by Meghan Blake-Horst. Meghan is the Gallery Manager of Absolutely Art, a Madison, Wisconsin-based art gallery that features original art and affordable gifts from local artists.
As Madison’s Community Based Art Gallery, Absolutely Art is committed to connecting with and giving back to our city neighbors. Since 2005 we have partnered with countless nonprofits, schools and libraries in a variety of ways.
In 2008, I was approached by two of our artists and one of my staff with an idea to recycle art supplies. I listened to their idea and we met a few times and the Re-Art SWAP was born. Once a year we invite the community into our backyard to leave the supplies they are no longer using and trade them for new supplies they will use. Then throughout the year we do the same by appointment. The SWAP has redistributed supplies to libraries, schools, daycares, families, and of course artists!
Through the SWAP I met Toni Streckert from the Monona Public Library. She had come to some of our events and picked up supplies for upcoming events and programs at the library. I was thrilled they were able to benefit from the supplies. The Monona Public Library has a special place in my heart. I used to have playpractice there as a kid through Play Time Productions and then later it has become my children’s favorite library! We had been in touch a few times when Toni asked me about partnering with the library, Susan G. Komen and their artist Liina Keerd for a show being hung in October, 2011. Toni was looking for 4-5 other local artists whose lives had been affected by cancer. I sent out a call to some of the artists I represent. Laurel Schwartz, Jennie Nuese, Sarah Brooks and Richard Ely answered the call. The show “The Journey Within” was installed a few weeks later. This inspiring show will run until 11/27/11.
Absolutely Art features new artists every month with an opening reception the first Friday of the month. This past April we celebrated our 6th birthday, and I thought what better way to celebrate than to feature the works of elementary-aged kids. I partnered with Lowell School and Lapham School. The art teacher at Lowell, Katharine Goray, had been working with her students studying African culture. They had learned of the need for libraries in Africa, and Ghana in particular. The kids decided to raise money to help build a library. The kids raised nearly $2000 for the Library project from the show! It was amazing.
About a year and a half ago Todd Bol and Rick Brooks came to my store to discuss their Little Free Libraries. With them they brought a few examples. Some were painted by artists and others were built by an Amish Craftsman, Henry Miller, from Northern WI. I loved the Libraries right away!
We talked for a bit about their ideas and the need for sharing literacy as a way of bringing communities together by bridging private and public spaces. The idea was simple; take a book, leave a book. Beautiful! It was a very similar concept to our Re-Art SWAP, but with books. Needless to say, I loved the concept as well. They asked if they could plant the first one in Madison in our backyard. I did not hesitate as I said “Yes!” We walked out and assessed the yard and decided to place it down alongside the Capital City Bike Path that is outside our backdoor. Even before it was installed it was getting attention and it was used right away by a few of our customers. They also asked me if I was interested in being part of an advisory board for the Little Free Library (LFL) program. I again said yes. I was very inspired by what I had just seen as well as the potential for connecting our artists to the LFL program. Today we are one of the only retail locations in the country hosting a LFL, and the LFL program has now installed and sent out libraries all around the world.
Absolutely Art is proud of the connections we have fostered in our fist six years of business and we look forward to other opportunities to connect with the community in the future!
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