Posted by: acarlson | April 8, 2010

Can Art Help Save the Boston Public Library?

March 14th’s edition of the Boston Globe featured a manafesto by artist Dushko Petrovich, calling for the City of Boston – it’s residents, universities, and government – to develop our city space into a more artist friendly place to be and engage audiences more often.  The opportunities for art to be displayed and celebrated are endless, but we haven’t discovered a way to draw in crowds, especially people who typically wouldn’t visit a gallery or an artist open studio event.

Boston Photography Center was founded to promote and advance the art of the photography in Boston.  We have organized photo fairs, charity fundraisers, and group exhibitions.  Every Saturday in August for the past four years, we’ve stood out in the Boston Public Garden holding poster-sized prints for visitors to enjoy – a living art gallery with no sales pitch.  Visitors love it.  We’ve also been working hard on a photo documentary about Boston neighborhoods.  We were thrilled to be scheduled for an exhibition at the Moakley Courthouse on Boston’s waterfront, but even more excited that local branches of the Boston Public Library welcomed our work with open arms.

But that is in jeopardy.  One of our exhibits is scheduled to be in the Codman Square branch of the BPL this fall, which is one that may possibly close under one proposed plan by BPL President Amy Ryan.  (Note:  The newest proposal outlined in this morning’s Globe will close four branches.  If accepted, Codman Square is not on the list.  There are several proposals being debated right now.  Read more about the Codman Square proposal here.)

Libraries are not just for books – they are community centers.  And BPL branches are fantastic locations to begin the art revolution that Petorvich calls for in his article.  The perceived pretentiousness of an art gallery dissipates – those intimidated or unfamiliar with the art world would be more willing to see an exhibit at their local library.  And the art would be viewed by a wider age demographic and perhaps inspire the future artists, architects, and business people of Boston.

Promoting exhibits in the neighborhood library branches will bring in residents who ordinarily don’t visit the library or are from a nearby community.  Perhaps some of the people who use the Mattapan branch would come to the Codman Square location and discover it’s closer to home and become a new patron.  That’s only one example, but it’s very possible.  Boston Photography Center opened an exhibit last night at Brookline Public Library and people came because they saw an event listing on, or in the Brookline TAB.  Some of those people may already visit that particular library on a regular basis while others may not.

Giving residents new reasons to visit their local libraries are essential to keeping them open.  While art won’t solve all of the BPL’s budget problems, it may help bring residents back.  Through her Twitter account this morning, Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley says that “libraries keep communities healthy”.  Maybe local artists, the BPL, and the City of Boston can find a way to work together and make that happen.



  1. One thing you could do is set up a questionnaire which could be filled out at the opening and also downstairs at the checkout desk. Ask questions to determine if the folks who came to the library for the opening also ended up using the library itself. This information could be very helpful to the libraries. It would help them realize if supporting the arts actually works or not.

    I say this only because as I get people asking me to joint his, join that, get on this list, pay to be included in that source book, etc. etc., I have simply responded everytime with a simple question: “what is the ROI?” What’s the return on investment?

    By providing data about people who come to show openings at libraries, you can actually contribute to information that will help the libraries determine whether these activities really are bringing people in to the use the library services.

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