By Jamie Swinnerton
It’s not uncommon to walk the halls and bookshelves of the Tompkins County Public Library and find various kinds of art on display. Paintings and drawings on the walls, cases filled with curated collections, sculptures made out of book materials. All of it curated by a committee of staff and community members within the local art scene. But now the library will be going one step further and have created not just a place for art, but for an artist.
On Friday, Feb. 2, the library will be hosting a special night of events in celebration of art. The event, which coincides with Gallery Night, will officially kick-off the 2018 “Identity” theme exhibits, and will be the introduction of the library’s chosen artist-in-residence, Frances Gallardo.
The artist-in-residence program idea was born from the library’s new makerspace, said Yvette Rubio, the Art Exhibits Coordinator for the library.
“It felt like it was begging for someone to come in here and be available to both create work and help the community learn how to create work,” Rubio said. “Over the years we’ve had a strong commitment to the arts. Every year – I don’t know for how long – we’ve been having art exhibits and curated art exhibits at the library. So, there’s a big commitment to the arts by the library so it felt like a natural next step to have an artist in residence.”
The library’s mission, Rubio said, is all about access. To further that mission the library wanted an artist who could help patrons who otherwise might not have tried the makerspace to come in and see what they can do.
While Gallardo will be able to use the tools and equipment in the makerspace (including a laser cutter and a 3D printer) for her own work, she will also be creating programs and workshops to help library patrons learn how to use them as well. For Gallardo, this is one of the most exciting parts of the residency.
“I think it’s the first time that I will be able to not only make work and showcase it in a solo exhibition at the end of the year but also, I’ll be able to give workshops that come out of this whole process of discovery in the makerspace,” Gallardo said. “So, I think that’s something really special.”
While searching for the right artist for the program, Rubio explained what kinds of things the art exhibit committee of the library was looking for in a potential artist.
“Our focus was going to be both on emerging artists and emerging curators, which to us meant artists and people who want to be curators who maybe have never been a curator before, or never had an opportunity to show their artwork, or had little opportunity,” Rubio said. “We wanted someone who could come in here and use some of our new equipment to help us get this makerspace going and to make it accessible to everyone. We wanted someone who – since it was our first time having an artist in residence – we needed someone who would be flexible and adaptable and could kind of roll with that.”
The Artist in Community grant that is funding the program had to be applied for by the artist. So, the right kind of artist for TCPL had to be willing to put in that time and effort, with the library’s help.
“They had to suggest a project that they would do as the artist in residence that would involve the community in creating art, but would also in utilizing this space and the tools,” said Assistant Director at TCPL Kerry Barnes. “That helped us kind of guide our decision as well.”
Through the collected knowledge of the committee, Gallardo was found. She seemed to fit all the criteria but the committee wanted to meet her too.
“Everything we were looking for, she fit the bill,” Rubio said.
Gallardo is originally from Puerto Rico, and after graduating from the University of Puerto Rico she was traveling back and forth between New York. She graduated from Cornell University with her MFA in 2016 and wanted to stay in the area. She can’t choose just one thing when asked what she’s most looking forward to with the TCPL artist in residency program.
“Definitely the engagement with the community is the first thing because I did learn that TCPL is one of the most popular places to go so they have incredible foot traffic so I’m excited about that,” Gallardo said. “I’ve always loved being around books. And obviously, as an artist, having access to equipment that you traditionally wouldn’t have access to is just amazing.”
She already has a studio in Ithaca but meeting new people and talking to members of the community is a part of the residency that excites her.
“I think it’s going to be a great exchange because sometimes work in the studio can get a little lonely,” she said. “But it’s going to be great to be actually in the space and maybe have interactions with people who are working on their own stuff and exchange ideas.”
Following the event at the library on Feb. 2, a fundraiser is being held at Lot 10 to help raise some money that could go toward several things that arts grants don’t typically cover: paying the artists while they are doing the residency, or paying for things to help them exhibit (like framing).
The program will last around 10 months and will end with a curated exhibit of both Gallardo’s work and the community art that her workshops have helped to create. Barnes said the library does plan on continuing the artist in residency program in the future, but will likely have to find funding from other grants.
“We’re learning what an artist in residence is going to mean for the library,” Barnes. “And I think it’s going to be very helpful for us to have had this first experience under our belt and then look for funding out in some other sources.”