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Partners: The Library and The Humanities

Gwinnett County Public Library
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Innovation Summary

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

Innovation Leader: Denise Auger, Community Partnership Coordinator, dauger@gwinnettpl.org

Problem Statement

Library funding and operating hours have been drastically reduced at a time when library usage in every service category is higher than ever—a paradox familiar to public libraries. Although 2010 program attendance increased by 42 percent, extensive cuts forced the cancellation of the Gwinnett Reading Festival and threatened the survival of Gwinnett Reads, a community wide reading initiative, both signature library events. GCPL decided to supplement its programming by utilizing the impressive array of cultural organizations and venues available in Gwinnett County, illustrating how library-driven programs could go beyond books and reading and address larger cultural themes. Because the library has no centralized branch with a generous event space, overcrowded branch programs are often hindered by severe space limitations. Cultural venue partnerships could help the library provide enhanced program options and broaden outreach by securing larger, more centrally-located event space. Careful analysis customer satisfaction surveys and library program attendance from all age groups indicated a strong desire for accessible programs and free entertainment options for families. Gwinnett also had one of the largest concentration of arts audiences in the state and this shared public interest in the literary, visual, and performing arts was the catalyst needed to encourage the library to transform the successful—but ultimately, more self-contained—Reading Festival into a countywide, partnership-driven humanities event. The Humanities, like public libraries, are in financial jeopardy and the library determined that adopting committed cultural partnerships with organizations like the ballet, museums, and symphony, would help to create sustainable service models designed to enhance programs, increase audiences, and serve as a viable template for an uncertain economic future.

Innovation

Fall Into the Arts (FITA) is a natural extension of the library’s passion for connecting our community through programs that enrich, educate, and entertain people of all ages and backgrounds. The library invited other cultural organizations such as the Gwinnett Symphony, Gwinnett Ballet, and art museums to become part of a signature humanities event, with the library providing the literary component. Partners were 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,” and free tickets were distributed to library users.) Each participating partner would augment the diminished program and marketing budgets of the other cultural organizations through collective participation, and partners would share 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 and have an impact beyond just the signature event, promoting the relevance of the library and the humanities to both the community and to funding officials throughout the region. FITA programs draw on committed partnerships with local media, businesses, and cultural organizations and individual artists and authors donate time, work, and appearance fees to be part of the event. Programs are co-presented in the Fall and have included: an artist’s reception and exhibit, a Halloween symphony, a special performance of “The Nutcracker” ballet, a “Meet the 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 were free and open to the public.

Progress

Some notable observations have been made from the 2010 and 2011 FITA presentations: • 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 a core library audience, 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. Promotional resources such as website access, email lists, and on-site marketing space were successfully shared and integrated among host participants, taking advantage of the anticipated interest of each host’s specific patronage (this alone helped the library reach an estimated 9,300 people). Ballet enthusiasts met authors, book lovers attended live theatre, bluegrass fans attended art exhibits—a true fusion of culture and community. FITA also rescued the “Gwinnett Reads” program (partner cross-promotion made it the third highest-attended Gwinnett Reads event in 10 years). Sharing marketing resources meant that less of the library’s money went into promotion—a near miracle of fiscal efficiency. The Local Artists display has broken out of the FITA niche and become an ongoing branch program, while each partnering organization has expressed great interest in building on our initial FITA success. The collaborative philosophy and implementation of FITA will help to ensure the program’s sustainability as the library endeavors to promote the importance of common interests, community pride, and civic engagement.