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Fall Into the Arts presented by Gwinnett County Public Library

Gwinnett County Public Library
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Innovation Summary

Gwinnett County Public Library created and implemented Fall Into the Arts, a unique series of programs presented in collaboration with community partners and dedicated to the literary, visual, and performing arts. This annual event was designed to cultivate community partnerships and broaden the public’s access to free cultural programs.

Innovation Leader: Nancy Stanbery-Kellam, Executive Director, nkellam@gwinnettpl.org

Problem Statement

Library funding and operating hours have been drastically reduced just as library usage in every service category is higher than ever. Extensive cuts forced the cancellation of the Gwinnett Reading Festival and threatened the survival of Gwinnett Reads, the countywide reading initiative, both signature library events. The library wanted to combine its limited programming and marketing resources with those of other cultural organizations and present a unique annual event highlighting the essence and relevance of the humanities while also promoting the importance of common interests, community pride, and civic engagement. Studies indicated a strong desire for free accessible cultural programs and tshared public interest in the literary, visual, and performing arts could transform the successful—but more self-contained Reading Festival—into a countywide, partnership-driven humanities event. Cultivating partnerships with organizations like the local museum, ballet, or community theatre would create a sustainable service model designed to enhance programs and marketing, provide venues, increase audiences, and serve as a viable template for an uncertain economic future. Fall Into the Arts (FITA) planners established the following objectives to be integrated into FITA’s program design and implementation: - Create programs and partnerships re-affirming and expanding the library’s role in the larger cultural community, reaching both devotees of the humanities and those unfamiliar with Gwinnett’s lively cultural scene. - Provide underserved populations with free access to cultural programs. Access may be limited by finances, lack of affordable child care, location, inadequate transportation, or a lack of English language proficiency. - Help teens cultivate a lifelong love of reading. - Partner with local cultural organizations to share resources, program venues, marketing collateral, and—especially—audiences. This increases the visibility of the library and its partners, illustrating the value and relevance of the humanities to both the general public and to funding officials throughout the region.

Innovation

The library invited cultural organizations such as the Gwinnett Symphony, Gwinnett Ballet, and local art museums to become part of FITA, a signature humanities event, with the library providing the literary component. Partners are asked to create or enhance a new or existing program to contribute to the event schedule (example: a selected Sunday performance of “The Nutcracker” ballet became “library day at the ballet,” with free tickets distributed to library users.). Each participating partner would augment the diminished program and marketing budgets of the other cultural partners by sharing resources, staff, venues, and audiences—an approach that is both expansive and efficient. FITA’s philosophy and design would work as a partnership, programming, and marketing model. Programs are co-presented in the Fall and have included an artist’s reception and exhibit, a Halloween symphony, a performance of “The Nutcracker” ballet, a popular author event at selected Title I and middle school assemblies, a weekend of live American Roots bluegrass music, the world premiere of an original play, branch displays of local artists, and the “Gwinnett Reads” program, which was integrated into the overall FITA event. Programs are always free and open to the public, which meant that many customers were able to attend multiple events as a family. Promotional resources such as website access, email lists, and on-site space were successfully shared and integrated among participants, taking advantage of the anticipated interest of each host’s specific patronage (helping the library reach an estimated 9,300 people). 400 free tickets were distributed to specifically-targeted underserved audiences via the Gwinnett Health and Human Service agencies, giving many low income families an opportunity to attend their first symphony or ballet. Diverse partnerships meant that programs were presented throughout the county in seven different cities, reaching a variety of communities and populations.

Progress

Notable observations: • Total FITA attendance: 3,272 • 77% attended multiple FITA programs • 25% visiting selected venue for the first time • 17 % attending their first library event. • 91 % looking forward to attending FITA next year Beyond reaching core library users, FITA introduced audiences to new and exciting cultural disciplines: devotees of the ballet learned about library programs and services, while library users were able to connect with the local symphony. Each venue’s audience diversity (age, ethnicity, socio-economic background) was enhanced by FITA’s policy of free access to the arts, reflecting the rich history the humanities have of bringing people together. Ballet enthusiasts met authors, book lovers attended live theatre, bluegrass fans attended art exhibits—a true fusion of culture and community. Because the library has no centralized branch with a generous event space and overcrowded branch programs are hindered by severe space limitations. FITA partnerships help the library provide enhanced program options and broaden outreach by securing larger, more centrally-located event space. FITA’s innovative philosophy of collaboration reflects how important it is for humanities programs to integrate literacy into larger cultural themes, and the event essentially rescued the “Gwinnett Reads” program (it became the third highest-attended “Gwinnett Reads” event in ten years), and because of the shared marketing between partners, considerably less of the library’s money went into promotion—a near miracle of fiscal efficiency. Local artists displays have broken out of the FITA niche and become an ongoing branch program, and each partner expressed great interest in being a part of future FITA programs. The collaborative philosophy and implementation of FITA will help to ensure the program’s sustainability as the library endeavors to fulfill its passion for connecting our community through library programs that enrich, educate, and entertain people of all ages.