Freely flowing information is a vital ingredient to the health of a people. Access to tools and professional instruction on how to make use of them are present in that mix of essentials as well. Here in Tucson and beyond, the Gloo Factory has done its part for over a decade now to provide us with these. They enable us –people like you and me– to communicate widely with each other, spreading memes and fostering dialogue by way of bumper stickers, flyers, posters, clothing, books, newsletters, and more. Even in this age of high-speed electronic transmissions, there is still a pivotal role for tangible hard-copy print mediums of relaying ideas and instruction, and Gloo Factory founder Dwight Metzger has made it his life’s work to put the means of utilizing them in our hands.
The Gloo Factory building at 106 East Council St. is one of many spaces in the Tucson warehouse arts district under ownership by the Arizona Department of Transportation for years and now being auctioned off to high-bidding developers. Having leased the building for over a decade at a very low cost that allowed him to provide affordable print services to grassroots efforts, Dwight and his crew are moving forward and doing whatever is necessary to continue on with their good work in a space that they can call their own.
Read on to learn the Gloo Factory’s story and the important part they play in the life of our community!
jhon: Dwight, tell me what you do here at Gloo Factory. What’s it all about?
Dwight: Gloo Factory is the name of the building here, and inside the Gloo Factory is a community-based media project. We do printing and graphic arts services for the progressive community and community-minded individuals: that includes screen printing, offset printing, sign-making. We print stickers, t-shirts, small books, most everything, generally with older, lower-tech equipment that’s serviceable by us in-house, with the intent to provide cost effective services for Tucson’s community.
jhon: There’s so much of a shift these days toward more electronic ways of relaying information and communicating. What is it about utilizing those old-school techniques and tools that’s worth preserving? What is valuable about them?
Dwight: I think in one word, control. Being able to have control of our destiny in terms of information and means of production. Actually, nowadays you can print t-shirts with computers, and there are fully automatic screen-printing machines that will pick up a t-shirt, put it on a press, print it, pull it off, run it through a dryer and even fold it at the end. But we don’t really want to go there (laughs). We want to keep production in the hands of people and at a human scale, for obvious reasons.
And the same for information technology; the internet is amazing in its ability to reach across oceans and seemingly freely to send information across any kind of barrier, but there could very quickly come a time when that freedom isn’t there anymore, where censorship takes over, or it costs money to do that. Already we’re seeing examples of that. And we need to keep in mind too that this technology was developed and mastered by the Pentagon. That technology and means of communication is really out of our control. While anyone can sign up for an internet account, no one can tell you how it works or how to make it work if suddenly it doesn’t. That’s the opposite of what we do here. We can show people how to take an idea and put it into print, into some medium for communication, whether that be a small letter press, a card, an invitation to an event, a flyer to a protest, a book, a manifesto on some radical way of thinking, a t-shirt for a community group, bumper-stickers, you name it. These are all things that we can do ourselves. So we really want people to be empowered to create their own media; do-it-yourself media.
jhon: And what kind of people make use of the services here at Gloo Factory? Is it specifically a political or progressive end of the spectrum type demographic, or is it wider than that?
Dwight: It’s community-centric. Certainly the more anxious to help out, left-leaning, peace groups, environmental groups, that kind of stuff, but I really work with a whole range of people. Most anyone that’s doing something for the benefit of the community is encouraged to come here, I want to work with them.
So let’s see…in the last few days we worked for the Tucson Chess Fest, Arizona Rotorcraft Association, an upstart cafe downtown, the Cyclovia event –that’s the City of Tucson sponsoring a car-free zone for one day next Sunday– Tucson Bike Week, BICAS…the list goes on and on. Scores of community groups are here on a regular basis, representing really the whole range of what makes Tucson interesting, the people that are working hard to make this an engaging place to live in. (click here to see a few more examples)
jhon: What is the situation with your building? Talk about that.
Dwight: Just a little history. This building is owned by Arizona Department of Transportation. About 20-some years ago ADOT acquired all these buildings along Toole through Eminent Domain for a road that now will be built elsewhere. And over the decades, artists came in and got leases on these buildings. Places like Solar Culture were here like a decade before I moved in here. But I’ve been here almost eleven years now on a month-to-month lease, with the understanding that ADOT could dispose of this building at any time. And lately that time frame has been pushed up. The auction that was scheduled for last Tuesday where ADOT was hoping to sell off the remainder of the warehouse assets, they had ten buildings up for auction and only three of them sold. No one bid on this one, presumably because the price tag in the current market was too high. So we’re breathing easier about that. We understand the building is still for sale and it could go in a matter of a couple of months, but there’s no imminent date of eviction, so things have shifted for the better in terms of that situation.
jhon: So you’ve been trying to raise money to buy the building?
Dwight: We’ve been raising money knowing that we want to keep doing this work, and the best situation for us is a permanent facility that’s affordable. This space has been such a gift for us, and in turn to the community, because we have low overhead and an affordable workspace. That’s becoming less and less available in Tucson. So we want to purchase a facility that will allow us to keep doing our work and servicing the community affordably. The current price-tag of this building makes it questionable whether it’s ever going to be affordable, so while we’re raising money with that as an option, we’re also looking at other options, including building our own facility somewhere that would be less expensive.
jhon: How’s it all going, the fundraising?
Dwight: The fundraising is going remarkably well. We’ve raised $22,000, we set a goal of $30,000, and we’re ending our fundraising campaign on the 25th of April at the Gloo Factory Art Auction. At that time we’ll be so grateful with whatever we end up with. I think we’ll get to our goal of $30,000, and that will be used for either a down payment on a new place, potentially to bid on this building, or for bricks and mortar to build our own building somewhere. So it will go to ensure that we’re able to keep doing this work in the future.
jhon: Awesome. And what’s your background, how did you come into doing all this in the first place?
Dwight: I studied photography as a fine art in college. I got pretty disillusioned with just making art and drifted more into political organizing. But I discovered that there were needs there too, both for more creative messaging, for the means of controlling our own production of media, and for affordability in producing media too. I partnered with a friend of mine who studied printing at the same school I went to; we bought a couple of printing presses and started cranking out leaflets, protest propaganda. And that evolved into something that was just more of a community-based asset, producing media for all types of things, not just for political work. So I guess it was a blending of both: using my creative tools and education, and my passion for politics and community.
jhon: Other than the purchase of a facility, be it here or elsewhere, what are your plans or hopes for Gloo Factory in the future?
Dwight: We’re enjoying rapid growth. In particular in the last few months as our plight with the state has been popularized through the media, a lot more people are getting interested in this, so we’ve been holding workshops, and more people have expressed interest in doing this kind of work. So I think that the brightest vision that we have includes expanding in ways that involve a lot more people and supporting other projects starting up. While we want to find a permanent facility and make our situation sustainable and even grow it, we would like also to continue supporting other independent media projects and other people to continue doing this work.
In the last month we’ve had two workshops and out of that a dozen people have gone through them and developed some skills that they can take out there into the community and start creating their own situation.
jhon: How available is Gloo Factory to people in that particular regard, as far as coming in and actually learning how to do something?
Dwight: We hope more and more so in the future, and I think the most successful way is going to be formal workshops, and we intend to keep those going on a regular basis. We also do work-trade for people; if someone’s sincere and motivated and can present themselves in that way, I’ll work with them.
jhon: And if you had to summarize the importance of Gloo Factory and community support for Gloo Factory for the average person who’s not necessarily involved with one of the organizations or businesses you work with, how would you convey that to them? How does Gloo Factory impact just the average person living in Tucson, or how can it?
Dwight: The average person in Tucson may not know that they’re looking at a sticker made by the Gloo Factory, but it might shift their way of thinking a little bit. Or the same for an event that happens that changes their way of seeing things –something like the Cyclovia event, where we hope tens of thousands of Tucsonans will participate in a unique, car-free experience– those are the types of events that we support, that we hope ultimately shift the community towards a more healthy way of living. So we’re just a small part of a larger community that’s working and bringing really amazing things to Tucson. Things like the All Souls Procession, groups like BICAS, those are phenomenon that have grown out of this warehouse district, and just like those we have benefitted from having support of community and a creative community that is really unique.
To learn more about the Gloo Factory, keep up to speed with developments in their search for a permanent space to continue the great work they do, or to find out how to become involved yourself, go to savethegloofactory.org .
And for Gloo Factory products, check out peacesupplies.org .