In 2019, Fiona Avocado, a graduate student studying printmaking, who uses she/they pronouns, had just started grad school at Ohio University. They made a trip to ARTS/West, where they purchased a simple teacup print, naive to the fact that just three years later, their print gallery would be displayed on those very walls.
Later, in December 2020, Avocado thought to ask some of her friends for similar, small, hand-made prints for her birthday. Avocado began the exchange and made an Instagram page to expand and network for their idea.
Now, just one year later, the Itty Bitty Print Exchange is being put on display, and Avocado’s fun quarantine activity has grown into a gallery of over 70 total prints of various styles. The Itty Bitty Print Exchange is available for viewing from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Friday until Jan. 28 in the ARTS/West Performance Space Gallery, 132 W. State St. In the exhibit, viewers can observe the work of artists from all over the world, such as Canada, Pakistan, India, Australia and even Athens, OH.
Avocado, the main curator and organizer, as well as an artist featured in the project, said she got into print making in 2009 during undergrad and loved how community-oriented the art-form could be with how easily the tools and pieces can be shared with other artists.
“In the print community…people are really eager to help each other and support each other,” Avocado said.
Avocado said they did not anticipate such a large following and participation from the project; they only ever meant for it to be a small activity amongst friends, but when they put word out on social media, the printmakers of the world answered the call.
“It blew up in a way I wasn’t expecting at all, and I wasn’t prepared for that,” Avocado said. “I learned a lot about organizing a larger exchange. We ended up having about 77 participants.”
Over the course of the year, Avocado was busy receiving prints and even featuring them in multiple galleries, both in-person and virtual. However, Avocado never had the opportunity to display the project locally.
“I wanted to bring it to Athens because we had several Athens participants, (and) the exchange was organized here,” Avocado said.
In hopes of making this dream a reality, Avocado reached out to Emily Beveridge, the program specialist of ARTS/West.
Beveridge said Avocado proposed the project to her, and she was immediately taken with the sheer volume of the gallery. Typically, the galleries displayed in ARTS/West contain around 20 pieces, but Avocado’s exchange blew that standard out of the water.
Additionally, Beveridge acknowledged the international component of the project and said it was another aspect of the gallery that piqued her interest.
“It's literally an international show, and so that's highly unusual for the gallery space at ARTS/West because primarily, we show work from local artists,” Beveridge said. “That made it appealing to me to want to have the show in the ARTS/West gallery space.”
Beveridge said she believes it is important to display student art within ARTS/West because it can be a bridge between Ohio University and other members of the Athens population.
“It's important for the students to feel like they are part of the community too,” Beveridge said. “Having the ability to show their artwork in the space is just one of the ways we can do that.”
Most of the time student artwork can be overlooked and only seen by a professor, Owen Vandivier, a freshman studying integrated social studies in education, said. He believes that putting galleries such as these on display gives them a much deserved spotlight.
Vandivier said the exchange is unique in that it gives OU students and Athens citizens a window into the daily lives of a multitude of artists from different countries.
“Athens obviously is a college town,” Vandivier said. “You wouldn’t think something like this would be in Athens and that makes it cool.”
The Itty Bitty Print Exchange has a special place in Avocado’s heart because it takes artwork from artists of so many different backgrounds, cultures and skill levels and puts them all on the same display.
“Something that I really loved about this exchange is there are a lot of folks who are amateur, first-time, early printmakers, and then you have top-notch professional print-makers, folks who are printmakers as a career,” Avocado said. “Seeing that diverse range of skill sets and perspectives was a really beautiful thing.”
Avocado said they created the gallery with activism in mind and wanted the exhibit to serve as a source of motivation for the community. She said its sole purpose is to be interpreted individually and portray its theme, “Another World is Possible.”
“I really believe that art can be inspiring,” Avocado said. “It creates a lot of pleasure and comfort in really uncertain and difficult times.”