Monday, May 21, 2012

UNCG Art Department Creates Its Own Library For a Day


Alex McKenzie is an interesting fellow.

A senior who graduated in May with a BFA in Painting, Alex is a creative and articulate young man who recently conducted a project to create a “library” on Reading Day in the studio of the Gatewood Studio Arts building on the UNCG campus. Inspired by artists like Harrell Fletcher who recontextualize space and transform it for other purposes, Alex and fellow students and faculty did just that with their etching studio, making it into a library for a day in honor of Reading Day before exams. The project also reflects the sort of ephemeral art shows that artists are creating around the globe.

Alex chose and solicited nearly thirty fellow students and members of the art faculty each to select 10 books from Jackson Library that they found interesting or inspiring, and brought them to the studio in shopping carts. They also brought in furniture (including half of Alex’s living room, he says), offered free coffee, created a rudimentary “catalog,” and arranged books by the student who selected them. Alex says that the response was extraordinary, with students connecting with books and each other (mostly but not entirely art books) in ways they usually do not. With this kind of arrangement, for example, students learned more about their classmates’ particular interests, as the 10 volume sections gave them insight into what inspires each of the participants. Students were not allowed to “check out” and take the books from the room, but were told that they would be returned to Jackson Library the next day, where they could be circulated. Alex’s group created a reading list of the books selected and made it available to other students in the department.

It seems that Art students at UNCG, having noticed the presence of the Interior Architecture Library in the same building, have long wanted their own library. “We wish we had our own library, like the interior architecture students do,” expressed one participant. So they created one, if only for a day.

“It was about accessibility,” Alex says, “the books were close at hand, and arranged in ways that invited those who came in to pick them up and use them.” The area became a hangout, replacing the lounge that students usually use in the building to study. Some students, who weren’t that familiar with the larger and sometime intimidating collection of Jackson Library were exposed to a selection of books that were interesting to them. Students were engaged with the books and with each other.

Alex counts the experience as an altogether positive one, even though he says he slept in the room with the books for 2 nights since he was financially liable for them. “My nightmare,” he says, “was that I would lose the books or something would happen to the books and I would have to pay for them. I might not graduate.” Then he smiles and reports that he returned every single book in good condition and on time.

In addition to his creativity, Alex is the kind of student we like to see at UNCG in other ways. He looks to be a lifelong learner. “I’m not as big a reader as I’d like to be,” he says. One of my goals is to read as much as I can before graduate school in two or three years.” In the interim, he hopes to find a job in Spain teaching English.

We wish him much success.

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