It took three years to come together. It's happening at 50 locations over the span of one month. Its main conference, which spans four days, features 35 speakers with attendees from 10 countries. Crossing Boundaries: An East-West Symposium of Print Art only faces one depressing number: attendance and the actual conference. "We were shooting for between 400 and 500 attendees," says Eleanor Erskine, chairwoman of Crossing Boundaries' volunteer steering committee. "The fax machine was just smoking before Sept. 11. Now we're trying to address our locals, because people want to stay near home right now."

In order to whet Portlanders' interest, the symposium is offering day passes to the conference, which begins Wednesday, Oct. 10, and concludes Sunday, Oct. 14. The symposium runs both broad and deep, covering cultural issues, printmaking and collecting. All over the city, galleries have exhibited prints from around the world, with some dating back to the 17th century. PSU is holding shows in six campus locations and will host most of the conference's activities.

The citywide collaboration has a unique regional flavor. Not only do many of the exhibitions feature Northwest artists, the East-West theme acknowledges Asia's influence on Portland. Mark Woolley Gallery is featuring work from Portland's sister city in South Korea, while Froelick Gallery has hung prints by Japanese and American artists (one by Kaoru Saito from Japan depicts a woman in medieval Florence, crossing many borders). "We realized that the boundaries are many more than geographic," says Lois Allen, a member of the steering committee. "There are social, economic and ethnic boundaries that are culturewide." In short, it's an art festival of ideas.

Consider Rae Mahaffey's current exhibition at Bullseye Glass Factory. Sunlight trickling through the window casts a pattern from a series of glass panels. The panels and the prints hanging behind them are an experiment in the similarities between fusing glass and printmaking. Mahaffey has blurred the boundary between the two media, but the sunlight has gotten to the very essence of printing itself. "In its most essential element, a print is an image that is transferred from one surface to another," says Allen. "It can be a dirty handprint on a window or a footprint on the sand. It builds from there."

According featured speaker Susan Tallman, printmaking builds from the basic into two main approaches. The first approach is followed by those who print their own work, normally academics dedicated to the medium as their primary art. The second is followed by those who have their works produced by commercial print shops and combine them with other forms. "There isn't a lot of crossover between the two," says Tallman.

Chris Sperandio is a nationally recognized artist who follows the second approach, making comic books that are printed in Singapore. He and his collaborative partner, Simon Grennan, have also created 3-D prints about people's fears and are dabbling in television animation and web projects. At the conference, he will describe one of print's most important facets: its ability to reach different groups. "The work that I do with my collaborative partner gets people who aren't in the art world involved in the art world," he says. "We also engage large audiences. We are inside and outside the art world."

The steering committee isn't considering a sequel symposium next year. Even though Epson, the Jordan Schnitzer Foundation, PSU, Augen Gallery and other institutions gave them support, they exhausted themselves with this one's extensiveness. "In all honesty, we came out with a very ambitious project with a lot of good ideas," says Erskine.

City Commissioner Charlie Hales has declared October printmaking month.

One-day passes are $90 and are available at the registration tables or by calling 252-5458. Full registration is $250 (students are $125).

An accompanying product fair at PSU's Smith Center Ballroom on Thursday and Friday will include a demonstration of Epson printers and booths from Art Media, Carolyn Staley Fine Prints, Crownpoint Press, Daniel Smith Artists Materials and Dick Blick.