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A Gallery within a Public Library

June 10, 2008

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exhibition photos by Heather Kearns
The public library has always been one of my favorite destinations and resources in every city that I have lived in, but rarely have I thought of the library as a location to exhibit or see contemporary art (except, of course, in the many books within the collection.) This changed when curator Trish Nixon and gallery director Sherry Best invited me to exhibit 65 of my machine-animal collage prints at the Alice C. Sabitini Gallery which is located INSIDE the Topeka & Shawne County Public Library in Topeka, Kansas. As you walk through the main entrance of the library, the gallery is directly to ones right.
The beauty of this is location is that all types of library patrons will stop by and check out the current exhibit and be exposed to the art and the ideas conveyed. The curators also geared the specific show that I was in to kids and set up a room within the gallery with collage source material, a photocopier and supplies for kids to make collages, draw on the chalk-board painted walls, and put up their work up for all to see.
I was so moved by this experience for it was arguably one of the most non-elitist art exhibitions that I have been involved in due to the wide range of people who stopped by to see the show. Although this is a generalization, the majority of galleries, art museums, and even underground art spaces that I know about tend to cater to those who are already in the know — those who already have an interest in visual art and art history. This space did this to, but since the gallery was in such a public space, a space that people were already going to, it attracted many first time visitors from all walks of life or those who needed to pick up a book or video and had a second to stop by and see the show.
This scenario has provided the gallery staff and the artists with a vital opportunity to discuss with the public what it is that artists do and why art is so important to our lives and the health of a community. That said, the gallery staff at the Topeka & Shawne County Library were incredible in how they talked to each visitor and made people feel so welcome within a gallery setting.
To me, this was a valuable lesson that MORE galleries should try to locate themselves in easily accessible, public places. Personally, I am not familiar with any other libraries or public buildings that also have a contemporary art gallery, so if other people know of examples, please post. A contemporary art gallery within a library is such a great concept that it would be amazing to see more libraries and public places adopt the model that the Topeka & Shawne Country Public Library has. Another reason why public libraries rock!
Alice C. Sabatini Gallery in the Topeka & Shawne County Public Library
http://www.tscpl.org/gallery/

more photos of the exhibition:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/topekalibrary/sets/72157605452363426/

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2 comments on “A Gallery within a Public Library”

NICOLAS! you made my day with this. you totally get it. during your tornado warning slide show i drew a comparison between street art and our public library audience in that in both spaces, art is seamlessly embedded within peoples’ lives and daily to-do lists. by making art available to everyone and not asking them to change their routines to access it, both “venues” cut a lot of the PR work out of the equation. it becomes routine in a good way. and because of where both “venues” are located, us in an economically depressed area of topeka and street art bringing new life to blighted buildings and neighborhoods, art reaches underprivilaged audiences who need exposure the most. i tell people all the time to come to openings in their sweats. we don’t care. we just want them here.
your enthusiasm and support of what we do here is awesome. thanks so much for taking the time to write about the show and promote this concept to the justseeds audience. when asked where i think the library will be in ten years, i told the director that my dream would be to see more social institutions drawn together (head start, fine arts theater, community center, satellite education, cable tv or PBS stations) into public library spaces, administratively independant but philosophically unified. i dream of a “poor man’s university” campus that consolidates all of the above together minus traffic, minus commerce. it makes me think about something i heard the other night on charlie rose: “kids today will grow up thinking a black man as president is commonplace”. i’d like to think, because they saw HYBRID VISIONS after lunching in the cafe, reading to a dog, using the homework center and checking out new library books that art at arm’s length is commonplace. something to see and think about just like anything else.
thanks again for being such a wonderful ambassador for what we do.

Nice shots and congratulations on the new experience.
I always like going to the Brooklyn Public Library’s Main Branch because they tend to have exhibits of sorts in the main entry. A few years ago I happen to drop in to pour over the photo books and walked into Martha Cooper‘s photos from her book “The Hip Hop Files” A lot of the exhibits are photos relating to Brooklyn history, yet there are the occasional installations. You can check out the schedule at:
http://www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/events/exhibitions/