Tag Archives: exchange

The Corner Libraries

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I built a small weatherproofed shed and installed it in New Haven as part of A Lot in Our Lives in 2007. I made custom clapboards for the sides, little round windows, and a miniature orange door, and I put asphalt roofing on it. It was pretty sturdy.

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Inside the shed was lined with bookshelves and had a parquet floor. I filled it with old books and made signs that explained people could borrow the books and put other books back, or return the ones they had borrowed. The books mostly seemed to go out and not come in that much. But I organized with a literacy advocacy group to restock the library with books throughout the summer. We ended up removing the door, because the staff at Artspace, who I was collaborating with, were concerned that a child could get trapped inside there with the door closed and not be able to get out.

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 At the end of the summer, I had to pack up everything I had installed in New Haven.  But over the following winter I began doing some heavy organizing work to make it a big going concern in New York City. I had this great angle on it, using a loophole in public space regulation that allows the proliferation of newsracks everywhere. Why not a non-corporate version in the form of little public libraries?  I mean I was writing grants, making models, planning budgets, talking to city agencies, recruiting librarians. I thought maybe I was going to create a non-profit organization or something and spend my life building miniature libraries all over the world. I got pretty worked up about it, I really did.

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Well, it didn’t happen. The grants didn’t come through, and I moved on to some other projects for awhile that were more immediately accomplishable. But it stayed in the back of my mind over the years, and I kept struggling with the idea.

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We made some more tests now and then, little temporary guerilla style libraries. Most of them were rapidly removed. One was burned. Yep, street library arsonists, they’re out there. Who knew?

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That was kind of discouraging. But also kind of cool: at least we had gotten a rise out of somebody! I just couldn’t give this idea up though, it haunted me for years. For awhile I was even living in this imaginary utopian city, and I brought the library with me…

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Eventually that first library I had built ended up back on the streets, in Brooklyn. Instead of making it fit into newsrack regulations, we put it on wheels and locked it up to a signpost, just as you would do with a bicycle. Gabriela Alva from Eyelevel BQE became co-librarian with me and we had it out by her spot in East Williamsburg for a year or two.  This time we had a combination lock on it, and if you wanted to use it you just had to know the combo (B-O-O-K). That worked really well, people respected the contents much more than when it was wide open.

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We have some good children’s books in there for all the kids. Plus some neat comics, artsy books, ‘zines, odds and ends. Gabriela documented the stuff for awhile and made a blog showing the collection. Last I knew, the library was still operational, although we had to move it again, to the corner of Bogart and Harrison, near the Morgan Avenue L station and NurtureArt, but I have to confess it’s been awhile since I visited it. Hunt it down if you’re interested. Anyway, that kind of got me back into doing the libraries guerilla style and figuring out other strategies for placing them on the sidewalk without getting permission. It’s a neat kind of mental chess game against the government regulations.

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For example, this one is disguised as a bench attached to a tree guard. The city parks department actively encourages citizens to put up these tree guards and cultivate the soil in the street tree beds. The city doesn’t have the resources budgeted to do regular maintenance on all the street trees, so it’s left to the citizens to do a lot of it. That’s why you see so many different versions of tree guards around. Often when a building is renovated they will landscape the sidewalk in front of the building too, including planting new trees, and adding tree guards, mulch, etc. Sometimes outside coffee shops or other restaurants they will build a bench type tree guard like this to sort of expand their seating area out onto the sidewalk.

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This one was built in Crown Heights, on Franklin Avenue and Park Place, outside of a community center called Launchpad. The guy who started Launchpad had planted the tree, and he was all for having a tree guard around it like this, so it worked out well. I gave the library a seed collection of books related to nature, gardening, and farming to go along with the tree theme. I also built it in part to say thanks for my inclusion in 5x5x5, a project started by Nora Herting and Ann Chen, in which they grew vegetable gardens in Nora’s Backyard in exchange for art work. Nora lived around the corner from the Launchpad site.

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I also built these twin abandoned payphones into libraries. They were right next to Ann Chen’s parents’ place in lower Manhattan. I made plexiglass doors for them, and they were used for awhile. Then eventually the parking lot they were in got turned into something else, so they were removed.

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This little one was in East Harlem for awhile, and was maintained by Christine Licata while she worked at el Taller Boricua. But then she changed jobs, so the library had to go. It was a planter with plants growing in it, that had a drawer where you could share recipe cards and seed packets.

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I built this library onto a red wagon foundation, and had a nice long trek taking it from the woodshop at Smack Mellon in Dumbo, Brooklyn, where I built it, all the way to Word Up in Washington Heights.  On the walk up there we ran into our dear friend Christin Ripley, a great artist and sailor. She was just going to work at the sailing school on the Hudson.

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The Word Up Collective decorated it and used it for mobile book sharing and outreach for their local bookstore/community center hybrid. If you live uptown in Manhattan you really should hang out at Word Up, it’s a super cool place.

I have slowed down on the library project now, since moving back to rural Connecticut. I felt okay letting it go, especially knowing that another group, Little Free Libraries, was doing lots of organizing around pretty much exactly the same thing. They really have their stuff together. If you’re interested in making a micro-library in your community you should do it! It’s easy, can be made from scraps you’ll find lying around, and it’s a great way to use up some of your creative energy. There are lots of ideas on the Little Free Libraries site, and some strategies you might try on this site too. Hooray books!

MOBILIZE

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I’ve been out riding my tricycle a lot. I found it back in 2004. It was in pieces. I fixed it up, added some bells and whistles, and started riding. I like it, it gets me moving. Doing it. You know, getting into it, active.

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In these first few pictures, I’m projecting a film on my back while I’m riding. I call that MOBILIZE: The Moving Picture Show. I’ve projected a lot of Charlie Chaplin films. They’re perfect. No talking, just great spirited music and whacky sound effects. And everybody recognizes him. Sometimes cartoons are good too.

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The first two pictures are from New York City, where I lived from 2006-2012. But I started showing movies this way back when I lived in eastern Connecticut, where I grew up. This one was at the Third Thursday Street Festival in Willimantic, CT. I made all these manifestoes on an offset press in the printshop at UConn, and I used to pass them out when I was out riding around. You can buy one in the Emporium if you want, there are still a few left over.

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The project tends to be pretty eyecatching and people always ask me what I’m doing. So it’s a good way to break the ice and have a conversation with somebody, about anything, everything. Spontaneously like that. That’s the reason I’ve kept doing it from time to time. I enjoy it, other people enjoy it, and it seems to help bring us closer together.Later I started doing some daytime projects with the tricycle too, as the Moving Picture Show only works when it’s dark out, and frankly riding bikes is more fun during the day.

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I built a set of different attachments for it. My friend likes to call them modules. One attachment is for the projector, film repair stuff, popcorn maker, etc. Everything I need for the Moving Picture Show. Another one is for collecting wild plants and cooking, out on the streets.

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That’s MOBILIZE: The Portable Pantry. I used it to collect rosehips, crabapples, pine needles, holly leaves, chokeberries, bayberries, and a few other things growing in New York this past winter. I was learning how to identify plants, cook jams, preserve food, and prepare different teas, in order to throw Wild Tea Parties with people.

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Sometimes it was a good excuse to climb the street trees, which I think is an underrated activity. This tree on 23rd Street near 8th Avenue had some very late crabapples that were still good in December. I made apple butter from them. Overcooked it a little.

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Another attachment is MOBILIZE: The Wandering Workbench. This is a roll-out workshop with a bench vise, work surface, and storage for hand and power tools. I’ve been using it to work immediately on the street, finding material, making Public Domestications (term coined through conversations with Huong Ngo), and installing them on the sidewalks for public use. The Corner Libraries project is a Public Domestication too, as were a lot of the projects in A Lot in Our Lives.

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Public Domestications are aimed at making public space more comfortable, more communicative, more equitable, more accessible, and less alienating. They are aimed at making public space ours.

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So far, many of them have been about an exchange of some kind.

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This is a found pirate costume installed on a coat rack on a construction wall: the yellow rose was contributed by the busker you can see in the background. He was a wizard on the pots and pans, plastic buckets and bits of broken glass, and seemed to be really supportive of my project, which is entirely mutual!

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I brought MOBILIZE to the Bronx in the summer of 2008 to do some stuff up there. I had a parking place at the Bronx Museum during June and July for the AIM show.

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A Lot in Our Lives

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This project in downtown New Haven, Connecticut, ran April through September of 2007. It consisted of a variety of activities centered around a public space called The Lot, sponsored by Artspace. I worked in collaboration with various people around the city who have some relationship to the space, to develop interactive projects to place there. The space is an empty lot that was converted by the city transit department and the local non-profit arts organization (Artspace) into a bus stop/public art exhibition space/public park hybrid. We kept asking ourselves, or at least I kept asking myself, what could we put in this space that would be of some use to the people that pass through this space day to day, waiting for the bus, or whatever. The projects included the following…

The Corner Library, a small lending library built in a waterproofed shed for sharing books and other information:

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A small vegetable and herb garden, the Lot Garden Plot:

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The Citizens’ Collection Cabinet, which was a shed for the public display of small objects:

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A wall of homemade and found musical instruments called Elm City Sound Relief:

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The Black and White Wall for Writing, which provided a legal site for graffiti:

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 The creation of A Lot in Our Lives included collaboration and input from many people. Frank Brescia, Robert Hurd, Henry Loomis, John Singer, Steve Tarquino and Kristina Zallinger co-produced the “Elm City Sound Relief” and collaborated on the design and production of the four hand-painted banners on display. Other artists from Artship of Fellowship Place were also involved in brainstorming and preliminary discussions. Frank Brescia, Henry Loomis and Kristina Zallinger also contributed their energies to “The Lot Garden Plot.” George Newman and I collaborated on “The Citizens’ Collection Cabinet,” which also received input from Huong Ngo and Ted Efremoff. George also worked on the freestanding black and white wall for writing, as did members of Artspace’s Teen Docents program. There have been other contributors who wished to remain anonymous, and many people who changed and added to the projects once they were installed whose names are unknown to me.

Thanks also to Artspace Staff, Carol Brown of the New Haven Free Public Library, Cathy Edwards from the Festival of Arts and Ideas, Cassandra Tucker and Sue Spight of Fellowship Place, and to Mario Luigi Ruggiero of the Artistic Salon on Chapel Street, for inspiration and consultation.

The New York Times wrote about the project, read it here: Steal that Book, Bash that Drum