In Conversation with Christeen Francis from St. Michael’s Printshop
written by Kiona Ligtvoet
Working in SNAP’s printshop here in Amiskwaciwâskahikan, I often hear people enthusiastically chat about the research they were able to do at St. Michael’s printshop through the shop’s Visiting Artist Program. Others often recall the ways they were embraced by varying communities who access that land, and an overall fondness of the atmosphere they worked in while moving through their residency. St. Michael’s printshop operates right beside the ocean in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and focuses on intaglio and relief printing, equipped with two lithography and two intaglio presses. Recently, St. Michael’s also acquired the resources to start offering screen printing in their space, rounding out their scope even further as a printshop. As a way of connecting with the different communities around St. John’s, the printshop utilizes a small mobile press to meet people where they are. Clearly, a lot of care is put into their primarily workshop-focused programming.
So much of what I love about printmaking is the aspect of community, and the collaborative efforts needed to problem solve again, and again. When Christeen Francis (the Executive Director of St. Michael’s) and I hopped on a Zoom call to chat about the shop, I was excited that the conversation paced itself towards exactly these topics of community and collaboration. Christeen and I both arrived a mutual five minutes late in true Artist-run fashion, then we casually made introductions, I received a tour through my laptop screen, and we exchanged some struggles with printmaking through the lens of colonialism, while also constantly revisiting a shared want (need) for thoughtful community care through print.
What do you find unique about the space, community, programming, etc?
It’s a beautiful space with a magnificent view of the harbour and the narrows, so that’s a huge plus. The shop is old and creaky, which I really like but it does make the shop really inaccessible due to the ruts in the floors and steps, so I don’t like that at all. Other than that, it is a really tight knit, multigenerational community which is really refreshing. I love seeing people of all ages in the shop, especially when I get to hear stories about what was before.
How do the communities that access your space influence the printshop?
This is something that I think previously was not happening. At least not as much as it should have been. Now we are actively seeking feedback from our community and members in the form of online surveys that we send out. We’ve done one in general about the shop, asking what people thought about different aspects, and asking for some long form answers so people could write in their thoughts. We also just did one on our fee schedule because we are looking to change it to address money as a barrier for some people to access the shop. Other than that people often reach out to me personally either in the shop or via email and tell me what they think. I also hear things from members reporting info from the grapevine, haha. So to conclude, we solicit feedback from our members and through the newsletter and then we make decisions based on that. We also hold AGM’s where members can vote on stuff—we had a special one this summer to approve the anti-oppression committee and so I could meet the membership (virtually). I want to be accountable to our members while at the same time thinking also of the surrounding community and who isn’t a member yet but may want to be if we changed some things to make them feel more welcome.
How do you already engage with the community, or what are some ways that you’d like to be engaging with the community or communities?
I would like to do more mobile press workshops out in the community. There’s something really exciting and fun about doing a workshop in a community space where the participants are in their comfort zone, instead of them coming to your space/comfort zone. We are in talks with First Light* here about doing some workshops in their space in the new year and they are going to be hosting a print workshop in our space as part of their Spirit Song festival later this month.
What are some things that you’re excited about in your shop right now?
Most of the stuff I’m stoked on involves people coming together in different ways. I love doing the live printing events because it gets us out into the world a little more and we interact with people who may not know about St.Michael’s. I also love the open studio nights because it’s a chance to have a little community art party in the space, and it’s a low key way for people to check us out and see if they want to get involved. I’m also super stoked on the anti-oppression committee that just formed and is working to address systemic inequalities in the shop, barriers to access, and how we can transform St.Michael’s into something better. I do feel like there’s been a shift in the atmosphere lately. While Team Awesome (myself and our awesome staff this past summer) were all working remotely while the shop was closed, we were really trying to get “out” a bit more on the internet. We started the Prints From The Archive and Printer Of The Week features which I love and people seem to be responding to. We also upped our game on the e-newsletter so now it has way more news, but it also has resources and calls for artists which I think are important. I’m on a million mailing lists from all over so I try to share anything I think is relevant.
*Big Dreams* for the shop, without limitations set by funding, etc?
Some big dreams I have for the shop are, firstly securing our own spot so we can have some sort of stability in regards to space and then we would be working towards owning/ paying our own mortgage instead of enriching someone else. I would love to see the printshop grow in size and scope to include things like letterpress and risograph. Another thing that seems like a big dream because money’s so tight right now is a full update of our digital equipment like computers, large format printers, even a scanner. I would love for us to have a full time gallery space similar to SNAP.
I also have wild dreams about creating a more comprehensive art complex that could include the St. Michael’s, Eastern Edge, and other ARC’s, collectives and community arts projects. We talked a little bit about this project called Can Batllo in Barcelona – which I am in love with, but it’s hard to imagine anyone non-corporate being able to pull that off in North America. Virtually visiting St.Michael’s Printshop with Christeen was low-pressure, patient, and casual; we were able to exchange individual hopes for what printmaking can be, and in my favourite moments, what we’ve witnessed printmaking do (whether socially, emotionally, physically, or politically). Basically, we hung out while chatting about what a big part “hanging out” plays in print culture. St. Michaels is tackling some big changes, and I’m excited to continue watching them grow both with, and around, the needs of their community. I can’t wait to see that ocean view for myself.
Virtually visiting St.Michael’s Printshop with Christeen was low-pressure, patient, and casual; we were able to exchange individual hopes for what printmaking can be, and in my favourite moments, what we’ve witnessed printmaking do (whether socially, emotionally, physically, or politically). Basically, we hung out while chatting about what a big part “hanging out” plays in print culture. St. Michaels is tackling some big changes, and I’m excited to continue watching them grow both with, and around, the needs of their community. I can’t wait to see that ocean view for myself.
* First Light is a Friendship Centre in St. John’s that serves urban Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities by providing programs and services rooted in the revitalization, strengthening and celebration of Indigenous cultures and languages.