It might still be dull and gray outside, but if you walked into many of the libraries in Waukesha and Jefferson County recently, you saw nothing but vibrant color. Rows of paintings, photographs, sculptures, and more line the walls and the bookshelves at the public libraries in Watertown, Fort Atkinson, Eagle, Oconomowoc, Sussex, Delafield, Waukesha, Muskego, and Menomonee Falls. Not only are these pieces a vivid reminder of spring, they’re also a celebration of creativity, the arts, and the students who made them. The art is gathered and displayed for Youth Art Month, a national celebration which ran throughout March, turning each library into a visually striking art gallery.
“The talent is amazing. We get comments everyday about how wonderful it is,” said Karol Kennedy, director of the Menomonee Falls Public Library, whose library has hundreds of pieces on display. Youth Art Month is possible through collaboration between local schools and the libraries, who work together to offer a positive experience for the artists and the public.
Anywhere from 60 to almost 700 works of art are displayed at the libraries, all created by local students ranging in grade level from kindergarten to high school. Watertown Public Library has almost 200 pieces on display in their lobby between February and March. Dwight Foster Public Library hosted an exhibit of photo-graphs from students at Northwest Passage, which focused on the relationship to water and was on display through March 31. Other pieces on display around the libraries included self-portrait paintings, mosaics, and intricate sculptures made of paper and straws.
Turning the library into an art gallery space may seem outside the norm, but hosting Youth Art Month shows fits into the mission of each library as a way to offer access to knowledge and information. “Our library and our community are committed to celebrating, promoting, and helping people learn about the arts, and this annual event is part of that commitment,” said Betsy Bleck, director at Oconomowoc Public Library, which partners with the Oconomowoc Junior Woman’s Club to put on the art show.
Supporting the student artists is another component of Youth Art Month at the libraries. “As an art teacher, I love the idea of the community being able to see and appreciate the hard work of our students,” said Dave Pawl, art teacher at Watertown High School who coordinated the displays at Watertown Public Library. “It also is a great confidence boost for our students to see their work displayed outside of the confines of their own building. I know there are many families that enjoy heading to the library and seeing their student’s work. The artwork also can be inspiring for library visitors. One visitor to the “Under the Surface” exhibit at Dwight Foster Public Library commented, “I loved reading how photography became a vehicle for these troubled souls to learn about their intrinsic value as a valuable person through the beauty of nature.”
Supporting art doesn’t end at the end of the month, though. Libraries across the county host art programs and classes for all ages throughout the year, such as the recent Family Craft Night at the Karl Junginger Memorial Library.
Youth Art Month collaborations prove that the value of libraries goes beyond the books and movies on the shelves. As people wander from piece to piece and as students pose in front of their artwork, smiling at the camera, there is evidence that the library is a true gathering place, and that each library’s value lies in providing a space where people come together to learn, share ideas, and connect with each other. Like the best art, public libraries continue to encourage us to see the world — and each other — in new ways.
Jill Fuller is the coordinator of marketing and communications with the Bridges Library System of which the Karl Junginger Memorial Library is a member.