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Reflections on Teen Artists-in-Residence at PLA 2024

by Cristian Martínez, Library Assistant Senior, Glendale (AZ) Public Library, PLA 2024 Scholarship Recipient on June 5, 2024

I was honored to be selected as one of the PLA 2024 scholarship recipients this year. The session I was most excited for was “Creating a Teen Artist-in-Residence Program at Your Library” presented by Michael Cherry of the Carmel Clay Public Library in Carmel, Indiana which was my first session of the conference and thankfully set the mood for all of PLA.

The Artist-in-Residence program at Carmel Clay Public Library involves a selection of teens chosen for a four-month residency period where they have access to the library’s studio space. While working on an art piece to present with an art exhibit at the end, they can either choose to educate their peers on art related to their own works or lead a community art project. Community is central to the program, with buy-in from art councils, local schools, and the artist groups themselves. One of my favorite parts of this was hearing about how when one group of artists ends their tenure, they leave messages of encouragement for the next group and offer peer support to them as teens who have gone though the program. Part of why I got involved in teen services was seeing the library being used as peer support through staff and my fellow teens, so to hear that this has become a tradition at Carmel Clay warmed my heart.

I also enjoyed hearing that the teens are allowed to have freedom of expression in their art forms and in many cases connecting it to their heritage. One of the teens in the inaugural group created a series of outfits and printed designs based on the myth of Chang’e and the origins of the Mid-Autumn Festival. She chose this medium due to her own experience connecting to her Chinese roots as someone who was adopted into an American family. Another teen in her class created digital art based on what she called “tragic beauty” often seen in Latine art. One piece was based on her inability to visit a butterfly forest in Mexico which became unsafe due to the presence of the cartels, and that this place where she shared happy memories with her family was now inaccessible. As part of her residency, she also led a class on the Mexican folk art of alebrijes and showing peers the meaning of the different designs painted on the wooden figures. As a former ALA Spectrum Scholar, I really resonated with this as speaking from my own experience as a queer Latino who grew up in his local library, being able to see yourself represented in media and through the library can be a life-changer and a lifesaver. Seeing these teens reflect on their identities through art was truly beautiful.

Whether through increased circulation of materials at the library related to the art form, attendance at programs, or even the personal impact on the teens lives, this is an outcome-based program. Artists involved the program were able to develop their skills, an opportunity which many of the teens noted they would be unable to do without access to the materials at the library and use the art show at Carmel Clay to get into other art shows, bolster their resumes and portfolios, and even obtain scholarships as a result of this unique opportunity. I would love to be able to use this program in my own library system, though scaled in a way that would work for us, as unfortunately we do not have an art studio or a digital media center. My major takeaway from this session was the importance of collaboration within libraries and with outside organizations. This is a program I would love to implement at my own library system and while it would need to be substantially scaled down, I’m very much eager to share this with my colleagues in teen services.

PLA 2024 was an amazing experience, getting to connect with new people, learn alongside others in this crucial time for public libraries, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next one in 2026. I feel truly blessed and honored to have been selected for the scholarship this year and I can only hope the next group of recipients has as wonderful of a time as I did in Columbus.

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