Critical Making at WCMA

Publication Studio in WCMA's historic rotundaWhen you hear the term critical making, you understand immediately that it’s connected to the liberal arts; its similarity to critical thinking is no accident. Critical making bridges a gap between the creative and the physical. One example is Publication Studio, equal parts bookbinding, art, and on-demand publishing.

Founded in 2009 in Portland, Ore., there are now 11 sibling Publication Studios in cities and towns throughout the U.S. and Canada, and one in Sweden. Some are in storefronts along busy city streets, others are in libraries or museums. Visitors can browse an online digital commons and place an order for delivery, or they can walk in and watch as their book is published. Publication Studio Williams is housed in the historic rotunda at the Williams College Museum of Art.

“Publication Studio serves as a platform for curricular use,” says Sonnet Coggins, associate director for academic and public engagement, who was instrumental in bringing Publication Studio to WCMA. “It invites students from biology and computer science to the arts to produce their own work, both conceptually and physically, in the form of a book.”

“My students are experiencing Publication Studio first-hand through two writer’s residencies this fall,” says assistant professor of English Jessica Fisher. Writers visiting Williams teach master classes, give readings, and “serve as guest curator and editor in Publication Studio, helping us make a book as a class,” Fisher says. “The model is one of arts infusing the campus.”

In October, poet Claudia Rankine ’86, came to campus to give a reading and lead two day-long writing workshops. Students will publish individual copies of their combined project through Publication Studio in the coming weeks. In November, poet Craig Dworkin came to campus to lead another workshop with students, the results of which will also be published at WCMA.

“Critical making through Publication Studio engages students in the process of curating the space between two covers,” Coggins says. “In some ways this is absolutely not new—books have been made this way for centuries—and yet it’s such a different model of publication than we’ve become accustomed to.”

“Having Publication Studio in residence at WCMA has enabled my students to see themselves as writers deeply engaged in conversations that exceed them as individuals,” says Fisher. “They have experienced first hand the incredible joy that being part of a community of makers can bring.”