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Mobile Sketchbook Tour Returns to VCU

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All you sketchers out there: Mark your calendars.

This Friday, March 21, what’s been called “a taco truck with sketchbooks” will show up with over 4,000 sketchbooks from around the world from 1 to 5 p.m. at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Compass Plaza (900 Park Ave.).

The Sketchbook Project, based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, bills itself as the largest collection of artist sketchbooks in the world -- with over 30,000 sketchbooks contributed from 135 countries. Every year the project takes a mobile library on tour to different cities. This will be their second stop in Richmond. The co-founder, Steven Peterman, also delivered a talk at the 2013 TedX-RVA conference in Richmond.

All participants have to do is show up, sign up, and you can check out the books or pick up a blank one of your own to fill out by Jan. 31, 2015 to be included in next year’s tour. Every sketchbook contributed to the project will be included in the traveling library and exhibited in cities and towns across the continent. You can also sign up on the project’s website.

“Last time in Richmond the turnout was great. The day was rainy, but we still had a lot of students come out,” says Jessica Sugerman, assistant director for the project. “For us, it’s not about any one book, it’s the collection as a whole . . . seeing work from other parts of the world. Also it’s always incredible to meet the participants, start putting faces to names of people who have contributed, people you’ve contacted with online.”

Each sketchbook is 32 pages long featuring 5-by-7 inch pages. They are available for perusal based on theme, artist-chosen tags, location, medium, and other categories. Also, each year the project throws out some "quirky themes" that artists can use. For 2014, the quirky themes were borders and lines, strange neighbors, first aid kits, paper airplanes – all translated as literally or quirky as desired by the artists.

“In the past, we’ve had a group of students from Sudan, an arts for Alzheimer’s group. Once we did a pop up in Oakland, every day members of a family would come check out one book,” Sugerman says. “Finally it came to light it was a book about a family member who had passed away – the son had made the book. Every member had come, like a memorial.”

Sugerman says that so far, another of the most viewed sketchbooks was written by a cancer survivor who started the inspiring sketchbook on the day she was diagnosed and continued through her successful treatment.

In a similar vein: Richmond has its own People’s Library, instigated locally by Courtney Bowles and Mark Strandquist, which is an ongoing collaborative project that repurposes discarded books and blank canvases for community members to check out and fill in with their own written histories. You can check it out at the Main branch of the Richmond Public Library or visit here to learn more.

The mobile Sketchbook Project tour continues through 30 cities, including Atlanta, Austin, Portland, Steamboat, Madison, Chicago, San Francisco and Portland.

The Sketchbook Project Mobile Library stop at VCU is free and open to the public. Friday, March 21st 1pm - 5pm at Compass Plaza, 900 Park Avenue.

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