March 30, 2019 — The Siuslaw Public Library turned an act of vandalism into an opportunity for art and free speech this week, as community members of all ages helped create public art to place over the library’s recently broken windows.
A total of eight pieces of “pop-up” art were hung over the library’s recently destroyed windows, with each panel representing differing questions such as “What do you love about the library?” and “What do you love about where you live?”
“So many people stopped by with their sadness about the windows and asked what they could do,” Siuslaw Library Director Meg Spencer said. “When something like the breakage happens, it can be easy to forget how much the library is loved, and how much our patrons do really care about the library. It was great for people to get a chance to express that.”
The windows were shattered two weeks ago when a disgruntled library patron, who had been banned for inappropriate behavior, hurled rocks through eight of the library’s windows.
“Luckily staff did a great job and responded quickly,” Spencer said. “He was arrested within the hour. Also very fortunately, we had a number of staff members and a couple of board members present who were able to get the glass cleaned up.”
As the support for the library began pouring in, so too did suggestions on what could be done in the interim. A few library patrons suggested installing some public art.
Spencer took the idea to the library’s Art Display Committee, which facilitates the public display of rotating art at the library, along with supporting demARTS, the yearly art demonstration held in the library’s Bromley room.
“We were thinking of having certain people do a mural or some acrylic painting and then having the public do some painting, but we thought that would be more intense,” said committee member Nicole Campanella. “I thought we needed more of a community collaboration.”
Instead, she suggested that members of the public help create the art by creating different panels for each window.
“Each of them had a theme like, “What do you want to be,’ ‘What makes you laugh,’ ‘What do you love about the library?’ And we supplied paint pens and chalk and all kinds of fun things to draw and write about each of those themes. It was done in the library itself, and anybody who walked by, the art committee said, ‘Hey, you want to participate?’”
Because it was Spring Break, the library was packed with patrons of all ages coming in for special programs throughout the week.
“And a lot of them were very creative and good artists,” Spencer said.
Each panel asked a specific question, starting with “What do you love about the library?”
“Books, of course,” one person responded underneath a bright pink picture of a smiling mask.
“The valuable knowledge and ability to better myself.”
“My friends, books, story time and Miss Gayle.”
“The amazing activities.”
And there were multiple comments about the staff.
“More times than not, young and old put down the people running the library,” Campanella said. “That says volumes for who’s working there.”
People’s responses to “What do you love about where you live?” included:
“The spirit of goodwill in our community.”
“Nice people everywhere.”
“The Siuslaw River.”
“It’s not L.A.”
These comments were surrounded by pictures of the river, rainbows and what appears to be a blue astronaut.
As for the question of what people wanted to share with the world?
“I’m already sharing my amazing kids who contribute so much to their community.”
“That wonderful feeling of peace when the first thought of the day is ‘Thank you.’”
“Animals are awesome!”
Spencer said, “It’s so lovely to see what people wrote. One kid put, ‘Don’t judge somebody just because they’re small.’ Somebody else wanted to share that purple is the best color ever.”
“I’ve always wanted to be a spy, but now I’m happy to be what I am,” one person responded to the question of “What do you want to be?”
“A happy mom.”
“The kids actually had the most profound comments,” Campanella said. “They said they wanted to be a doctor, a nurse. These were young kids who had a goal in life in what they wanted to do, and all of them involved helping others. I thought that was really great.”
After the art was finished and installed over the plywood protecting the broken windows, Spencer thanked the community for showing such overwhelming support.
“I think it wasn’t just great for the community and for the patrons, but it was really special for staff and for me,” she said. “To know that every now and then there can be moments of ‘not so great,’ but it’s really an opportunity to do something beautiful.”
The art will be displayed until Tuesday, April 9, at which time the library will be closed for the day and the windows replaced.
“The only thing we’ll be sorry about is that the art will go away,” Spencer said. “It’s meant to be a pop-up art display, momentary. I know we’ll remember them forever.”
Up next for the library’s art committee is the “Hang-it-all” exhibit in May.
“That is really a wonderful way to get people who are maybe a little afraid to show their art or just starting out,” Campanella said. “They just bring it in, we hang it for them, and the public gets to see that. The theme is ‘Things with Wings.’ People can bring in pottery, they can bring painting, they can bring in woodwork — any kind of art they want. In this one, it has to have some kind of wings on it. It’s open to the whole town.”
According to Campanella, local art, along with the wide variety of culture the library brings to the community, is what makes the institution so integral.
“I am amazed at how people love our library,” she said. “I haven’t seen this in too many towns that I’ve lived. The library seems to be a great hub of our community. I’m just amazed by how many people use our library. We have a great staff, a great volunteer staff. People are welcomed there, and I think they feel that.”