The Elm City Small Press Fest was a community event that focused on independent publishing in Maine. The event took place on 19 and 20 November 2021 in the new Greene Block + Studios in downtown Waterville. The event highlighted contemporary print and publishing culture while activating conversations around creative labor and commerce as viable artistic practices. There were over 300 people in attendance, not counting the 21 vendors.
Fannie Ouyang and Julia Arredondo put the event together in six weeks with the help of the Colby College Center for the Arts and Humanities, the Colby College Libraries, the Lunder Institute for American Art, the Greene Block + Studios, and the Colby College Art Department. Fannie Ouyang is the Visual & Interdisciplinary Arts Librarian at Colby College and Julia Arredondo is a current Lunder Institute Residential Fellow.
Where did the idea for the event come from?
FO: Julia was the mastermind behind the event. There had been so many conversations around the topic of book arts and we, the Colby Libraries, have been steadily building our circulating and non-circulating zine collections, so this event was completely serendipitous and timely. I saw the potential to bring all those conversations together in this community focused event and happily jumped in.
JA: The idea was definitely a response to the energy I’d picked up on around Colby’s campus regarding zines. There were all of these different conversations being had in varying departments; the idea of a Small Press Fest in the region just made sense. Fannie had the guts to say yes to collaborating with me on the event, and the Greene Block had room in their programming calendar to facilitate it. But without the push and support from Dean Allbritton, the Director of the Center for the Arts and Humanities, none of this would have been possible. Dean heard about the idea and supported it from the beginning.
Why focus on independent publishing?
FO: I think that there are so many brilliant and diverse voices that do not get represented in mainstream culture or in traditional academic spaces. I’m interested in creating those spaces where these individuals can exist and thrive and be elevated.
JA: For sure. Independent publishing captures so many underrepresented narratives and provides a safe space for folks to truly express themselves without being edited. Having recently moved to Waterville, hosting an independent publishing event also meant that I got to bring a bunch of like-minded people to my vicinity and get to know them and their creative practices.
What were the biggest challenges of organizing the event?
FO: Internalized worry. Worry that the quick turnaround wouldn’t get participants. Worry that participants would pull out of the event. Worry that there wouldn’t be a good turnout.
JA: Because we were working within Colby’s institutional policies, there was a good amount of pushback from admins about policy specifications. It didn’t always feel like the Colby administrative community supported our endeavor. Luckily the event was a success.
What were the biggest rewards of organizing the event?
FO: The biggest reward was when non-Colby folks, who either rarely go out or are new to the area, came up to Julia and me to tell us how excited they were about being able to attend such a community-driven event. I appreciated all the kind words and am ecstatic that we were able to create a space where people felt included and welcomed.
JA: The open mic event during the Elm City Small Press Fest kickoff was such an unexpectedly beautiful event. I had no idea that so many people would turn up and be willing to be so vulnerable with each other. That solidified, for me, that our efforts were not in vain.
Will there be future iterations of the Elm City Small Press Fest?
FO: Yes. 100%. Look forward to more Elm City Small Press events in the future!
JA: My residency is scheduled to end in May of 2022, but I’ll collaborate with Fannie on anything from here on out.
Image at top: Elm City Press Fest event photo.