When artist Reinaldo Gil Zambrano moved to Spokane four years ago, he settled into the art community but had immediate ulterior motives.
"I have a secret desire," says Gil Zambrano. "I want to turn Spokane into a Print Town."
And that's exactly what he's doing.
Since moving here, Gil Zambrano has literally made his mark on the art community in Spokane. He's a co-founder of Spokane Print & Publishing Center, creator of Spokane Print Fest, and teaches at Gonzaga University and the Print & Publishing center when he isn't creating art for his own installations.
"I love printmaking and community events, and using printmaking as a tool to bring people together," he says.
Gil Zambrano says Spokane Print Fest started as an event to assemble students, artists, professors and print enthusiasts to celebrate printed material and share it with more people in the art community.
"I heard so many people celebrating the amazing things happening in the big cities," he says. "So I wanted to create 'our' festival and celebrate our regional printing community for a whole month."
So Gil Zambrano got to work creating the Spokane Print Fest.
"We wanted to have an event where people could see professional works on paper in different galleries from regional and national artists, enjoy regional artists' workshops, and participate in panel discussions and lectures," he says. "At the same time, we wanted to offer our students an opportunity to become instructors and share their skills with their community to realize the difference between a fine art print and a photocopy and be also part of the creative process.
"Our first ever Spokane Print Fest [in 2019] was a great time with all our ideas materializing and our community supporting it fully," Gil Zambrano recalls. "We got so excited about the possibilities and opportunities to expand for the following years. Still, COVID happened, and SPF also had to be adaptable and go online, switching from April to November, and offering exhibitions on different locations through virtual visits, online panel discussions and digital demos."
After moving the Spokane Print Fest completely online last year due the pandemic, the in-person festival is back this year, and it's packed with hands-on experiences and shows ready to wow the community.
Gil Zambrano didn't work alone to create the annual festival; he had help from other local artists as well as the support of the nonprofit arts organization Terrain and the local arts community.
Jackie Caro, Terrain's operations director, was immediately sold on Print Fest, wanting to get things rolling right away and help Gil Zambrano's dream come to fruition.
"When Reinaldo came to us with the idea, we absolutely loved it," Caro says. "We wanted to give people the opportunity to collaborate inside of our event spaces and to showcase their work in our gallery."
Caro says that the beauty of Print Fest is seeing an often overlooked art form come to life.
"To a lot of people, when you say print, they think, 'Oh it's just easy, you just print it,' but to see what goes into these print techniques is incredible," she says. "Someone who's doing, say, a block print has to actually carve out that wood block and then print it. We usually just see the finished product and don't realize what went into that piece of art."
Several artists who've been involved since the festival's beginning are also excited to get back to its roots after a year online.
Mel Hewitt, who started as a member of Spokane Print & Publishing Center, now serves as a Print Fest board member. Though her preferred medium of book art is not exactly printmaking, it goes hand-in-hand with the world of print and publishing.
"I'm completely self-taught," says Hewitt. "I was that kid who would read in her room from the moment I woke up in the morning until the sun went down."
Hewitt started creating art with books about seven years ago. Her art forces a new perspective onto observers, taking an object they're familiar with and changing the meaning almost entirely. Her workshop for Print Fest this year, on Nov. 10, is based on this idea of forced perspective.
"This year I'm teaching a workshop on a structure called the tunnel book," she says. "It's in the same realm as pop-up books, but this is more of a book that is meant to throw you into a scene. Taking you 'down' a tunnel."
When asked why Print Fest is so important for the community, Hewitt says print and publishing as art forms could always use some more love in Spokane.
"The most prominent art forms in Spokane are definitely pottery and 2-D visual art," she says. "Part of the reason that Reinaldo came up with Print Fest is to bring a new medium of art to Spokane. We want to get a community of printmaking going here."
Next year, both artists hope that Print Fest will be back up and running during its regular timeline in April, and pushing full steam ahead by bringing local universities back into the mix and having even more galleries open their doors to the printmakers of Spokane.
"We are looking forward to growing this event and incorporating more institutions and galleries, making this a festival that celebrates all things prints and book arts for a whole month," says Gil Zambrano.
"Our city has tons of potential to become the hosting place for people in the region to gather and share their passion for printmaking. We believe this will enrich our town considerably in future years, claiming April as the month of print in Spokane." ♦
Spokane Print Festival • Nov. 5-27 • Prices and event locations vary • spokaneprintfest.com • 509-443-3399[Correction: The location of Gil Zambrano's teaching has been corrected from the print version of this story.]