By Thomas Vogel
Forest Parkers this weekend will get the chance to peruse work from 100 local artists.
The free two-day show, organized by the Forest Park Public Library to commemorate its centennial year, will take place at Madison Street's Bottle Rocket Gallery. The event's planners, Alicia Hammond, the community engagement librarian, and Elaine Luther, a local artist and resident, settled on "access" as the show's theme, in a nod to both the changing role of libraries and their continuing role as hubs of learning.
"As a big library lover, that to me just seemed to be the most relevant way to get people to think about the future of the library and where it is going," Luther said.
"What we loan is going to change, but what we do is always going to stay the same in being a place for people to come and explore," Hammond added. "Access really sums it all up."
Indeed, as technology continues to upend more traditional library services and more information transitions to digital and online platforms, programming and services have evolved. Libraries across the country now overwhelmingly offer Wi-Fi internet access, ebooks, digital audiobooks and online workshops, like job hunting tips. The Forest Park Library is no different, offering Wi-Fi hotspots to patrons and regularly hosting community events like outdoor movie showings, trivia nights, and book swaps.
"We are constantly evolving and changing and learning and trying to find out what our community wants of us," Hammond said. "We're not here to sit and hold a bunch of books in a dusty corner."
Hammond and Luther have collaborated on projects before, including a public art installation on the library's lawn last summer. The pair acknowledged that finding 100 artists was no small feat but Luther tapped her personal artist network and Hammond used her role at the library to get the message out.
"We worked our community connections pretty hard with this one," Hammond said. "I really was wishing it had been our 50th anniversary."
Hammond and Luther were deliberately vague with the show's requirements, giving each artist wide berth to illustrate what libraries mean to them. Each participant received a small, 11 x 8-inch wooden rectangle with instructions to make sure the artwork could be hung from a gallery wall. The rectangles have rounded edges, mirroring the shape of a library card.
Of the show's 100 artists, about 40 are from Forest Park with the rest hailing from nearby suburbs like Oak Park and Berwyn, according to Hammond.
Geographic diversity aside, the artists also varied in age, with some as young as 17 and others in their mid-60s. The submissions are unique, too. Some riff on a specific piece of literature, others are more abstract.
Linda DeViller, an artist from neighboring Oak Park, described her love of libraries in an email.
"For me, the library was key to my thesis research," DeViller wrote. "It was more than just a place to look up information to support my paper — it was also a space to think, to write, to question, to learn, to argue, to doubt, and to see."
Another participant, Gina Lee Robbins, who works in Forest Park, wrote, "This project challenged me to confront themes that I don't think I would have had the opportunity to otherwise. And by giving each artist the same sized board, it provided a nice framework that limited us, yet allowed us to make a unique and personal work."
Hitting the 100 artist quota is success enough for Luther and Hammond and each expressed excitement about the upcoming event, which the pair said will showcase the area's robust artistic talent and serve as a reminder of the continued importance of libraries.
The work at this weekend's show will be for sale and all proceeds will go to the artists. All remaining pieces will be relocated to the library and displayed throughout the building.
"People are always saying that libraries are dying, but I don't see that at all," Hammond said.
"We are still very much needed."