We’re delighted to welcome Kara West to the site today! Kara is the Arts and Culture Exhibition Manager at the San Diego Public Library.  In this new series for the Library as Incubator Project, she’ll be sharing the exciting things SDPL is doing to create a civic center for art with their new Central library and how they’re building an exhibition program that will bring art to all thirty-five SDPL branches.  ~Erinn

RM3 by John Durant

Roy McMakin, Recreations of Furniture Found and Discarded in Alleys and on Curbs While Driving Around San Diego Several Bright Afternoons with David, 2013; photography ©2013 John Durant

ON VIEW at the San Diego Public Library

by Kara West

There is a lot to see at the new Central Library in San Diego. On the first floor alone one can spend hours enjoying the 350 seat capacity auditorium, the garden courtyard, the Dr. Seuss themed Sanford Children’s Library, and the ICAN! Center serving persons with disabilities. Other floors are equally exciting with the Pauline Foster Teen Center (2nd floor), a TV studio (4th floor), the IDEA Lab with MakerBot 3-D printers (8th floor), and even the e3 Civic High school (6th and 7th floor). Visitors can opt to settle in one of the many study rooms, reading nooks, or the grand Helen Price Reading room (8th floor), otherwise known as the “People’s Penthouse.” There are breathtaking views of the city skyline and bay, and diverse services and space for civic engagement.  But, there is something else that is very present on every single floor – art, lots and lots of art. And since art and libraries are kind of my thing, that’s what I am going to focus on. How the San Diego Public Library (SDPL) has created a civic center for art and how an exhibition program is going beyond the Central Library and out to all 35 branch libraries.

San Diego Public Library has created a civic center for art.  Now the exhibition program is going beyond the Central Library and out to all 35 branch libraries.

Central Library San Diego: Art Gallery

On View: Kenneth Capps. Installation views.

Art in the libraries is not new to SDPL. Items from the Civic Art Collection can be found in many branches and with the City Council’s policy on public art requiring 2% for art in City capital improvement projects; we have become the home of many wonderful site specific public artworks. Additionally, we have offered a popular Visual Arts Program since 1997.

The mission of the Visual Arts Program is to demonstrate the library’s role as a cultural institution embracing a broad range of disciplines, while assisting San Diego’s mid-career and older professional artists in achieving wider local, regional, and national attention. This was achieved primarily through a flagship gallery created in the Pacific Beach/Taylor Branch Library community room. Over the next decade, the library built on this success by displaying the work of mid-career and older artists at a number of branches throughout the system. The program was critically acclaimed, receiving both regional and national attention.

With a mission to “to inspire lifelong learning through connections to knowledge and each other,” SDPL embarked on a new course in late 2012. In preparation for the opening of the new Central Library, we introduced a new logo and tagline, “Discover Your Next Chapter.” The next chapter for SDPL includes a rebirth for the entire San Diego Public Library system. The Central Library is a testing ground for new services and paves the way to provide exciting programs and services to branch libraries. Cue music – that’s where I come in, at least in one small part. As the new Library Arts and Culture Exhibition Manager I am a coordinator for exhibitions in our 3,000 square foot gallery and the Valeiras Sculpture Garden on the 9th floor of the Central Library. Additionally I am helping to establish a transparent application process and best practices for community galleries at many of our branch libraries.

To mark this evolution of our exhibition program we recently introduced a new program name. On View is the San Diego Public Library’s commitment to provide a dynamic and responsive Library Arts and Culture Exhibition Program. On View programs allow free access to the visual arts and cultural exhibitions, while promoting San Diego artists and creative community groups.

Central Library San Diego: Art Gallery

Renewed: A Short Story About the San Diego Public Library’s Visual Art Program & On View: Kenneth Capps, installation views, New Central Library Art Gallery; photography ©2013 Philipp Scholz Rittermann

In a nutshell, it comes down to the coordination of a lot of what we already do:

  1. We have a highly acclaimed Visual Arts Program.
  2. We have the opportunity to provide community galleries in branches.
  3. Art and libraries are a natural fit – the majority of the artworks in the Civic Art Collection are displayed in libraries.
  4. We have a need to create sustainable programs that are reliant on each other and are connected to the central core or mission.
DLT4 by John Durant

Einar and Jamex de la Torre, Corpus Callosum, 2013; photography ©2013 John Durant

In the coming year I will be reporting on various aspects of our program–from putting an exhibition together at Central to building the capacity of our community galleries at branches. I hope you enjoy the series and I want to thank to the Library as Incubator project for offering to help us share it and build connections with other libraries.


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Kara West is the Arts and Culture Exhibition Manager at the San Diego Public Library. A San Diego native, Kara earned her MLIS from San Jose State University and a B.A. in Art History from UC Santa Cruz. Equally happy in a library or museum, she has a fear of being more than 10 feet from a cardigan and frequently finds herself giddy over hanging hardware and good didactic labels.

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