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Libraries Celebrate Community with New Murals

by on January 4, 2021

In 2020, through the global pandemic and the rise of voices for social justice, libraries across the country found their own means of expression through art. In particular, these three libraries celebrated the diversity of their communities with the creation of new library murals:

The Rochester (NH) Public Library wanted to create a meaningful display at their library to support the Black Lives Matter Movement, but upon hearing a news report featuring a Black Lives matter organizer, the interim director, Marie LeJeun, started thinking about all the voices that may be overlooked and undervalued. Thus the idea for a display called “Unconsidered Voices; Enduring Stories,” was born. Once the library realized the display included all collections: Nonfiction, fiction, YA, and children’s; they decided they wanted a large art piece with the same theme since it was related to all the collections in the library. They contacted Kathy Mallat, an artist, children’s book author and former library employee to design and complete the mural from a general description of using several figures of different races, ages, and genders.

Rochester (NH) Public Library Mural

This mural has a timeless design and yet is the perfect representation of the year 2020 and all that happened during the pandemic. It is located on the first floor with displays from the Adult, YA, and Children’s collections.

Not to be confused with Rochester Public Library in New Hampshire, the Rochester Public Library in Michigan is also working on creating a diverse mural this year, but they are using some very unique artists, the patrons. Though it is not yet complete, the plan is to create a large mural out of small family portraits painted by the families in the community. “2020 was the perfect year to do it as the ideas of equality, diversity, inclusion, inclusion and social justice became bigger,” says Wendy Lehman, Early Childhood specialist and designer of the mural project. She picked a space to hang the family portraits and measured it to discover that 48 families could participate by painting their portraits on a 6in square canvas. Since the library is currently in a drive-up only phase patrons registered to have a kit ready for pick up. Lehman provided instructions and also made a quick video that included instructions, a statement about how lucky it is to have a diverse community, and a reading of “What a Family,” by Rachel Isadora. After patrons registered through an online system they received an email telling them to come pick up their kit and a link to the instruction video. Lehman hopes to receive all portraits back from the families and start assembly in 2021.She also hopes to have an unveiling of the mural once the library opens again and cannot wait to see the finished product.  

The Wallowa Library in Oregon also designed a new mural in 2020. The mural on the outside of the library desperately needed to be restored. This would have been an expensive project and the original artist original was no longer available to work on the restoration. The friends and the the library board decided on having a new mural designed and that book spines would make a great theme. They hired artist Anna Vogel, who did indeed paint book spines,but she also took the mural a step further and added Kaya, from the American Girl Story “Kaya and the River Girl,” paddling down a river in a canoe among the book spines. The character Kaya is part of the Nez Perce Tribe which has a big connection to the library community and the land the library resides on. It is the perfect example of inclusion and social justice melding with tradition. 

Is your library embarking on a mural project? Share photos and information in the comments.

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