Art Installation Focuses On Public Libraries

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“Bibliotheca Publicus: An Endangered Species,” featured at Tufts University Art Gallery, Medford, Massachusetts

Mixed media artist, Mindy Nierenberg, is one of five artists featured in “5 x 5,” the Tufts University Art Gallery Summer 2008 Exhibition. Her site-specific art installation, “Bibliotheca Publicus: An Endangered Species,” calls attention to the current and very serious issue of public library budget cuts, while also highlighting the importance of the public library to a democratic society and to the public that it serves.

Ms. Nierenberg’s work is inspired by her own love of public libraries, which traces back to her childhood in a working class neighborhood of New York. Here, the library was a refuge and source of knowledge beyond what was offered in school. Through “Bibliotheca Publicus,” she hopes to encourage others to think about the public library’s importance to a civil society.

The installation includes library memorabilia and almost 200 discarded books, purchased through local “Friends of the Library” organizations. The books are lined up against a wall and placed on fake grass. According to Ms. Nierenberg, “…they represent a 'memorial' to books, whose presence seems to be fading in importance in our society. They represent all books, all languages; there are no titles to distract the viewer.”

Above the books, hang the exhibit’s two major wall pieces, both 13 by 15 feet. They are composed entirely of recycled cards from old card catalogs from the Medford Public Library and act as companion pieces: one displays quotations about the importance of public libraries in our society, while the other uses quotations from newspapers about library funding cuts. Each piece is individually hand stamped, letter by letter.

Another piece, an interactive sculpture made from an old 60-drawer card catalog, invites viewers to open the drawers where they discover forty-eight mixed media art pieces that incorporate library history and memorabilia. The remaining upper twelve drawers stay locked with antique padlocks, displaying a sign saying, “Unfortunately, the upper twelve drawers are closed due to a 20% budget cut, so please do not touch them.”

Completing the exhibit, a slide show runs continuously, made up of local community members’ thoughts about their libraries. Also, as part of the installation, a space is set up where viewers may write postcards to local officials about the importance of funding their library. These postcards will be mailed at the close of the exhibition.

In addition to being a successful artist, Ms. Nierenberg also serves as the Senior Program Manager at Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University, and teaches the course, “Art, Activism, and Community: Visual Art for Social Change” at the Experimental College at Tufts. Her work has been exhibited in galleries across the country and she has lectured internationally on the topic of civic engagement through visual art.

“5x5,” the Fifth Annual Juried Summer Exhibition at the Tufts University Art Gallery, will be held from June 5 –August 10, 2008. The gallery hours are Wednesdays to Sundays, noon to 5p.m. The Tufts University Art Gallery is located in the Aidekman Arts Center on Talbot Avenue on the Tufts University Campus in Medford, MA. For more gallery information, see: http://ase.tufts.edu/gallery/info/directions.html.

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