by Laura Damon-Moore

You know how excited we get about library programs that go beyond the “make and take” (although we love those too!) and embrace elements of art education, giving people a chance to explore different art techniques. That’s why we’re big fans of the Art Afternoons at New Haven Public Library in New Haven, Connecticut. Art Afternoons are part of the library’s Young Minds program, which serves children, teens, and families with events and resources at the library.

Library as Incubator Project (LAIP): Can you tell me a bit about the program – what happens at the program, what kinds of activities there are for the attendees to do, etc.?

John Roberts (JR): The content of the program is generally up to the librarian running it. But actually creating something based on the particular artist’s style always happens. For example, when Eric Carle was the featured artist the kids used colored tissue paper to replicate his pictures (see “The very hungry caterpillar,” for instance). We’ll also set out books by or about the artist, and we usually pull images, websites, videos, etc. from the Internet to provide some background and context. Kids care much more about the process and product than the artist, generally. But we still try to sell the artist, as best we can.

LAIP: In November, the Art Afternoons event focused on the paper cutouts of Henri Matisse. Is there always a “special artist” for attendees to explore, and if so, how do you choose which artist to feature?

JR: Yes, there’s always a featured artist. (But we’ll probably do schools, too, in the future–like Impressionism, etc.) I chose Matisse because his cut-outs are easily replicable and there’s a cool exhibition (and interactive website) going on at MOMA right now. I guess the only criterion for selecting a particular artist is if we feel the children will be able to grasp and appreciate the work.

LA PERRUCHE ET LA SIRENE, by Henri Matisse| guouace on paper cut and pasted |337 x 768.5 cm. | Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 1952

LA PERRUCHE ET LA SIRENE, by Henri Matisse| guouace on paper cut and pasted |337 x 768.5 cm. | Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 1952

LAIP: What was the impetus for starting the Art Afternoon program? What has the response been to the program so far?

JR: We started Art Afternoons because it’s important (in our opinion) to provide a range of literacy-based programming. Artistic literacy, technological literacy, scientific and cultural … etc. The fine arts are just as important as computers, in other words. And the response has been consistently enthusiastic. Kids respond to art, there’s no surprise there.

LAIP: Marie [Jarry, Young Minds coordinator at New Haven PL] mentioned that you partner with professional artists to make arts programs available for youth in the community. Can you tell us a bit about how you go about forging those partnerships, and any advice you have for librarians who would like to partner with artists in their community?

JR: As far as partnering with artists–I’ve been really fortunate. They’re the coolest group of people. Very willing to help us out. So, I just looked over the staff lists at the Yale art galleries and emailed a few folks whose resumes looked like they’d be a good fit. And it panned out, with a couple staff-persons who’ve run outstanding programs here. And actually, through those artists I’ve been introduced to a community of artists who’re willing to help us. So I guess it just builds on itself. I don’t really have any advice for other librarians, other than I make a real effort to respect their time and expertise, and to take care of all the little distracting programming details so that the artist(s) can focus on teaching and interacting with the kids. I also take them out for cocktails after a program, which hasn’t been unpopular in the past.

Check out an example Art Afternoon flier:

Are you interested in offering art education programs at your library? There are about 8 million ideas on Pinterest, as well as a nice little roundup to get you started at No Time for Flash Cards. Also check out the Pages to Projects series, written by Rebecca Z. Dunn, for ways to integrate art education elements into early literacy programs.

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