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Jul 29, 201301:46 PMCulture

Fun and Culture in the Mid-State

Five Questions for Liz Laribee

Jul 29, 2013 - 01:46 PM
Five Questions for Liz Laribee

Photography by Danielle Lucas

Liz Laribee, Director of the MakeSpace, is an artist and writer. An interest in using the whole buffalo has shaped her creative process, and she works almost exclusively with salvaged materials. Her projects, solo and collaborative, are largely influenced by and dedicated to community.

She has shown widely in Harrisburg as well as in an exhibit at the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art. Laribee's work at the MakeSpace is both administrative and artistic.

As Director, Laribee spends most of her time spackling walls and writing grants. As a studio artist, she focuses mainly on cardboard portraiture, repurposed handcrafts, photography, and found poetry. She also teaches workshops and classes on recycled art, creative writing, and poetry to students of all ages. She'd like to finish 2013 having had written her first book.

She lives in Harrisburg, happily.

How did the MakeSpace happen and why does it need to be here?

I have a pretty nerdy tendency to write down business plans recreationally. Last year, I wrote down — among other, worse ideas — the skeleton for an art space in Harrisburg that would look like the sort of place I could learn from and be messy in. The working title for a long time was the Mess Lab.

Following this was a lot of dumb luck, meeting a set of people with the right balance of sensibility and lack of inhibitions, mistakes, and experimentation. There was a tipping point that is hard to identify when the MakeSpace became something smaller — the original design had a rooftop tea garden, elevator, solar paneling, darkroom, foundry, and gift shop, which I loosely consider future plans — and larger — I have met probably four hundred people in the last year directly through this process — than what I’d written down in my notebook that I have since lost on a Megabus trip.

On a personal level, the MakeSpace needs to be here because I’m not sure how else to live my life. I make messes, I love being around people, and I want to learn. I think a lot of people operate that way. That’s why I started writing things down in a notebook.

When did it open, what's been exciting so far, and what are your goals within the next year?

We’re almost a year from the day when we got the keys to the space. It is impossible to quantify excitement, and nobody would want to read a list that long. I’ll tell you that I have cried a lot more this past year than ever before, and that usually, it was over something so beautiful I wasn’t sure where to put it in my brain.

One of those moments was when the gallery was packed with friends and strangers dancing in literal circles around two men in a Hungarian klezmer band playing a fiddle and accordion, lying on the ground, and everyone was laughing and clapping and I was crying. It was an absurd, cherished moment, and I was so grateful for all of the people along the way who’d had to say yes to Whatever They Said Yes To in order to make this moment happen.

My personal goals for MakeSpace in the next year include — among other, worse ideas — starting to pay myself (we are a volunteer-run organization); strengthening our programs to include gallery and studio space, classes, events and concerts as well as the Home Grown Market; and collaborating on an amazing art project with the kids in our neighborhood.

I’d also like to play more pranks on the studio artists. That’s definitely been a failure of my part.

What part does the MakeSpace plays in an ideal Harrisburg?

Oh, holy moly, this question makes me so nervous. NO PRESSURE, GUYS.

I’ll say this: a city’s culture is a reflection of its vitality. MakeSpace is one example among very, very many that aims to help the lives of people here better. Our way is through the arts. It is one part of a large and elegant ecosystem.

You make cardboard portraits and redactive poetry and you mentioned in your artist biography that you want to write a book. Have you one in progress, or on the horizon? Since you identify this as being your first book, what would you want your oeuvre to include when you assemble it at the end of your long career?

Let me first say that when I assemble them before me in my old age, it will only be with the assistance of an intern, without whom I would absolutely not be able to locate anything in the expanse of trash that my studio will have become.

One idea for a book is a series of open letters to individual objects that hold significance in my life, like the wax monkey head made by my father in college and given to me this year as an heirloom from my grandmother, and the bottom two thirds of my front tooth which, now plastic, had been lost when I was sixteen and making balloon animals at a church picnic. I also want to write a book called Jeaneology, in honor of my mother Jean, about my family history and countries of origin.

My first book will likely be a collaborative project; in fact, I have already shaken hands with my friend Justin Arawjo, of Fennec Design, to co-create an illustrated series of elephant puns in a tradition we started years ago. Most of my favorite things on this earth are in pun-form.

What does a day's work look like for you as an artist and administrator?

My days are a very strange pastiche of answering emails — this is a chasm — writing policy and curriculum, designing programs, designing show posters, conducting workshops, fixing the toilet — I’m on my way to do that right now — repainting the walls, giving tours, going to meetings over coffee or beer, researching more established iterations of what we’re doing, researching grants, and finishing commissions of cardboard portraits.

In addition to directing MakeSpace, I’m also the Administrator for 3rd in The Burg, and that involves a lot of coordination of galleries and venues, compiling and organizing ad content, and promoting through social media.

AND [the MakeSpace] just launched Home Grown Market, a weekly market for regional makers to sell their wares, and that involves a lot of recruiting and promotion. I am never finished with what I need to have finished, I am fascinated by the work I am encountering, and I am very fond of this portion of my life. 

Jul 30, 2013 09:05 am
 Posted by  Madonna21029

Every city needs to make space for a MakeSpace. The bones of a city have to attach to something and art is the sinew we all need to belong. This is a great idea, a great leader of it all, and a great happening for Harrisburg. My next visit to the Poconos demands a detour to downtown. And I would read a book about objects, and most definitely about Jeaneology.

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