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The PQ Q&A: Papergirl Belfast

This is the first in a new regular feature I am introducing – The PQ Q&A. The plan at the moment is to post a Q&A article every other Friday. The frequency may change (it might work better weekly, or monthly), but the day will stay the same.The subject could be an artist, individual, organisation, business, project, collective etc doing something creative, unique, innovative or interesting – if it makes me want to sit down and ask them all about it, you’ll see it here on a Friday.

As always, I want you to get involved – who or what do you want to read about here? If you want to nominate someone you think the PQ should send their Qs to, get in touch.

Jodie (left) and Julie. Pic: Gareth Hammond.

The first PQ Q&A is with the two-woman team behind Papergirl Belfast, a lovely initiative aimed at distributing free artworks to members of the public.

Jodie Young, a graphic designer, and Julie Steenson, who works in book publishing, tell us how their love of art led them to becoming papergirls…

PQ: Tell me more about the Papergirl concept…

A: The Papergirl project was founded in Berlin by Aisha Ronniger in the summer of 2006 in reaction to tightening German graffiti laws. Since then, its participatory, non-commercial and DIY spirit has seen it become an international creative movement, and today Papergirl takes place in over forty cities worldwide (you will find a list of the participating cities on our website).

This is the first year it has run in Belfast and we have been delighted by the positive reaction it has had from artists and the general public alike.

In short, the project consists of posting an open call for submissions, holding an exhibition to showcase the work collected and then rolling up and distributing that work by bicycle to random passers-by.

While there are a few basic rules that must be adhered to in order to make use of the Papergirl name (it must be non-commercial, participatory and uncurated), it’s up to each city to make the project their own and the approach has been quite varied across the world.

PQ: How did you go about bringing Papergirl to Belfast?

A: We first came across Papergirl San Francisco online and instantly fell in love with the idea of bringing it to Northern Ireland. After a bit more research into the concept, we approached Aisha for permission to bring the project to Belfast. Soon afterwards we discovered that the first Papergirl Dublin exhibition was about to take place, so we visited it for inspiration before getting things underway up here.

PQ: What is your vision for the project, and why were you inspired to do this?

A: What most appealed to us was the fun, inclusive spirit of the project. The art world is (often unfairly) characterised as intimidating, both for new artists and the general public. Papergirl circumvents this apparent exclusivity by guaranteeing that all work submitted will feature in the exhibition, and by putting art into in the hands of people who might not ordinarily visit galleries.

PQ: Can you tell me a bit about how you got the artists involved and worked with them?

A: Papergirl is open to local and international artists, both emerging and established. We invite visual artists, graphic designers, illustrators, photographers, poets, short-story writers, crafters, and zine, comic and sticker makers to submit their work; the only real requirement being that it is flexible enough to be rolled up for distribution.

We posted our call for submissions on social media and on various open call sites and had a fantastic response from artists and writers from all over the world, including Mexico, the US and Germany, as well as support from local established artists, such as Shauna McGowan and Susan Hughes, who very generously donated pieces of their work.

The Papergirl project also offers an excellent opportunity for art and design students and recent graduates to exhibit their work in a gallery setting for the first time. Many artists kindly contributed more than one piece, and while there was not enough space to exhibit all the individual pieces submitted, at least one work from every artist has been included in the exhibition and everything we received will be incorporated into the rolls for distribution.

We’ve already had artists who missed out on this year’s deadline getting in touch about contributing something for next year, and we’re planning on opening the 2014 call for submissions in early autumn.

PQ: How exactly – and when – are you planning to give the artworks away? How will you choose the lucky recipients?

A: The exhibition will run until Saturday 6 July at Belfast’s PS2 and our distribution cycle will take place a fornight later on Saturday 20 July. Anyone who has a bicycle is more than welcome to join us in passing the rolls of art out to the public (full details of where and when will follow on Facebook and Twitter in the coming week).

The idea is to choose recipients completely at random – so if you want the gift of a Papergirl art roll, you can only hope that you’re in the right place at the right time on the day of the distribution cycle!


Below are some pics from the exhibition launch night (all pics: Gareth Hammond).

If anybody needs me on the 20th July, you’ll probably find me loitering on the streets of Belfast, trying my best to look art-starved…

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