Elemental Press of Kalamazoo is making art for everyone

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.

The afternoon sun poured in through the windows onto Elemental Press's hardwood floor. Photography backdrops, light setups, posters, and printmaking supplies, including a manual screen printing machine, were positioned invitingly.

The spacious studio Elemental Press occupies in downtown Kalamazoo's Park Trades Center is one of the largest in the former warehouse building that houses various artists and organizations.

A newer tenant, Elemental is a blossoming screen print shop and multi-use studio in Kalamazoo. The business provides services that include screen-printing t-shirts, posters, fine art, masks, patches, and bags, and clients are encouraged to bring any idea to the table. Elemental also works with individuals and companies to create brands and promotional materials. 

Aside from the services listed on its website, Elemental also rents out the space for photography sessions, readings, musical performances, dance parties, and more.

Inside views of Elemental Print ShopThe space was intended to be very open and functional — almost all the tables are on wheels. Elemental Press owner Jenna Riehl says that it is important the tables and chairs in the space are easily moveable so that “the space can be versatile.”

Versatility is something Riehl values and is key to how Elemental Press is run. 

Entrepreneurial spirit 

Riehl moved to Kalamazoo 12 years ago, and studied printmaking at Western Michigan University, finishing up her degree at Kalamazoo College. Following graduation, Riehl ran 10 color automatic presses for a larger company in Forth Worth, Texas, before moving back to Kalamazoo shortly before 2020, but grew “Pretty tired of the cis white misogyny, because I was one of the only females in the production area,” she says.

So she decided, "I can do this myself." 

Teaming with Kalamagonia 

In 2020, Elemental Press teamed up with Michael Beyene of Kalamagonia Apparel to turn drone footage of the Black Lives Matter mural that was created on Rose Street into a t-shirt design. Riehl says she printed thousands of shirts with that image. The experience morphed Elemental Press from an idea to a reality; suddenly Elemental was a business venture with the potential to reshape the local art landscape.

“Oh s*&^%, I have a business. It kind of just happened,” says Riehl, laughing. After the BLM t-shirt printing, Riehl obtained a business license and operated an e-commerce business out of her basement for almost three years. 

Jenna Riehl using the printing press.The physical space for Elemental Press quietly opened on February 1, 2023. Riehl, and her web designer and Photoshop extraordinaire, Olivia Mendoza, had looked for spaces to house the business for several months. After a few seemingly good fits fell through, they tried Plaza Corps' Park Trades Center. 

The Park Trades Center, 326 West Kalamazoo Ave., is housed in a historic building that was originally constructed in the early 20th Century. The building itself has a rich history, having served various industrial purposes over the years before being transformed into an artistic haven. It is also home to several dozen artisans who open their doors on the first Friday of every month which is the same day as the Kalamazoo Art Council's Art Hop. Elemental Press and others in Park Trades Center call their monthly open-door event “First Fridays.” 

Photo of one of Elemental’s events Riehl says she believes strongly in the importance of zero or low-entry fees to events and instructional courses as a way of educating the community about how participatory costs can be barriers. Part of Elemental's mission is to support local arts and create more accessibility to the arts.

In April 2023, Elemental Press held its grand opening. The high ceilings of their studio reverberated with the sound of laughter and music, which the video reels and stories on Instagram can verify. Elemental Press has been able to gather a lot of folks together for each of their events, says Riehl. A scroll through their social media will reveal that the Instagram page is booming. It is one of the more colorful pages promoting Kalamazoo small businesses, showcasing the prices, vibrant prints, merchandise, and promotional materials for their collaborative events with other Kalamazoo artistic entities.

Recreation Collective

Housed inside of Elemental Press is another organization called Recreation Collective. The LLC of the space is Elemental Press, Cecilia Taylor is the studio manager, Olivia Stiers runs the photography, and Olivia Mendoza is the digital designer. The combined promotional power and draw of the two organizations create a very diverse atmosphere that speaks to the current artistic climate of Kalamazoo, one where traditional cover charges and single-genre events are a thing of the past.  

Posters promoting the events being held at Elemental Press.“There are so many people who want to get involved (in the arts), but they don’t necessarily have the means,” says Riehl. Elemental has not charged any cover fee for the various events they’ve hosted this year. The events and majority of the promotional community-building aspects are operated under Recreation Company, and Elemental Press is the print shop and business side.

Kzoo Zinefest

Another organization that Elemental Press hosts is Kzoo Zinefest. Zines are typically independently published small magazines, or booklets that contain everything from poetry and prose, to artwork, to infographics. Kzoo Zinefest provides instructional classes on how to create your zines and holds events open and free to the public. 

“Anybody and everybody can show up to our workshops or events," says Riehl. “Get workshops going so you don't have to pay $400 for a class at the KIA (Kalamazoo Institute of the Arts), you just come and drop in, and maybe, you know, put a ten dollar donation down, and learn to draw” from Mendoza, a professional artist, “or learn photography, or learn to print.” 

Defining a collective

“Here I would say that it is a collaboration of artists trying to make art accessible for Kalamazoo, and also (it) gives artists a place to display and show and talk about art.”

Staff members at Elemental Press.

Accessible art enhances the public good

“The cost of living is a little bit cheaper here. We can make art cheaper here, we have the means,” says Riehl.

Riehl has a broader vision for Elemental Press that goes beyond its current size. She imagines it becoming a versatile hub that includes various forms of art, like gallery displays and musical performances. Elemental's "Artist of the Month" initiative, which combines art with charitable efforts, demonstrates how Elemental Press aims to influence Kalamazoo’s artistic future.

"It's about bringing the community together, making art for everybody."

Elemental Press has a packed fall and winter calendar. Check out this link for more information. You can also find Elemental on Facebook and Instagram.
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Read more articles by Casey Grooten.

Casey Grooten is a Kalamazoo native who lived in the Vine and Stuart neighborhoods for over a decade and graduated from WMU with a Bachelors in English. Casey lives in Kalamazoo and spends their free time making artwork and music. Casey is passionate about social justice and equity, transgender rights, community events, and the arts.