Thursday, January 26, 2012

Art Among the Stacks

Back in September, 2008, when I moved to my current job at the high school level, I was doing a lot of reading about library programs. Then the November issue of School library Journal arrived, and I read David Loertscher's Flip This Library: School Libraries Need a Revolution. That was it, we were making the transition to a learning commons. We haven't looked back.

Loertscher's article mentioned an aspect of the learning commons that resonated deeply with me; that  it should reflect our school population and culture.  

"Finally, the library will become the hub of teaching and learning—a place that everyone owns and contributes to—one giant conversation that’s both a social and a learning network."

I wanted our students to see reflections of themselves in the space. With repeated invitations to the various departments, we began to receive and display student work. It has grown into regular, rotating  installations of all sorts.

We have had books of Latin translations, created by students with meticulous attention to detail and craft, on display for other students to handle and read. Displays of 3D art from our digital art class, and hand crafted instruments from a class studying the physics of sound and music. We have hosted live performances of our Jazz Band and a poetry flash mob. We also host the weekly meetings of the Taiko Japanese Drum Club. They are even louder than the Jazz Band!


New art is going in right now, and it refreshes the energy of the space after the whirl and exhaustion of mid-terms.

•    We just installed a gift of four student-made, manga style panels from our sister school in Japan.
•    One of our  students is working on a mural promoting a new program in school.
•    We just cleared an art installation of structures created with natural objects, and will soon be receiving another student exhibit of ceramics.
•    We have some items from the Urban Art Club that seem to have become permanent, but they sometimes surprise us with new pieces.

We branched out this year and actually hosted the full staging of the theater department production of "The Lion in Winter." Students moved the book stacks and they built a full stage with heavy duty scenery, hung lights and and ran sound. Students spent weeks painting our windows to look like an ancient stone castle. It was fantastic! The best part was the ownership they felt for the space. They made it their own. We got to meet and interact with many of the theater crowd we wouldn't ordinarily see on a day-to-day basis. We won't do a full-scale production like that again, because it was pretty disruptive. A huge amount of fun, though.

Our criteria in accepting art and performances is that the works must be created within the program of the school, meaning art courses, theater courses and school clubs. Murals need to be cleared with the Principal first, and have a sponsoring teacher who provides oversight.

Our administration is very, very supportive of student art being on display. In fact, school committee meets in our space and they have been known to comment on the changing student art during their televised meetings. We are lucky enough to be getting a new building, and the new learning commons is being designed with display space for student art in mind.

Students we had never seen before have come to help a friend with a mural, or to check out a new display. And guess what? They keep coming back. Treating our space as a community gallery was one of the best decisions we ever made.

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