Still, when people think of libraries, they usually consider them a resource for books — but what about the visual and applied arts?
At ProjectArt, the intersection of the public library and the arts is the organization’s core mission. Since 2016, the Brooklyn-based nonprofit has partnered with seven of MDPLS’ 51 branches to provide tuition-free, in-person and virtual art education for local youth through an annual artists’ residency program. Every year, local artists are selected to utilize their practices to generate classes and workshops through MDPLS.
For ProjectArt’s Miami director Danielle Steele, merging accessible arts education with local artists is crucial to the program’s success.
“Art education is an emotional outlet for students to heal and become resilient learners,” Steele explains. “What I think art education does, in general, is break the mold, gets kids outside the box that is standardized testing, classroom environments that may be stifled by rules, and black and white thinking. Art has no rules. We are teaching subjectivity and confidence while improving reading and math skills, test scores, and graduation rates. Without question, the best way to see these results is to hire quality art educators, and we believe that local artists are the key. They, in part, teach their own practice to the kids. When kids take these classes, they’re learning from an artist who is teaching them what they know best.”
During this year’s program, the seven residents — Angela Bolaños, Nicole Combeau, Kerry Phillips, Laura Prada, Nicole Salgar, Pangea Kali Virga, and Tori Scott — expressed their individual lived experiences through the mediums of textiles, found objects, photography, mixed-media collage, and fiber to stimulate young artists at the Arcola Lakes, Overtown, Naranja, Shenandoah, Kendall, Model City, and North Central library branches.
The residencies culminate in a weeklong group showcase at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami. The exhibition, titled “Remember The Sky: Memory Landscapes, Real and Imagined,” displays the work each artist made during their time spent teaching, along with their remarks on the thread that unites the cohort together: memory, family, and embodying the self.
Emblematic of ProjectArt’s initiative, the exhibition’s title is a literary allusion to U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo’s 1983 poem, “Remember.” The lyrical repetition of the word “remember” is an emphatic call to the art displayed at the collective showcase. The works displayed included Phillips’ literal call to the community, asking participants to draw a memory from the artist’s childhood to Scott’s painted depiction of a hot Miami summer spent waiting for the neighborhood ice-cream truck. In the accompanying label, Scott exclaims, “I remember when the innocence of life was all that mattered.”
Steele says the key to the program’s success is the ongoing collaboration between ProjectArt and MDPLS, its resident artists, and the students.
“ProjectArt is one of several amazing after-school art programs in Miami that hire local, emerging artists to teach, but what we do that is unique is make it accessible to the entirety of Miami-Dade County by working through the library system,” Steele says. “We are not limited to one building. The library as our home base is naturally coupled with book-inspired projects. We make sure all our students have library cards, too. I think that accessibility is key in terms of our program initiative. The branch locations make it easier for families who may not be near museums that have incredible programs or cannot afford quality classes.
“The most exciting part is the kids have an opportunity to take part in a student exhibition at the end of the year,” she continues. “We also strongly encourage them to attend our teaching artist exhibition, such as the one that just happened at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which consists of works inspired by their experiences teaching in the community.”
With only four branches transitioning back to in-person lessons, hybrid learning allows families who work long or odd schedules or struggle with transportation to feel closer to the possibilities of innovative, hands-on teaching lessons. MDPLS and ProjectArt are filling the gaps in art education across the county and in students’ hearts throughout the city. Miami’s next emerging artist may be learning their craft at your local public library.
For more information about ProjectArt, visit projectart.org/miami.