Thursday, 7 January 2016

Community Art Project at Amityville Public Library

Today, we’ve got a great interview with Ann Hofbauer about a clever solution to a space problem in her library– and how it turned into an incredible community art show. She’s got lots of tips and tricks to share. Enjoy! ~Erinn
Library as Incubator Project (LAIP): Tell us a little bit about how this community project got started. 

Ann Hofbauer (AH): The original problem we were working to solve was the lack of formal gallery spaces both at the library and in the community coupled with a high community demand for arts facilities.

I attended a village hall style meeting at the local high school in November of 2014 in which hundreds of Amityville residents expressed a strong interest to bring an ArtSpace to downtown Amityville. ArtSpace is a national nonprofit organization, specializing in creative placemaking, whose goal is to serve as a catalyst for community transformation by providing affordable live/work space to artists and arts organizations.

Cultural Center

Creative inspiration also came from a panel of the Amityville Artists Circle mural in the library called From Salt Hay To Modern Day depicting a future, which included a community “cultural center.” My thinking was that the library could fill a void and serve as that cultural space where members of the community can share their art, their creations.

Why should the library just be filled with books written by others? Let the community tell its own story through its art.

The library had no formal gallery space. But we did have large corkboards that lined the perimeter of the adult department that were left uncovered for most of the year until the Summer Reading Club. After a brainstorming session with library page Emily Spizzirri (pages are where some of the most inspiring ideas come from), we thought “wouldn’t it be lovely to cover the old crumbling corkboards in the adult department with beautiful art from community members?”

From this the Amityville Public Library Community Art Project was born!

Community Art Project Murals

LAIP: How did you find work to show? 

AH: We found work to show for the Community Art Project by putting an open call out to local artists of all ages and ability via the library website, newsletter, social media, and flyers. Word got around and soon we had enough artists to fill all 19 spaces available. The artists were supplied a 3 x 4 ft. canvas roll or mixed media paper and were free to create with no theme assigned.

Even more interest was generated once the Community Project was up. Patrons I would help everyday at the reference desk were accomplished or aspiring artists creating amazing work that they wanted to share! I even discovered that music albums I grew up listening to have cover art from Amityville residents. Award-winning photographer Joseph Szabo’s Priscilla was on the cover of the Dinosaur Jr. Album Greenmind, and Jermaine “Griff Dogg” Griffin’s art is on the cover of De La Soul’s Buhloone Mind State! One of our Library clerks Chris O’Leary had a T-shirt line at Hot Topic!

These interactions with local artists (aka library patrons) inspired the first Amityville Public Library Community Art Show. Why limit the community art experience to the Community Art Project? A show was in order. We were already having a SpringFest so we just went full-steam ahead and added the first Community Art Show to the program.

I worked with local artist Billy Levenberg, and we came up with a theme “Our Dreams, Our Imaginations.” Since the mission of the Community Art Show was to be inclusive not exclusive, to bring artists and the community together, we did not want a juried art show with winners or losers.

1st Community Art Show

We had a team of artists and dedicated staff members that worked at full speed to have the exhibit ready on time. Despite the frigid snowy weather (yes, it snowed for SpringFest) the show was well received. Just as fast as the artwork went up, the artwork had to come down. We had a full slate of programs the next day scheduled for the community room.

For the second round of the Community Art Project our artist base expanded. There were more artists than space. To accommodate the artists we decided to expand beyond the corkboard to the wall above the windows from 19 pieces to 29 pieces.

Community Art Above Windows

We had it in the budget for the library to purchase 12 portable art walls for the art show. Working with Artist Chris O’Leary, we decided to assign each participating artist a side of a panel to display their works of art. Again, the show was open to artists of all ages and ability with preference given to Amityville cardholders.

Screen shot 2016-01-04 at 9.17.45 PM

The art started pouring in. We had over 100 submissions and all 24 sides of the panels spoken for! There wasn’t enough room on the panels, so local art instructor Amy Vail brought her boxes to make up for space to exhibit work of her students. We moved the art show upstairs to the main floor where the Community Art Project murals were and kept the exhibit up for patrons to enjoy for the entire month.

For the second show we had over 100 pieces of art to hang. The T-formation in which we were counting on configuring the panels was not strong enough to hang the artwork safely, so we had to rethink the entire layout. Artist Chris O’Leary, librarian Adrienne Brosseau and myself worked from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. the night before the show getting all the work up on the panels. Lesson learned.

2nd Community Art Show

The show grew dramatically, including work from over 40 artists from Amityville, music from local band Mind Open, vegetarian finger foods from local restaurant Cornucopia’s Noshery, and a collaborative coloring canvas. We had over 100 community members including several local politicians come out on opening night to show their support

LAIP: Most gallery spaces are relatively passive (come in, see art, move on). How does your library work to make your gallery an active space where work isn’t just seen, but interacted with in some way?

AH: We’ve done a couple of things:

Collaborative Book Tree For the first Community Art Show attendees were given leaves cut from book pages to adorn an upcycled tree, sculpted by Brooke Tarantino, with their poems and drawings.

Collaborative Book Tree

Collaborative Coloring Canvas For the second Community Art Show we had a collaborative coloring canvas from Fancy Features for attendees to color in with paint pens.

Coloring Canvas

LAIP: Tell us about some logistics– what kinds of challenges did you run into, and how did you work through them?

AH: We’ve learned a lot in the last year or so!

Hanging the Artwork – A custodian was needed to hang the Community Art Project artwork on the corkboard. The height was an issue. The first year before we re-corked the walls the cork was crumbling. Our custodian Charlie could only get on the ladder to hang the work before the library opened which also cut into his cleaning time. Additional custodians needed to be called in to help line the corkboard with white paper.

For the first show the library did not own any art panels to display the work or have any formal gallery area. We were going to use removable hooks on the walls in the community room since we did not have a budget to purchase portable art panels. Thankfully artist R.T. Morgan saved the day, offering the library the use of his own personal panels. That week there were multiple major snowstorms, and the panels could not be delivered to the library until a few hours before the show!

Costs Expenses can add up quickly. The canvas roll paper, the portable art panels, food, and even the hooks to hang the art cost money. We do not have a Friends of the Library, so the money had to come out of the library budget. Luckily the expenses weren’t dramatic, and we evaluated what library programs weren’t working and just cut a few that had low attendance to make up for the costs.

Communication If you have 40 artists participating, you have 40 people to communicate and coordinate with. Keep their emails and contact information on file. Create a group for email blasts in the library in your email marketing software. Overall personal one on one emails, phone calls, and face-to-face communication work the best. Communication with staff is equally important. I will touch upon that on in deadlines and space planning.

Storage and Inventory Accurate inventory needs to be kept; make sure that all artwork is labeled with artist, title, and medium. A safe place is needed to store the artwork before it is displayed and once it is taken down awaiting pickup.

Deadlines Artists keep their own time. Some will show up a week early. Some will show up a few days late. This means all staff members need to be in the know, because you might not be there when the artists drop off their work no matter how well you planned it. Staff needs to know what contracts need to be signed, where the art goes, and how artwork needs to be labeled. Flexibility is a must (within reason). If you stick to the guidelines/deadlines without some flexibility you won’t have a show.

Make a Printed Program – Easier said than done. First, you need a staff member with strong layout skills. Second, making the program will happen up until the very last moment you receive your last piece of art, which in reality, means your staff member (Thank you Jackie Colello!) will be tweaking the program until the day off the art show. Artists and patrons loved the program.

Space Planning and Delegation of Duties Plan how your are going to move furniture around before the day of the show. We had help from interior designer and Community Art Project artist Lauren Gerjikian who measured out the space and provided us with layout expertise. And even with that help, what we thought was going work with the art panels did not. Luckily we planned ahead. Have a game plan. Delegate who is in charge of specific duties (e.g., food, music, photography, moving furniture and panels, etc.) to avoid confusion the night of the show.

Remember It’s a COMMUNITY Art Show – It takes a community to put together a community art show. Give credit where credit is due. There are many volunteers and staff members working hard to make the vision a reality. Give them credit in the newsletter, on your website, and on social media. Without them there would be no show. Finally, you won’t be able to make all the community connections right off the bat. If you nourish them community connections will evolve and grow over time.

LAIP: What plans do you have to build on this success? What advice do you have for other libraries who might want to build a community gallery presence?

AH: The Library looks forward to partnering with the artists, schools, and community organizations to collaborate on additional community art projects to share outside the walls of the Library. Opportunities to let our patrons inspire us are endless. I feel strongly that, as librarians, we need to listen and be there to help our patrons make their dreams a reality. Make the space. Move some furniture if you have to. Find the money in your program budget. Make it happen. If your library is open to the idea, it will come to fruition.

Make the space. Move some furniture if you have to. Find the money in your program budget. Make it happen.

More info at:


Ann Hofbauer HeadshotAnn Hofbauer is the Assistant Director at the Amityville Public Library. In addition to the Community Art Project and Community Art Show she has lead community initiatives Geek the Library, Patron Picks, and the Amityville Beat Club—an electronic music program for teens. She is chair of the Partnership of Automated Libraries in Suffolk Technical Advisory Committee, which serves to improve the usability of the library automation system for patrons and staff.

from Library as Incubator Project

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