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Studio Two Three printmaking supports abortion access

Artist Alex Teschel (left) and Studio Two Three Director of Partnerships and Development Kate Fowler stand in front of recent designs produced at the Scott's Addition studio.
Artist Alex Teschel (left) and Studio Two Three Director of Partnerships and Development Kate Fowler stand in front of recent designs produced at the Scott's Addition arts space. Proceeds from the prints have gone to benefit a range of causes. (Photos: Alex Scribner for VPM News)

When the decision to send abortion rights back to state governments came down from the Supreme Court in June, artists at Studio Two Three dropped everything and hit the presses. 

Executive Director Ashley Hawkins said amplifying diverse voices is a core value of printmaking and the studio. 

“We learned about the [Dobbs] decision, and immediately we're like, OK, what are we doing? Where are we going? What's happening? How can we be there to support?’” Hawkins told VPM News.

Within three hours, the studio mass screen printed its design in support of abortion rights and headed out to distribute the flats. The design read, “The right to abortion is the right to autonomy, survival, equality, and self-determination.” Flyers with the statement spread during protests in Richmond that weekend, and the studio started selling the design on bags and T-shirts.

Hawkins founded the studio in 2010 to support recent art school graduates. She said that printmaking is a naturally democratic and civic process, and wanted to make it more accessible.

“As soon as you were out of school, there was literally nowhere to continue making work in print and certainly not with the type of price point and amount of access that we needed,” Hawkins said.

The studio’s political activism originated from a strategic plan dedicated to serving Richmonders. 

Since its conception, Hawkins wanted a mobile printing service, making it easier and more affordable to access the studio’s classes, workshops and, of course, the printing press. In 2017, the dream became reality when the studio converted a truck into its very own printing press on wheels. 

“We found out that when you have a really large, goofy-looking, ice-cream-truck thing, and you just pull it up assertively, most of the time, people are just like, 'OK, it's here,'" Hawkins said.

“Early on in 2020, we also realized we could drive that same truck up on a median illegally and park it,” said Kate Fowler, director of partnerships and development for the studio.

Fowler designed the abortion rights print in response to the leaked draft of the Dobbs decision in May. To help process her reaction to the leak, she played around with the printing press until landing on a phrase that represented the reasons why someone might seek an abortion. 

“This is an issue that impacts … every single person related to the person seeking an abortion: partners, their children, their parents, their family members, their job,” Fowler said. “Abortion is also deeply connected to our survival and our health. For some women, it's literally a matter of life and death.”

Fowler said abortions are critical health care for people who can get pregnant. 

“We're the experts of our own lived experiences in our bodies, and we know when we are able to step forward and step into that responsibility,” she continued. “I am at a point in my life where I see abortion pragmatically as my reproductive health care. I see it as part of a holistic picture of how I take care of my body and make decisions about it.”

Through community and pop-up events, Studio Two Three raised more than  $3,000 for the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project. Partnering with local organizations and artists, the studio also raises money to support trans youth and Black lives. 

“We have the capacity to print and do it at a very low cost, if we need to,” Fowler said. “[We] do it with our own hands and get it out there quickly and make donations, and they have the capacity to get that money into the hands of people who need it.”

Printmaking helps Fowler decompress, she said, but sees more to be done in sharing resources and welcoming out-of-state residents seeking abortions. 

“We need to be donating [to] West Virginia and other Appalachian states to try to make sure people can get to Virginia to utilize the resources that we still have for abortions,” Fowler said. 

In West Virginia, the state’s only clinic halted all procedures the day the decision came down from the Supreme Court. While abortion is still legal in North Carolina, the state requires a 72-hour waiting period before getting the procedure, restricts insurance coverage and requires parental consent. Six-week abortion bans are on the books in Kentucky (which later was blocked by a judge) and Tennessee. All four states border Virginia.

South Carolina, where the border is less than a four-hour drive from Richmond, and Ohio, which is about 100 miles from Virginia’s border, also have 6-week bans in place.

“We have to have each other's backs, you know?” Hawkins said. “We're gonna have to make our couches available. We're going to have to make a lot of prints to go to lots of different people for the foreseeable future, and that feels scary and challenging, but also completely within our capacity, because it’s what we're already doing.”