Art Librarian Tina Chan of the State University of New York at Oswego reached out recently to share her library’s exciting collaboration with the art department to show student work on a regular basis, and we’re delighted to share the partnership here on the LAIP!  Enjoy– Erinn


Library as Incubator Project (LAIP): Tell us a little bit about your library.  How did your ongoing collaboration with the art department develop?

Tina Chan (TC): Penfield Library provides services to SUNY Oswego’s 8,000+ students on and off campus.  As the art librarian and coordinator of library exhibitions and displays, my responsibilities include outreach to art faculty for library instruction, collection development, and library exhibitions.  The collaboration was a result of conversations discussing class assignments.  Knowing the mail art assignment, I invited Professor Metzgar to show his students’ mail art projects in the library, as well as Professor Metzgar’s participation in mail art.

LAIP: Tell us about this show in particular.  Whose work do we see?

Richard Metzgar (RM): Mail art is a form of communication that utilizes the postal system as its method of transfer between individuals.  An alternative art practice that emerged during the early 1960s climate of artistic, social, and political change, mail art manifests itself as a free and open activity directly between two or more people.  In opposition to the traditional gallery system and art criticism where art and artists are judged on artistic criteria such as beauty derived from compositional and material virtuosity (for example, Michelangelo’s statue of David), mail art is open to all participants regardless of artistic abilities.  This open door approach is a central principle that guides all mail art projects.

…mail art is open to all participants regardless of artistic abilities.  This open door approach is a central principle that guides all mail art projects.

Mail art projects are commonly organized through a call for work – a theme or topic is defined and an address is given to send the work.  When the organizer receives the mail art, it may be exhibited in a physical space, exhibited online, organized as a publication and distributed, and/or be retained in a personal archive.  There are a handful of criteria for organizing a mail art project or exhibition: anyone can organize a project on any topic or theme; all mail art entries are free, submitted without entry fees (as is common in typical juried art exhibitions); all work submitted will be exhibited (there is no judging of artistic quality); and no work will be returned after submission to the project.


The work on display is composed of three components: a mail art call on the topic of artist Frida Kahlo titled, What has Frida (Kahlo) in her mind? (Buenos Aires, Argentina) created by students in Freshman Colloquium during fall 2013 and spring 2014, and students in Design Concepts III-2D during spring 2014; work created under the theme of Space for the mail art call titled, Reinvention (Nashville, TN) created by students in Design Concepts III-2D during spring 2014; and selected mail art artifacts from the instructor’s personal archive from mail art activity during the late 1990s.  The student works above were mailed on May 10, 2014; sixty works to What has Frida (Kahlo) in her mind?, and thirty works to Reinvention.

At its core spirit, mail art demonstrates the willingness of its makers to engage in a creative gesture for the sole purpose of responding to a curious topic of interest.  It is a form of communication that may yield work of the highest visual character or of minor visual success.  It may serve as biting social or political commentary or it may exist as insular personal meanderings.  From its beginnings until present, mail art remains a simple act of human expression and egalitarian exchange between communities of devoted practitioners.  Mail art is indeed the space where all can enter and play.

LAIP: Why is it important for your library to show artwork?  What opportunities does it afford that are different from showing in a more traditional space, like a gallery or a museum, or even, in the case of a campus, a gallery area within an art department building?

TC: As the library is the center of teaching and learning, it is important to show artwork in the library so that anyone who enters appreciates the creative contributions of art students.  The artwork serves to highlight our art students with a diverse range of skills and interests and to enrich the learning experience for all.  Although anyone who enters the library may be there to study, conduct research, or work on a group project, they may not expect to see artwork in the library.  They serendipitously visited the library and had an opportunity to gain a deeper appreciation of the artwork.


Showing artwork in the college’s Tyler Art Gallery attracts a specific audience.  The building where the art gallery is housed includes the art, music, and theater departments.  Students, faculty, and staff affiliated with these departments may likely view artwork in the art gallery as it is located in their building.  However, showing artwork in the library attracts a wider audience, including students, faculty, and staff from other departments, and community members.  The library is a perfect venue to show artwork as it is a teaching and learning space for all students, faculty, and staff.

…showing artwork in the library attracts a wider audience, including students, faculty, and staff from other departments, and community members.

LAIP: How do you see art as information?

TC: Art gives us knowledge and understanding of the world around us.  It educates and clarifies our experience with society.  We are able to see what we did not see before.  We are able to recognize the artist’s authentic representation of how society should be.  Art may have its natural beauty and it may elicit emotions, but the value of art is what it can teach and empower us.  Art is information because it reveals a vision.  It exposes us to the artist’s world that is unique to them, and that we can respect and appreciate.

Art is information because it reveals a vision.

RM: Within the space of a library, art by its nature presents diversity; the diversity of the maker’s cultural experiences, research interests, and artistic choices.  The library’s decision to exhibit visual work reinforces the library’s mission as a center for acquiring knowledge, where one can ask questions and gain direction to the potential answers. Art as information affords the ability of viewers to ask questions of visual work and in the process, to perhaps learn more about oneself.

LAIP: What has been the reaction to showing art in the library?  From patrons?  From artists?

TC: The reaction has been very positive!  Librarians, students, faculty, staff, and community members have commented about the lovely art shown in the library.  They enjoy admiring the art and that it brightens the library atmosphere.  Art students appreciate their work shown in the library for everyone to view and enjoy.  The art librarian and the art faculty are thankful to work together to organize the shows.

Art students and faculty are pleased with the opening receptions the library hosts.  The opening receptions give student artists pre-professional experience to speak about their work to an engaged audience.  Audience members are able to ask questions about the student artists’ work, either during the question and answer session, or in private.  The public speaking and interpersonal experiences provide student artists the opportunity to gain the valuable pre-professional experience they will need when they become professional artists.


Want more?


Tina Chan is the art librarian and assistant coordinator of reference at the State University of New York at Oswego’s Penfield Library.  She works with students to provide research assistance, and with faculty to deliver library instruction and to provide resources to improve the library’s collection.  She also coordinates library exhibitions and displays, which includes partnering with the art department, library departments, and campus organizations to highlight artwork, library collections, and upcoming events.

Richard Metzgar is a professor of art at the State University of New York at Oswego.  His creative practice focuses on the topics of mapping, systems, place, and time.  His long term collaboration with Bartow + Metzgar (with Paul Bartow) have produced works of experimental drawing, large-scale multimedia art installations, and architecture.  His personal experiences as a mail artist influenced his interest in including this subject matter into his 2D design curriculum, with the resulting exhibition Postal Ponderings: The Activity of Mail Art displayed in Penfield Library April 3-May 9, 2014.

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