Brother, Can You Spare a Stack: Libraries are in the Spotlight at the Center for Book Arts
The exhibit 'Brother, Can You Spare a Stack,' on view at the Center for Book Arts through March 30th, is a thoughtful consideration of the contemporary state of libraries by 13 socially engaged artists, librarians, and art collectives. Curated by Yulia Tikhonova, who organized the exhibition MAPnificent at the Mulberry Street Library in 2012, 'Brother, Can You Spare a Stack' breathes to life the spirit of librarianship in the 21st century. In today's challenged economy, public libraries are relied on more heavily than ever. The artists who have created the libraries for this exhibit have moved beyond the traditional four walls of the public library, and have brought collections and information to bookshops, to the streets, and even to laundromats!
In Bubbles and Books: A Library in a Laundromat (2011 - 2013), artist Micki Watanabe Spiller crafted and stocked a book cart filled with childrens' books for use in her local laundromat in Woodside, Queens. Noticing that kids had little to do other than watch suds go round and round, she was motivated to inspire children to read. Micki also created 'A Woodside Walk, from A to Z' a visual treasure hunt/coloring book featuring local highlights from her neighbhorhood.
Valentina Curandi and Nathaniel Katz are the mobile force behind The Pacifist Library. The duo, based in Italy, travel around the world with the weight of the world on their backs, literally. With portable bookshelves molded onto a backpack frame, they engage with pedestrians they meet about their collection, mostly works about Buddhism and social change. The project was in part Inspired by Gene Sharp's From Dictatorship to Democracy, which offers advice on non-violent resistance to repressive governments. Curandi and Katz donated copies of this book in 12 different languages to the Queens Public Library system during a recent visit to New York.
New York-based art and architecture collective BROLAB designed Piazza Grattissima for the Mott Haven branch of NYPL in the Bronx, which opened to the public in 2012. Located at the oldest branch in the brorough, Piazza Grattissima, which means Square of Gratitude, is a 250 sq. foot space that provides additional seating for reading, replete with an elevated garden. The Piazza serves as a commons for library users to both interact and relax in this beautified outdoor space.
One of the most visually striking collections in the exhibit is the Sketchbook Project — permanently housed and cataloged at the Brooklyn Art Library. Crowdsourced from participants in over 130 countries, anyone who purchases a paper or digital sketchbook from the project can participate. The Sketchbook Project started in 2006, and has grown to a vast collection of over 22,000 artist's books. You can flip through some of the digital sketchbooks online.
You can also hear about what inspires the artists in Brother, Can You Spare a Stack live in conversation at the Center for Book Arts events.
For further reading, check out former Mulberry Street Library Intern Rebecca Rubenstein's review of Brother, Can You Spare a Stack on the Library as Incubator Project blog.