Rick Griffith, the design maven and letterpress wizard of MATTER Studio, has a whole different way of approaching commerce: as a community-based social action. In his world, every person — rich or poor, black or white, unschooled or highly overeducated — is a cog in the wheel of fair and equal commerce, and no one gets left out. People, he thinks, should take care of people instead of blindly consuming without considering where their purchases come from.
So every time MATTER throws a party, subverts politics with new products or dares to open a storefront espousing revolution through art, you know it’s not just any party, and Griffith visualizes beyond the limits of ordinary commerce.
“We don't just do communication and graphic design,” he says of the business that defines his role in the community. “We also continue to advance the makerspaces and the concept of being the authors and makers of our own products. Everything we do with our ethic of production is focused on our own regional footprint. That’s a small miracle in this day and age.”
Griffith is doing all of that this holiday season — throwing a party, producing politically pointed merchandise and opening a retail storefront at his studio — beginning with MATTER's seventeenth annual Print Sale & Party, a soirée designed to celebrate community with art, holiday merch, music and a fish tank full of mojitos on Friday, December 8. It’s also an opportunity to learn more about why he’s putting his faith in young people to make a better world, and the meaning of BLARP, a Griffith invention imagining the possibility of post-racial harmony.
Otherwise known as the Black Astronaut Research Project, BLARP is an idea that grew out of a conversation Griffith had with Stephen Brackett of Flobots fame. “We were talking about what we can do to escape the narrative associated with North Atlantic slave trade and how it has hurt everyone in the world with the whole notion of racial inequality and lack of equity,” Griffith says. He and Brackett, both action-oriented in a way they learned from their mentor, the late historian and social activist Vincent Harding, began looking for proactive answers.
“My ideas started clicking on black people in a post-racial world — something I saw as ultimately only possible through science, sci-fi and space travel,” he explains. “There are two ways to get to a post-racial identity not put on us by the slave trade: love and space travel.” And in love and space travel he places his trust: “A manifesto is available,” he hints. “It’s not a light read, but it’s well-crafted.”
So are MATTER’s BLARP patches, posters and pins, which Griffith says “all talk to the notion of our responsibility to continue to seek sanctuary outside of the low-earth orbit, but to keep telling stories of fictional characters and actual astronauts put into space.” Like semiotic smoke signals, such low-cost, trade-able items spread the inkling that change is possible — if you take the steps exactly. And it’s a younger generation he’s speaking to directly.
“My feeling is that I’m more faithful with young people and more fearful of old people,” Griffith admits. “It’s their world to fuck up. I travel and lecture around the country at universities, and I give these workshops where I start with the concept of how we use communication and design space, and that gets into the things we want and the things we make. Then,” he adds, “we start talking about what it is people want that they don't have, and how in order to get that, the Dow Jones has to reach a certain peak, and in order to get that, you need war and conflict in the world, and in order to get that, somebody needs to be in pain.”
“I tell them, 'If you don't change the answer about what you want to something other than what your parents and grandparents have already said, you won't have a different world.”
To prove his point about youth, he’ll also be marketing his high-school-aged daughter’s Gurrrl Power Feminist Coloring Book and a Diversity and Inclusion Skin Tone Color Pencil Kit in the retail store. And in a switch from past years, his daughter will be manning the turntable at MATTER’s holiday party instead of her dad (along with a couple of jukeboxes Griffith has pre-loaded with a curated menu of tunes).
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It’s a start. Griffith is passing on his understanding of cooperative, person-to-person politics and socio-economics to the younger generation by speaking their own language, and it’s something some of us enlightened older folks can maybe latch on to, as well.
“We can all be part of a community of fairly odd people who want to do fairly odd things,” he says hopefully.
Be part of Griffith’s community at MATTER's 17th Annual Print Sale & Party on Friday, December 8, from 6 p.m. to midnight at MATTER, 2134 Market Street. Or be the change and stop by MATTER’s retail space to pick up your revolutionary gear and eclectic design books when you’re in the neighborhood.