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News . Feature Stories . Printmaker MacPhee finds meaning where art meets activism


December 13, 2019

Printmaker MacPhee finds meaning where art meets activism

Josh MacPhee is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based printmaker who uses art and design as “tools to improve my world.”

Visiting artist speak to class

Chair of Printmaking Maggie Denk-Leigh and students welcomed Josh MacPhee to CIA for a site visit.

MacPhee is a founding member of both Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative, a network of artists committed to social, environmental and political engagement, and Interference Archive, a public collection of cultural materials produced by social movements. He also regularly teams with community organizations by producing cultural and political design work aimed at changing laws or building community.

MacPhee’s presence will be felt throughout the Cleveland Institute of Art during an exhibition of his work at Reinberger Gallery from October 15 through December 11, 2020. That show will be included as a programming option for attendees of the Mid America Print Council Conference, which will be hosted by Kent State University and take place at venues across Northeast Ohio, including CIA. The conference's theme is "Power of Print: Resistance and Revolution," and it's scheduled to take place October 14–17, 2020.

He sat down with CIA in the Printmaking Department during a recent visit to the College.

What brings you to the Cleveland Institute of Art?

I’m doing a site visit for the early planning stages of a project that’s going to be in the Reinberger Gallery in the fall.

What can one expect from the conference when it comes to Northeast Ohio next year?

It’s a great gathering of printmakers from across middle America. It’s a place for everyone to convene. A lot of people know each other, so it’s sort of a meeting of kindred spirits, but it’s also a great place for students to interact with that meeting. To have a lot of the great printmakers from the middle of the United Students all be in one place at one time is a great thing.

What can you tell us about your specific role in the conference?

My specific role is assembling this (Reinberger Gallery) exhibition. The theme of the conference is “Power of Print,” and kind of print in protest, and that’s what I’ve been working with for most of my life. So, the exhibition is going to be some kind of culmination of a number of threads coming out of my work related to this interaction between print culture and social movements.

We understand you'll be speaking at CIA.

I’m going to give a talk at the gallery. It’s all sort of still in production, so the details are all TBA. (Editor's note: MacPhee is now scheduled to speak October 17 at CIA.)

Social activism is at the center of your practice. What do you hope conference attendees, students or otherwise, take away from the conference in general and also your involvement in it?

That print—and art in culture, more broadly—is an immensely powerful tool to facilitate playing a role in transforming our world for the better. And that all of us, as citizens not only of this country but also the planet, have a role to play. Print, because of fundamentally social aspects of its production and distribution, is a fabulous tool to bring people together and to get people to actually interact with each other and engage in what can be really serious and interesting questions about our society, how it functions and how we want it to function.

Having graduated from Oberlin College, you're no stranger to Northeast Ohio, but is this your first visit to CIA?

It’s my first visit to CIA.

What are your impressions?

It’s been great. I’ve gotten an amazingly warm reception. It’s been really nice to walk around the building and see the facilities. This building is this amazing historical memory chest, from Ford factory to art school. And I just was in a classroom and got to interact with a bunch of first-years, and that was great. They were popping off like firecrackers, so I’m really excited to work with students when I come back.

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