re: [BKARTS] Nexus Press (fwd)



This is the letter that I wrote to Lance Weatherby regarding Nexus, and
his responses (interspersed in the letter).

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 18 Mar 2003 18:47:44 -0500
From: Lance Weatherby <lance@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
To: Kathy Walkup <kwalk@xxxxxxxxx>
Subject: RE: Nexus Press

Kathy;

I have made a few replies within the text of your note.

-----Original Message-----
From: Kathy Walkup [mailto:kwalk@xxxxxxxxx]
Sent: Thursday, March 13, 2003 2:06 PM
To: lance@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: Nexus Press

Dear Mr. Weatherby:

Thank you for your recent letter to Terry Belanger regarding the situation
at Nexus Press, which Terry has made available to the larger book arts
community. I realize that you have received many "passionate expressions
of concern" about the decision to suspend operations at the press; please
add mine to the list.
          As someone whose own institution is currently struggling with
difficult budgetary decisions, I have some understanding of the general
problem that many of us are facing now. I have also seen that the
short-term need to save money can prompt decisions with potentially
devastating long-term consequences. I fear that suspending operations at
Nexus fits within that category.

>You may be right.  What suspending operations of the press did was enable
The Contemporary to remain an ongoing operation and hopefully on a long term
basis.  Our focus is on ensuring that the Nexus Press remains a viable part
of the center.  If that can be accomplished remains to be seen, though I
assure you it is the focus.

        I want, however, to focus attention on another aspect of the
situation viz. a viz. Nexus and its important role in that same larger
book arts community I mentioned above. Book Arts as an area of study and
practice is just beginning to find its place among the broader disciplines
of art and literary practice and theory. There are many reasons why the
field as a discipline has found it difficult to settle; I will spare you
that list. But those few of us who have managed to carve out a place in
this larger arena through presses, educational programs and non-profit
centers recognize both the difficulty we are under and the need to guard
and develop the gains we have made.
        Financially, Book Arts has had a short life in the typical areas
where money might be made or patronage fostered. The ability to identify
those patrons who have developed the habit of giving in this area or those
artists who might have reached a point of tax-deductible solvency in
their careers is still proving mostly elusive. Relatively simple matters
like bookselling become complicated when the number of outlets, dealers
and curators who understand and support artists' books is limited. I do
not, however, believe for a minute that the limited venues for selling
artists' books implies their irrelevance. The interest in making artists'
books has exploded and continues to rise; eventually the numbers of makers
will translate into buyers, particularly of the lively and reasonably
priced books that presses like Nexus has been producing. My own teaching
principles have a dual base: one, making the books, and two, fostering a
critical understanding. I hope my teaching encourages both the making of
books past graduation and their purchase and enjoyment. (While this
support might not seem impressive--I am only one teacher, after all-- by
my reckoning between June of 2002 and December of 2003 I will have worked
with well over 100 students at no fewer than six academic and community
institutions in Europe and America, not counting the education of the
casual viewer through exhibition curation. In other words, the extent of
the interest in this discipline is becoming large and wdiespread, with a
strong potential buying audience.)

> I agree with all you are saying here.  Hopefully as we go through this
process the book arts community will help us to tap into the elusives you
mention above.

        I realize that time must now seem of the essence in this decision.
I also realize that weaving strategic planning into essential decisions
often brings new ideas to bear. While I have no first-hand knowledge, of
course, of the specific situation at Nexus, some procedural options that
would allow the press to continue as an entity do seem possible from this
remove. Could, for instance, Nexus take the next 6 to 12 months to
develop and implement a comprehensive distribution plan for its backlist
of titles? What about focusing at the same time on longer term funding
options? Perhaps grant research and patron identification have been fully
exploited, but if not, this seems the time to promote pursuit of those
strategies. Artists who have not been aware until this crisis point has
been reached that Nexus might be in difficulty would likely donate time
and creativity to a new project whose sales would underwrite future
endeavors. Librarians might be alerted to the panoply of Nexus
publications now available, particularly if they were offered certain
discount incentives as a way of encouraging larger purchases. A friends
group might be formed. Partnerships with local educational institutions
from early childhood to graduate training might be sought. A program might
be developed through grants that would encourage some badly needed
diversity among practitioners.

>Lots of stuff in here.  The fact that we have suspended operations does
provide a bit of a runway to address many of the things you describe above.
The Contemporary currently lacks the resources from both a human and cash
perspective to put many of them into place.  There is a group called the
Friends of the Press that is mobilizing and I have been to two of their
meetings.

        Perhaps your board has already considered many or all of these
options. But if not, I strongly urge you to do so now, before making the
decision to curtail operations of a living entity which could prove
prohibitively expensive to re-start at a later date. Nexus Press is one of
the foundations of this relatively new discipline; its publications have
had a profound impact on students, practitioners, theorists, and
collectors alike. The Contemporary has been applauded for its
forward-thinking support of this field; indeed your Arts Center stands to
achieve legendary status as a ground-breaking institution in this area.
        Although I recognize that your board believes that it has acted
with due diligence in suspending operations at Nexus, I can't urge you
strongly enough to re-examine your decision both in light of the potential
this decision has to undermine a field that needs support and with the
understanding that careful strategic planning and actions could result in
a re-invigorated press, one that will raise the profile of the
Contemporary in both national and international arenas while moving toward
self-sufficiency.

> It is indeed a shame that Nexus Press is where it is today, but it is not
possible to re-examine the action that has been taken for the financial
reasons that it was taken in the first place.  On a month to month basis it
costs about $8,000 to operate the Nexus Press and The Contemporary does not
have the cash on hand or the ability to borrow to fund these losses.

>Thank you for your thoughtful note.  I apologize for my delayed response.
This is taking a bit more of my time than I imagined and I have fallen
behind.

Lance

        I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Kathleen A. Walkup

Kathleen A. Walkup
Associate Professor
Director, Book Arts Program
Mills College
5000 MacArthur Blvd.
Oakland CA 94613

510 430 2001/tel
510 430 3314/fax
kwalk@xxxxxxxxx

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