When we heard that there was a library with a “resident tinker,” we knew we had to get in touch!  Read on to learn how Innisfil Public Library in Canada is bringing the creativity of the maker movement into the library space by hosting an Artist in Residence program. ~Erinn

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Alan’s humanoid robot, a work in progress

by Wendy Riccardi

Alan J.Groombridge would describe himself as a tinker, maker, artist guy…essentially a new media artist. We at Innisfil Public Library describe him as our most recent Artist in Residence.

IPL’s Artist-in-Residence program evolved from an author-in-residence programme which was hosted most successfully in 2003 with Edo van Belkom and 2009 with Shane Peacock. In addition, IPL has served as a venue for local artists to display their creations at our branches with dedicated display space for rotating exhibits.  IPL has also participated in various local studio tours, providing artisans a venue for sharing their talents with a wider audience. The innovative Artist in Residence programmer takes this goal of fostering creativity at Innisfil one step further.

The Artist in Residence programme originated as part of the summer programming to add an unexpected flavour within IPL’s environment and enhance community exposure to different types of ‘art’. Previous artists have not only been creative and inventive, but also comfortable with technology, which meshes perfectly with IPL’s new Strategic Plan.  IPL is ‘sparking ideas to ignite a creative and dynamic community‘ and has placed a priority on celebrating the integrity of artistic expression of all cultures, encouraging artistic excellence and working to increase public awareness and involvement in the arts.

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Alan tinkering with an Arduino micro-controller board

IPL has also participated in the Community-Access-Program for many years and as such has been the place to go to for access to technology, and receive information and training pertaining to new technologies. The Artist in Residence program helps to increase our community’s knowledge of, experience with, and comfort level with a variety of technology and art.

IPL’s Artist in Residence is tasked with cultivating a “hacker ethic”

IPL’s Artist in Residence is tasked with cultivating a “hacker ethic”, providing programming, demonstrations, and training with customers and staff, providing outreach to local schools and through various events in the community. The perfect candidate for this position is a creative individual with innovative talents, unique skills, and fresh ideas. Alan met these criteria well with his MFA from Concordia University, specializing in Open Media.  Within Alan’s studio, you might find robotics, kinetic sculptures, interactive installations, free-form electronics, as well as, more traditional artistic media like drawings, prints, and sculptures.

As IPL’s most recent Artist in Residence, Alan Groombridge has been tinkering and interacting in the public spaces, with the final goal of producing a self-directed art project – a responsive, humanoid robot bust. In addition, his role includes describing his projects and processes to curious bystanders, and making referrals and suggestions to community members interested in pursuing similar types of physical research.

A wide cross section of the public is very curious about my robot project and they would approach the subject matter each from their own level of technological competency and enthusiasm. ~Alan Groombridge, Artist in Residence

To make the program successful, IPL provides each Artist in Residence with resources including space, time, and financial support to deepen their practices, create works, investigate ideas, and experiment with materials. Staff members are enthusiastic and willing to promote the programme, eager to learn new skills and ideas, and excited about working in collaboration with the Artist in Residence. The program’s success is measured  against achieving initial goals, the level of interest in the programmes offered (attendance), comments made by customers, the level and frequency of patron interactions, and positive stories of increased empowerment to explore and learn in similar areas.

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Hooking up a tiny servo controller board

IPL’s advice to libraries interested in pursuing this program is to be willing to try new and different activities, be flexible, watch and evaluate trends (even outside the Library world!), and listen to needs and desires of the community. IPL has gained recognition in the community for our innovation, our fearlessness and wildly unexpected programs and services we offer. From our digital media lab, which provides an outlet for the creative juices of the community, to our 3D printer, which enables people to design and build anything from a 3D creature to an intricate sculpture, we are always looking for ways to surprise and delight the community. IPL will continue to put an emphasis on continuing the programme, and devote the needed time and resources to make it happen in future years. Creating, experimenting and working on artistic projects within the open setting of the Library has undoubtedly delighted, inspired, and mentored others.

I think that my Artist in Residency was beneficial to the Innisfil Public Library and its’ patrons by encouraging and displaying positive hacker / maker culture and another creative use of the library within the community.

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