A couple of weeks ago I travelled to Leeds to represent Tall Tales at the National Arts in Libraries Symposium at Leeds Central Library. Delegates gathered within Room 700, a new multi-arts space positioned in between the music and arts library. The day begins with an inspirational quote directed at a room full of employees of local authority libraries.
‘Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities’. R. David Lankes
The symposium coincided with the announcement of a new investment strategy specifically for libraries in the arts council funding. A helpful advice session was delivered in the lunch break for those wanting to find out more from the arts council representatives.
To find out more about the grants programme you can click here.
The conference sets out different examples of when libraries have brought innovative art in to their buildings. Inspiring libraries to encourage a new audience to enter their doors whilst not isolating their traditional library visitors. Throughout the day we were encouraged to split in to smaller sessions to hear about the people involved’ different experiences of doing so, highlighting the difficulties as well as their successes.
Buffalo and Purple Patch Arts – Under Milkwood
This was a multi sensory immersive installation responding to the poetry of Dylan Thomas within Room 700 at Leeds Library. Buffalo arts were commissioned by Yorkshire based, Purple Patch Arts who work to improve the lives and life chances of people with learning disabilities.
What I particularly took away from this session was how employees of the library have to be considered as part of the engaging audience. The exhibit worked really well not just for its artistic merit and ability to bring multi-sensory experiences to a wider audience but also to create a calming haven in the library that inspires the staff and encourages them to want to spend their lunch breaks in.
Manchester Libraries and Brighter Sound
This project showed how by working with new and innovative delivery partners, libraries could support artists, providing them with a unique platform to explore their resources. To coincide with the re-opening of Manchester Central Library Brighter Sounds coordinated a programme of residencies, showcases, workshops and gigs entitled ‘Chaos to Order’. A highlight was working with the indie band EverythingEverything who ‘were keen to connect with the library staff ‘ and were enthralled by exploring the different areas of the historic building. All involved were quick to explain to the workshops audience that the ‘Echo Trace’ element of the programme included the involvement of branch libraries in Greater Manchester.
St Helens Council and Re-Dock
I really enjoyed the Doing Digital Arts in Libraries session, in part because such an enthusiastic workshop leader, Owen Hutchings from St Helens Council, delivered it. Who, from the beginning explained that if a library brings digital art in to their libraries with the sole aim to get people to use their computers more they will set themselves up to fail. Owen went on to give examples of projects which have taken place to date but the majority of the session was taken up with a ‘give it a go’ section getting the audience to play with the simple digital and analogue arts technologies used in their projects. Neil Winterburn, who works with Re-Dock, showed us how to build a basic kinetic robot. The other group was led by Hwa Young Jun played with the online text adventure game Northern Powerhouse 2065. Developed with FACT Liverpool, it explores a dystopian scenario created by young people from Hull, Burnley and Wigan.
Coming to the conference from the perspective of someone working on an arts project in a library rather than an employee from the library itself, I found it enlightening to see Tall Tales projects such as Call for Cloth in a new light. ‘Authentic engagement’ with library staff was an issue that kept being brought up as a possible problem when bringing new art forms in to library spaces. But that ‘ownership and consultation’ are key to positively changing this. Involving library staff from the beginning, utilizing their expert knowledge of their communities and resources can really improve an art works reception. I found the day inspirational and was grateful for the honest perspectives everybody brought to the discussions. I think the future for engaging, contemporary art in libraries as a whole is bright and positive and I now can’t wait to see Tall Tales reach Glasgow Women’s Library.
Charlie Booth, Assistant Curator for Tall Tales