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Art in the Library

Gwinnett County Public Library, GA
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Innovation Summary

GCPL has integrated an arts component into branch and outreach programming in order to actively engage customers in a fuller humanities experience, showcasing Gwinnett’s visual artists and expanding the availability of the county’s cultural life to those citizens for whom access to the arts may be limited.

Problem Statement

The initiative is a fulfillment of Objective 3.3 in GCPL’s 2012 Strategic Plan: “By June 30, 2012, all branches will have incorporated an arts component into their facilities.” Integrated art programs would also increase the visibility of our community arts partners, illustrating the value and relevance of the library and the humanities to both the general public and funding officials throughout the region. GCPL’s wanted to establish the library as a cultural gathering place promoting a “Commons” environment, a concept stemming from the recurring observation that Gwinnett is composed of many individual neighborhoods, but has few natural community focal points. Connecting local artists with their library provides a great sense of belonging and is a wonderful opportunity to bring the library to the attention of the county’s multi-cultural communities. Local artists would submit their works at no cost to be displayed in eight selected branches; visual works—traditional, modern, ethnic—that could reflect the artist’s background and, in some cases, the role that libraries and reading have played in their culture. In addition, customers would be invited to participate in a campaign to create works of art from discarded library materials. Essentially, this initiative would not only support art in the library, it would also promote the creation of art from the library.


Space was allotted in eight specially selected GCPL branches to exhibit multiple works of art. Each branch forged relationships with local art groups and individual artists across the county were actively solicited. Displays featured a wide variety of art mediums from painting and quilting to pottery and glass design. This was a great opportunity for the artists and the library—the library provides the space and viewing opportunity and the artists supply the art and hosted discussions of the work with the public, a partnership that gave viewers a more personal and intimate perspective on art and the artist. Artists were encouraged to promote and even sell their work and GCPL created basic content and display guidelines and contracts for artists to sign. GCPL also created campaigns inviting staff and customers to create art from recycled and discarded library materials—an imaginative and stylish way to increase the library’s visibility in the community and allow library customers to contribute to our art initiative. Campaigns were presented in the following categories: • Altered Books: Discarded (weeded) books were creatively recycled into works of art • Pulp Fashion: Literary-themed dresses designed from recycled library material and modeled in a public fashion show (entries included a flapper dress made from a weeded copies of The Great Gatsby) • Chair-ish Your Library: Chairs or benches, re-imagined through paint, collage, re-upholstery, redesign and reconstruction Entries were judged by a panel of local art critics and displayed at the Hudgens Center for the Arts, a partner museum. All entries were eventually displayed at the home branch of the artist, bringing even more bold and inventive art to the library commons.


After partnering with the public schools and inviting students to view the art work, specific branch outreach to each school cluster now includes art departments and select branches now serve as venues for students to have their work viewed by the community. The initial branch displays were so popular that GCPL integrated the initiative into the ongoing programming and now all fifteen branches display the works of local artists on a daily basis. An art tab has been installed on GCPL’s homepage to provide “Now Showing” information for artists and branches, thus providing additional exposure for local artists (GCPL’s website gets over 4 million hits a year.) Additionally, GCPL has accumulated a considerable database of working local artists. GCPL had over 65 entries in their recycled art campaigns. Because we used recycled county material, it was essential that we inform customers—in clear understandable language—of our weeding/recycling philosophy. This preempted any potential criticism of the program as a “waste of taxpayer funded library books.” The Art in the Library initiative was cited with a 2012 Community Impact Award from the ArtWorks! Gwinnett organization: “In recognition of the contributions made toward the advancement of arts and creativity in Gwinnett County.” The partnership between the Hudgens Museum and the library enhanced the patronage and visibility of both organizations. GCPL believes that engaging the community and reflecting the role that the humanities and the public library have of bringing people together—can foster a lifelong love of the arts and the library.