The Printmakers of Manitoba Co-op Inc (Manitoba Printmakers Association) was formed in Winnipeg in the spring of 1984 at the University of Manitoba by Manitoba print artists and recent graduates of the University of Manitoba. In 1985 the Manitoba Printmakers Association became an incorporated member-based non-profit organization dedicated to artistic and technical excellence in the fine art of printmaking: intaglio, relief, lithography, screen print and monoprint. In 1986, an office was rented at 54-A 221 McDermot Avenue with seed funding from Manitoba’s provincial arts funding arm and membership dues. A mini gallery was established in a series of drawers in the office giving a percentage of sales back to the association.
The first founding board was elected in 1987: Bev Jacobs, President; Diana Thorneycroft, Vice President; Mary Krieger, Treasurer; Ray Kehler and Noella Muruve. In addition, the office was moved to the newly renovated Artspace building at 401-100 Arthur Street in the Exchange District. In 1988, a committee for Exhibition and Programming was established, and the Board expanded to pursue funding for a future open studio. Manitoba Printmakers Inc. was incorporated as a legal entity on November 14, 1988.
In July of 1989 Manitoba Printmakers Inc. moved into its studio and gallery facilities at 112/114 Market Avenue. A name change from Manitoba Printmakers Inc. to Manitoba Printmakers Association Inc. became effective October 17, 1989. A grand opening took place on November 22, 1989 and was attended by the Mayor. The studio and gallery became one of the largest, best equipped and most diversified member-driven printmaking facilities in Canada. Used by artists from various disciplines and experience levels, the studio featured leading-edge digital and photographic capabilities, custom printing services, and a full range of classes and lectures for artists and the general public. Equipment included three etching presses, a Charles Brand press with a 40 x 60” bed, a lithography press, screen printing tables, photo processing rooms, drying racks, a solvent unit and hot plates, all in 5,000 square feet of work space. In addition, Manitoba Printmakers Association Inc. (MPA) rented a variety of private studios to artists.
In June 1996, MPA learned that the Manitoba Arts Council was reducing core funding to the organization and that of several other visual arts groups by 85%. In 1997, the Canada Council for the Arts, in response to its own funding difficulties, withdrew its 1998 funding for all printmaking facilities across Canada, including MPA. In March 1997, the Board of Directors elected to close the facility on Market Avenue, sell off the equipment and dissolve the organization. An emergency meeting was called and volunteers from the membership decided to put all studio equipment into storage and find temporary office space. The studio on Market Avenue closed in June 1997. Arnold Bros. Transport Ltd. transported and stored all studio equipment free of charge and the International Basketball Association, under the direction of Earl Barish, donated office space and the use of office equipment at 547 Notre Dame Ave.
The funding crisis and resultant closure of its Market Avenue facility forced the Manitoba Printmakers Association Inc. to re-evaluate many of the organization’s basic assumptions and operational systems. In 1997, a volunteer Steering Committee was formed and undertook a major review of the organization as a whole, and was quickly able to determine that neither its scope of activities nor its relationships to its members were at issue. Rather, the problem was essentially one of insufficient resources for the provision of the necessary facilities and services. The association proceeded to consider new sources of revenue and alternate modes of operation. Working without paid staff and operating from donated office space, MPA considered ways to re-establish a facility, which would become increasingly self-sufficient. It was assisted in this effort by staff at the Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism. A Strategic Plan was completed in 1998, where MPA established a model for a new printmaking facility. The Malaspina Printmakers Association donated $2,000, an anonymous donor pledged $10,000, and Malaspina, Open Studio, Atelia Graphia, SNAP, and artists from across Canada, donated prints to MPA’s new open studio fundraiser.
MPA’s extensive volunteer campaign resulted in support to purchase a facility in 2000, at 11 Martha Street, originally built in 1919 by R.S. Robinson as a fireproof fur warehouse. A request to the Corporations Act for name notation of Martha Street Studio was registered to MPA on December 1, 2000. Operational expenses that would be applied to rent would now go to mortgage payments. The financial statements include an amortization of the facility in keeping with standard accounting practices with facility maintenance overseen by the Board of Director’s Building Committee. MPA, now also known as Martha Street Studio (MSS), was successful with renewed efforts to obtain charitable tax status and received designation as a Charitable Organization effective January, 2000. This important development allowed the association to tap into many new sources of funding to assist with both the initial costs of re-establishing a community printmaking facility as well as with special projects and ongoing programming over the long term.
Annual operating funds were granted again from the Manitoba Arts Council beginning in 2003. Having been run by volunteers during its most difficult years, it is MPA’s philosophy that artists should work for a competitive wage within its operations. Further, MPA is dedicated to training artists in cultural sector management and programming. In 2006, MPA contracted an arts consultant to draft a staffing structure and job descriptions. Thus, MPA’s staffing structure follows these recommendations.
Although serving its purpose for artists and members, MPA’s board had been planning for an accessible facility at 11 Martha Street since 2003. Fundraising efforts were successful, and in 2010, MPA completed construction of a new entryway with wheelchair access to the facility. As a result, many more people living with disabilities use the open studio space, digital facilities, attend classes, exhibitions, workshops, and participate in programming for youth and adults, mentorships, self-directed residencies, and are on the board and staff. Canada Council Operating funds were successfully obtained anew in 2011.
MPA took on its moniker “Martha Street Studio” with a logo re-branding in 2011. In 2011, MPA also developed its vision, mission and mandate, establishing a clear vision for the future and stated values to guide it daily, towards its goal of “unparalleled, accessible facilities and education in the print arts”.
New building signage and the re-pointing of the exterior brick façade were completed in 2013. In keeping with providing users with a well-equipped print studio, MSS, with funds from the City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba, purchased a new exposure unit and hot plate in 2015. MSS has been growing steadily through its professional, educational and community outreach development programs, professional exhibitions, and self-directed artist residency exchange programs. In 2015 Martha Street Studio realized 10 years of its free Youth Outreach Program and in 2018 MPA celebrated its 30-year anniversary from its date of incorporation. In 2018, with support from Federal and Provincial grants, renovations to flooring in the archives, office and gallery took place and all new computers and ergonomic chairs were purchased for the digital suite.