The Book Arts Collaborative is like no other immersive learning class at Ball State.
Walking into the project’s space, located in the Madjax building in downtown Muncie, feels like walking into another world. Printing presses between 70 and 140 years old line one wall; a tidy row of aprons and a shelf of finished work lines another.
In the middle work area, you will undoubtedly find a few students or the project director, Rai Peterson, hard at work.
“Here, everything is a very big adventure,” Peterson said.
The collaborative began as a labor of love for Peterson, who had been teaching book binding in her English classes for several years, but became interested in expanding into printing and creating new curriculum to teach the skill.
The idea for Book Arts was born, and the summer was spent preparing the space downtown not just for class, but for business.
Peterson said the six credit hour class functions as its own business with three main avenues of sale: original hand-printed pieces such as coasters, cards and journals, workshops on printing for the community and rental of time with the printing equipment.
“Students get experience running a business and selling to retailers,” Peterson said. “At the beginning we had to decide: did we want to make popular and commercial art, or did we want to be a high-end bindery?”
Students ultimately decided to be a high-end bindery that also made affordable work for the Muncie community. Deciding on defining characteristics of the business like this allowed students to get experience starting a company from the ground up.
Senior finance and marketing major Brandon Gilstrap is the product marketing and finance manager for the project. He finds the hands-on experience he’s received to be invaluable.
“I just knew the opportunity to be at the start of a business is something I probably wouldn’t have had,” Gilstrap said. “I do all the pricing, I keep track of all the materials, and then me and my team go to all of the retailers.”
Gilstrap said while many think the class is geared toward art or English majors, it has been a great project for business, and the mix of majors within the class makes the business run smoothly. Paige Baker, a junior graphic arts management major, agrees.
“This isn’t just an experience for people interested in art. This is something that any major can reap the benefits from,” Baker said.
Students work in the space for 10 hours a week on their own schedule. They work on projects, with more time put in for other responsibilities to keep the business running.
The collaborative has products in several Muncie locations, including Art Mart and Gordy Fine Art & Framing. Gilstrap said he was able to successfully pitch their products to some companies in Indianapolis, and expanding outside of the Munice area has been exciting.
Their products are also sold during First Thursday Artswalks by Tribune Showprint, which shares the Madjax space with Book Arts.
Peterson said their relationship with Rob and Kim Miller, the owners of Tribune Showprint, has been crucial because of the equipment and expertise they share. Peterson is also assisted by the project’s artist-in-residence, Sarojini Jha Johnson.
Peterson’s favorite thing about Book Arts is the service it provides to both the students and the community.
“We put fine art into people’s hands for a low price. We want people to feel lucky to live in Muncie,” Peterson said. “They can buy a handmade journal for the same price as a machine-made one from another store.”
The handmade quality of the work also appeals to the students.
“I love that this is a class that brings the past into the future and makes it valuable,” Baker said. “Many people think that these methods are obsolete, but here we make them an art and give it meaning.”
Beyond workshops, community members can also get involved by submitting an original work to the group's artist’s submission project. The collaborative will pick one winner and create between 50 and 100 handmade copies of the winning book.
They are taking submissions from single or group authors at $20 a book. Submissions can be mailed to Peterson in the Robert Bell Building, or can be dropped off at the Madjax building on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. by Dec. 9. All submissions should have either contact information or a return address affixed.
Beyond all of the other qualities that make Book Arts unique is Peterson’s outlook for its future.
While most immersive learning classes have a defined end date, she hopes to keep the collaborative running as a functional business for as long as possible.
“We will be here next year — this is near and dear and important to me,” she said. “We hope to be here forever.”