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The art of paper is alive with an exciting new studio space in West Philly

A reading at The Soapbox

In February 2016, West Philly's Soapbox Community Print Shop and Zine Library will triple its space. The organization launched the STEP UP FOR THE SOAPBOX crowdfunding campaign on November 16, hoping to raise $15,000 toward the customization of its new home in Kingsessing. (Flying Kite will be landing in the neighborhood in 2016 as part of our On the Ground program.)

The Soapbox got its start in 2010 thanks to founders Charlene Kwon and Mary Tasillo, and held its first event in early 2011. With strong backgrounds in bookmaking and letter-press printmaking, the two wanted to launch an organization that would keep those crafts alive and accessible in the community, beyond a university setting. They purchased a rowhome on 51st Street just south of Baltimore Avenue for their venture. Residential tenants live on the second floor and the Soapbox occupies the first floor and basement.

In addition to accessing the organization’s extensive zine library and archives, Soapbox member artists can practice skills such as silkscreen, bookbinding and papermaking.

To extend those services, Kwon and Tasillo are moving to a Furness and Evans church currently undergoing extensive renovations at 4700 Kingsessing Avenue, just two blocks west of Clark Park.

Surprised the space was scheduled for a makeover, Tasillo first toured it last June.

"I had been walking past that church for years, watching trees grow out of it," she recalls.

They signed the lease in late October. Other tenants will include a community preschool and a daycare upstairs, with the Soapbox occupying 4,500 square feet on the lower level.

The rehab will feature new bathrooms, plumbing and electric work, but Soapbox will be getting "a fairly raw space" with plenty of special touches still needed -- including new drywall and doors to create four individual artist and writer studio spaces, and an enclosed sound-protected room for noisy machines such as the paper-pulp beater and the pressure-washer used for screenprinting.

The finished headquarters will offer tools for a range of historic and contemporary printing techniques, from papermaking to offset lithography. It will also house Philly’s biggest independent zine library, with over 2,000 handmade zines and chapbooks. These will be available for the public to enjoy during open studio hours.

"There are a lot of young people interested in this," enthuses Tasillo. "I think that there’s a real need and urge to connect with something that’s handmade and not digital, and that engages the senses in a more compelling way." Digital and handmade arts are both important, she adds, but "the handmade can reach places that the digital cannot."

On December 5, a Soapbox event will kick off the Step Up for The Soapbox fundraising campaign. A short zine reading will begin promptly at 7:30 p.m., followed by a dance party at 8:00. Tickets available here; $10 in advance, $12 at the door.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Mary Tasillo, the Soapbox 
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