by Christina Endres

We’re pleased to introduce a series of posts featuring Hennepin County Library (HCL) in Minnesota.  We’ll be checking out some of the programming and collections that make this 41-library system a huge part of the Twin Cities arts scene.  Today, we’re taking a broad look at some of the Library’s arts programming and partnerships. 

Looking at the calendar on the Hennepin County Library website, it’s clear that the Library’s arts programming is a major draw, both for area organizations and patrons.  In the coming weeks there are arts programs ranging from “Conductor’s Notes,” a talk by an acclaimed conductor, to “Act Out for Adults,” a play-reading workshop led by a Guthrie Theater teaching artist.

Behind many of these programs is Johannah Genett, Senior Programming Librarian at Hennepin County Library.  Johannah is in charge of all system-wide program initiatives, and manages many of the larger programs and partnerships that HCL has with arts organizations — and there are a lot of them.  HCL has partnered with many of the area’s top arts organizations, including the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Guthrie Theater, the Loft Literary Center, Springboard for the Arts, and the Textile Center, among many others.

She explained that one of the reasons that Hennepin County Library has been able to focus on arts programming is the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution. The Legacy Amendment was passed by Minnesota voters in 2008. It increases the state sales tax and distributes the additional revenue into four funds including the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, which supports arts, arts education, and arts access, and preserves Minnesota’s history and cultural heritage.  Libraries including Hennepin County Library received some of this funding and have used it to offer arts and cultural heritage programming.

Some of the Legacy programs from Hennepin County Library are for children and teens, some are for adults, and some are for senior citizens.  In some programs, patrons see a lecture or a performance, and at others they create their own art.  All programs focus on the arts and culture of Minnesota.  Here is a small sample of Legacy programs that HCL has coordinated:

  • Art Out of the Box – For this program, children grades K-6 come to the library, learn about one of the pieces at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA), and create their own artwork in response to it.  The class is delivered by teens who have attended a training and follow a curriculum and model created by the MIA.
  • Hip Hop Workshop – This is a series of workshops for teens about Hip Hop that focuses on creating music, studying lyrics and learning about local hip hop stars.  Classes are taught by instructors from McNally Smith College of Music.
  • Crafty Minnesota – A popular textile art workshop series for adults, in collaboration with the Textile Center.
  • Hmonglish Theater – For this program, teens wrote their own play with guidance from local playwright May-Lee Yang and did a live performance at one of the library locations.
  • Global Folk – Coming this fall, HCL will have performances by a variety of folk musicians from Minnesota that play music from around the world.
  • Duke it Out – A stage combat workshop for teens, in collaboration with the Guthrie.
  • Make This – Hands-on art workshops for teens on topics like anime, manga, comic arts, fashion, zines and bookmaking, in collaboration with the Minnetonka Center for the Arts.
  • For a complete list of upcoming and past Legacy programs, click here.

One requirement of the state’s Legacy funding is reporting program outcomes.  HCL must report not only how many people attended a Legacy-funded program and what it offered, but also what people got out of the program.  Johannah says this was challenging at first, because it required HCL to think about programming in a new way..  Now, HCL program evaluations include questions like, “Did you create art?” and “Did you learn something new?”

For example, a program called ArtsySmartsy, an art workshop series for adults aged 55 and up, had attendance of 163 patrons for 12 workshops.  These numbers seem impressive in and of themselves, but they mean so much more when paired with HCL’s other evaluative measures: 99% of patrons created art, 97% learned something new about art, 62% planned to check out related library materials, and 100% rated the quality of the program as good or better.   One patron commented, “Wonderful use of MN state funds — brings new audience to public library.”

You can imagine how powerful evaluation becomes when every program reveals more in-depth outcomes like these. Johannah says talking about what people gained also takes some of the pressure off attracting a big audience.  It becomes more about what people get out of the program than numbers.

It takes a lot time to coordinate evaluation forms, distribute and collect them, and make sure every program is being measured, but it seems to be worth it — even if it weren’t required.  It allows libraries to look at programming not just as a way to get people into buildings, but also as a way to offer meaningful learning experiences.  By extension, it allows those outside the library to see the value of the library as a place for incubating the arts and engaging the community.


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