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On New Year's Eve, revelers celebrating the intersection of old and new could hardly find more fitting surroundings than the work-in-progress second story space at 468 Washington St.

It's the Western New York Book Arts Collaborative, a museum, workplace and inspiration center for people devoted to paper, ink and type. The printing and book making equipment have been brought to life for the holiday, stamping out invitations to the 9 p.m. party, one copy at a time with a letterpress.

That hands-on craftsmanship is a fitting example of the center's reason for existence, supporters say.

"What the Book Arts Collaborative is doing for Buffalo is engaging its citizens to become active in making books and printed work," said Tim Conroy, a Book Arts Collaborative member and Buffalo collector of fine printing and typography.

Whether people are interested in making books or in arts like papermaking or typography, the collaborative building can become a center that "makes that possible," Conroy said. "We've never had that before."

Now the city will have a center for nascent book creators to gravitate toward, he said. "You'll have a place to do it, people who have been in it for a long time, people with fun and intelligence," he said. "What more could you want?"

Center supporters have also gotten something shiny for the mantel: a holiday ornament set in solid metal, courtesy of the Ludlow typecasting machine. "HAPPY HOLIDAYS 2008," it proclaims, in 14-point Record Gothic.

For the party, the nonprofit group will unveil its second-story space to guests and patrons. It's destined for offices and conference space, though it's a bit rough looking now, said Richard Kegler, the group's director.

"It's still pretty raw space," he said, "but it's still pretty impressive and well suited to what we're doing on New Year's."

Any jagged feelings will be filed down by David Kane on piano, and the free-flowing beer and wine on offer in addition to a cash bar. Bistro Europa will be responsible for edibles. (Tickets: $75 each, $125 couple; members $60/$100.)

Though the letterpress technologies explored in the building's working collection can be centuries old, the center will be home to digital artists as well, Conroy suggested. He pointed to Kegler's P22 Type Foundry, which designs digital typefaces for digital applications.

People will be making books with digital elements too, Conroy said. "I don't want to make this sound like it's all 'ye olde printing press,' because it's not."

It's a digital world, but old fashioned paper and ink present benefits to its practitioners. Gutenberg's printed works are readily accessible 500 years later, the center's mission statement points out. Digital works have generally become inaccessible before their second decade passes.

Since the center took over the building this summer, it's added "a half-dozen more book presses and probably two dozen more printing presses" to its arsenal, said Kegler.

"We're still working on setting up our book-binding area," said Kegler. "But we're looking at basically making it possible for artists who want to come in and work on a book project."

This fall, the center hosted a series of workshops in its inaugural season, covering topics ranging from from book stitching basics to making marbled endpapers, and from designing simple book structures to printmaking with household objects, one of several classes designed for children.

In future semesters, Kegler said, Daemen College students and and print media students from the University at Buffalo will be doing part of their class work at the center.

"In a year's time we hope to have a papermaking studio," Kegler said. "Right now we have a letterpress studio that is like a working printing history museum -- almost everything in there is 100 years old."

e-mail: agalarneau@buffnews.com