Once upon a time two friends wanted to create an art project where everyone could participate and no one felt excluded. These friends, Steven Peterman and Shane Zucker, decided they would hand out blank sketchbooks and ask people to fill them up. When the people were finished with the books they’d return them to Peterman and Zucker to be displayed in an accessible library. They called it The Sketchbook Project and issued an open call, hoping people would participate.
That was five years ago. Today there are 28,000 finished sketchbooks in the project from artists in more than 130 countries. There is a library in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to house all the books when they are not on tour. There is a 12 foot trailer and 15 person van to transport the books from city to city when they are on a tour, of which there have been four in total, one that is happening right now.
When Peterman and Zucker started, they were art school students at Savannah College of Art and they just wanted to put together an exhibition. They did so successfully, so they ran with it and opened a storefront and decided to make it work. I spoke with Peterman when he took a couple of days off from the current tour, and he laughed as he told me about his beginning. “Shane and I made like, $100 off tips from the bar [at the first exhibition] and we thought we could open a business with that… we were a little ambitious.” They founded Art House Coop, put on two shows, then rented a storefront in Atlanta. “We had to pay rent, so we had to make it work,” said Peterman. They made it a goal to create interactive participatory projects, and they never looked back.
At my request, Peterman told me about some of the books and participants he found most intriguing over the years. “I think it’s really interesting [when] people use it as a way to connect. A guy came to one of our shows in San Francisco last year and his wife, who was in Iraq and who he hadn’t seen in a year, had done a book. He got to see her book, and it was really cool and really emotional for him.” Peterman also described a scenario where somebody was going to propose via his sketchbook, but then he never showed up! “That was a little strange,” he said. Well sure, I guess it is strange, but do you know what that means ladies? It means you can still be the first person to propose to your girlfriend via The Sketchbook Project!
So you know what I’m going to tell you to do now, right?
You need to be a part of The Sketchbook Project. Trust me. Not an artist? Doesn’t matter. If you’re human, you can make this work.
Because you’re awesome and your words and art and ideas should exist in the world. Because I’m obsessed with the idea of queering conventional spaces just by showing up, and this is the perfect venue to do just that. Because it feels good to have a creative project and a deadline. Because you’ll feel like a badass when you tell cute girls your work is housed in a library and traveling the world on tour! Because apparently an adorable creative teacher assigned this as a project to her 3rd grade class, and if they can do it, so can you!
If The Sketchbook Project feels a little bit overwhelming, you should at the very least check out some of Art House Coop’s smaller projects and consider participating in one of those in the future (they’ve done a lot of amazing free community engagement projects but are most well known for The Sketchbook Project.)
You can also catch the end of the 2012 tour when they visit Toronto (right now!), Philadelphia, Atlanta, Florida, Austin, London, and Australia. If the tour isn’t coming to your city, don’t fret — the sketchbooks can be digitized, many of them are available for viewing online. Take a peek and start thinking about how you will fill your sketchbook. I can’t wait to see your work in the Brooklyn Art Library come 2013.
Now check out The Sketchbook Project explained in 96 seconds from Art House Co-op on Vimeo. If I didn’t do a good job explaining how the project works, this should clear up any remaining questions. Via The Sketchbook Project.
Vanessa, this is badass. Thank you for this post. I definitely wanna visit, and I kinda wanna participate, and clearly I have all that free time to do it with. :0) Maybe someday. When free time grows on trees.
dude! you have to visit. and don’t worry, i have zero free time, but i allowed myself to be talked into participating anyway! the head librarian was so persuasive, he was like, well, when do you think you will have more free time? don’t you think you can devote a tiny bit of time to working on your book occasionally? i mean now is the perfect time, you have a good amount of months between now and the deadline…and then i was like, OKAY YOU ARE RIGHT I NEED TO PARTICIPATE! it’s a slippery slope, visiting then participating then being obsessed, is all i’m saying.
Oh my goodness yes.
Totally seeing this when it comes to London, and totally making my own book! This is perfect timing — I graduated last week, it’ll be nice to have a project to work on :]
THIS IS AWESOME.
I’m not sure why I have tears in my eyes after reading this, but I think that means I should participate.
i wholeheartedly agree.
This is amazing! It kind of reminds me of that 1000 journals project awhile ago. Does anyone else remember that or did I dream it?
Not dreaming, I remember it!
Hey, I did a Sketchbook last year and it is out on tour right now! It’s so exciting every time that I get an email notifying me that someone has viewed my book. :)
I am totally going to participate again, and you all should too!
Shameless plug, here’s the digitized version of my book.
i love shamelessness. going to check out your book right now!
just “flipped” through it — it is awesome! you should be proud, AND shameless :)
That’s beautiful. I love the page that says we’re swell, especially. I like it when books compliment me.
I’ve actually participated the last two years, on a grant from my highschool. It’s so much fun, and the Brooklyn Art Library is a great place! If you do go down there, there’s a chocolate shop like three or four doors down, Mast Brothers Chocolate? DEFINITELY stop by.
first of all, that is so cool that you have participated for 2 years, and especially cool that you did it on a grant from your high school! will you be participating again this year? it must be so neat to see multiple sketchbooks from people who have participated more than once.
also! mast brothers chocolate! omg! the coolest thing is that they are adorable neighbors and they teamed up with the sketchbook project to make a chocolate bar specifically for the project! it is called “the sketchbook chocolate” and the wrapper is a SUPER adorable bookshelf design, and they sell it at the brooklyn art library where they keep all the sketchbooks. it’s the best, basically.
At first I thought this was about The Shoebox Project…oops.
oh my, just googled that — had never heard of it before.
for the record, the shoebox project looks epically awesome in its own way…it’s just definitely not what this post is about ;)
I’m totally obsessed with doing this now so thanks for that! ^_^ I can’t wait to sign up next month (gonna use some of my school monies). I’m pretty sure i’ll be dragging my book to A-Camp
oh my god a sketchbook that travels to a-camp is the BEST kind of sketchbook, i can already tell. so glad you’re excited about it the project <3
I signed up, and am getting that sucker digitized. Thanks for pointing out this project!
you’re welcome! can’t wait to see your digitized finished product :)
I’m in. Punked out last year but all over it now.
i wonder if we can somehow categorize it under an autostraddle tag when they file them in the library…how cool if you could search for sketchbooks made by all of us?!
You can add tags to your book before the tour starts so that people have an easier time looking them up at the stops…we should totally add an autostraddle tag!
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