Santa Cruz Public Libraries joins global art project
The libraries’ most powerful asset is the conversation they provide – between books and readers, between children and parents, between individuals and the collective world. Take them away and those voices turn inward or vanish. Turns out that libraries have nothing at all to do with silence.”
Bella Bathurst ended her 2011 essay, “The Secret Life of Libraries” with this insight. The conversation she started in the Manchester Guardian has jumped the pond and landed squarely in Downtown Santa Cruz, and it sounds a lot like the shutter of a camera. (Remember those?)
“The Santa Cruz Public Libraries has been doing a lot of thinking about its role in the community,” says Janis O’Driscoll, a division manager for the SCPL, “and we knew this was what public libraries are all about.” Their way of chiming in will be 60 portraits of library patrons, larger than life, exhibited on their outdoor walls.
The path from print (word) to print (photo) involved a wide variety of voices—from a world-renowned artist to Santa Cruz middle school students.
The conversation was first started by French artist JR, and his 2011 TEDprize talk, an inspirational 24-minute video viewed by O’Driscoll and almost one million other people. JR’s quietly activist, boldly community-oriented and undeniably iconic portraits are installed via paper and paste on the outside public spaces. He invited the world to participate in his Inside Out project. Santa Cruz accepted.
Lending a passionate voice to the dialogue is local teacher and mother Mariah Roberts, who worked with students on similarly themed images gracing the facade of the Live Oak Market at Capitola Road and 17th Avenue. The prints give drivers a reason to look forward to red lights (and traffic). She is now the project manager for the large-scale libraries project. Roberts is thrilled to be part of this. “The library believes that conversation between voices is the essential building block of who they are,” says Roberts, who supports furthering the conversation through the celebration of community and diversity.
Almost 100 photos were snapped the last few months—of patrons, staff and supporters. The photography teams included local treasure Joop Rubens and two graduates of the UC Santa Cruz photography program, Monique Islam and Hannah Nicholson. UC Santa Cruz videographer Nick Paris captured the process for posterity (and, we suspect, YouTube).
The results will be eye-catching and unavoidable: ten-foot tall portraits affixed to the outside of the downtown branch of the library, at Church and Center streets. Smaller three-foot images will be exhibited inside the building, and will become part of a permanent movable collection.
For Roberts, the process was the most moving part of the project. Six middle school students, subjects of the Live Oak photos, became Subject Matter Experts for this new undertaking. Saray, Itzel, Rene, Dyana, Casey, Joel and Sid joined photographers at the library and recruited, informed and invited a cross section of patrons to be photographed, a process that quite literally extended this conversation beyond age, race, culture and lifestyle.
All work on this huge mission has been volunteered, from photography and design to organizing and promoting. However, the oversized printing of images is costly. A Kickstarter campaign is underway to fund this project through donations from the local community and beyond. The modest $5,000 budget is close to being met at this writing, but needs more pledges for completion.
The end result will be part of a global Inside Out project viewable on the web, with other worldwide participants. In true Santa Cruz form, Roberts and her crew are inviting the community to think globally and smile locally. “This project is at once extremely high tech in its process and absolutely basic in its humanizing results. What could be more Santa Cruz?”
Another element of the ongoing exhibit will appeal to our local democratic bent. The project crew will install voting booths at library branches and at the Museum of Art & History, in time to coincide with our nation’s quadrennial election season. We, the general public, will vote on which large-scale photographs will be displayed downtown for the following month. And the conversation continues.
Santa Cruz Libraries Inside Out celebrates its opening on Aug. 3 as part of the monthly First Friday Art Walk, and will continue through Dec. 3. Learn more at kickstarter.com; search for Santa Cruz Public Library Inside Out.