In September of 2012, we opened an Art Room in Children’s Services at Rochester Public Library (MN). I previously had the pleasure of working with the talented staff of Allen County Public Library (IN) on an Art Room, so I knew just how awesome it could be. Inspired by an article in Children & Libraries* and heavily influenced by a chapter in 20 Under 40: Re-inventing the Arts and Arts Education for the 21st Century, the Art Room is a space where children can explore techniques and materials and exercise their creativity. It is an unrestricted creative space, meaning they can do whatever they want (okay, okay, within reason and following all safety rules, etc.) with the supplies on hand.
For the first year of our Art Room, Jon Allen, Janna Alme and I created monthly themes and changed out the supplies available. Themes included: Sequential Art (Comics), Masks, Flags, Lines in Art, 3D Paper Sculptures and Collage. Over the course of the year 8, 824 people used the room. That is an average of 735 people using the Art Room each month.
In June 2013, we conducted a survey of kids and grown ups who use the Art Room and the results were very positive:
- 82% of parents surveyed somewhat to strongly agreed that their children show more interest in creative projects after visiting the Art Room
- 82% of parents surveyed somewhat to strongly agreed that their children create more art because the Art Room is available
- 79% of parents surveyed strongly agreed that the Art Room is a valuable activity for their family
- 75% of parents surveyed strongly agreed that their children ask to visit the Art Room
- 69% of children surveyed indicated that the Art Room makes them feel happy
- 67% of children surveyed indicated that the Art Room makes them feel creative
And a few comments from the surveys:
“This is a wonderful place we all enjoy! Thanks RPL!”
“We love the art room! It is usually our 1st stop (and sometimes our last!)”
“You have a wonderful place for children to pass time and not get bored or tired. Thank you for all the help. My child shows a big interest in art at school or any place she can draw/color/cut anything (even at home). She had a very good time here at the library.”
How did we create this vibrant, well-loved public space, you ask? We started by carving out the space. My office was located right at the entrance to Children’s Services and had a wall of windows, the rest of the staff offices were around the corner. So I decided to join the rest of the Children’s Services staff and open my office to the public.
Then we had to find the money. We were lucky enough to receive a grant from a local arts organization, Rochester Arts Council, as well as some private donations. While shopping for tables, a local school offered us some discards, so we purchased stools, some drawer units, a poster frame, a display shelf and a small book shelf. We replaced the brown carpet with yellow laminate flooring. We also purchased some colorful paper frames, laminated them and cut out the center. Our plan was to display art that kids left behind. We were not expecting the huge volume of art that we received and after just a few months of trying to keep up with it, we simply put out tape dispensers and let the kids put their own art up on display.
Our first theme was Collage, so we spent a month collecting fantastic stuff from staff. We purchased a lot of basics: safety scissors, markers, marker holders, glue sticks (and more glue sticks), rulers, paper and colored pencils.
With this first year behind us, we have learned a lot about what kids enjoy. Kids prefer to have a wide variety of materials and tools available and the freedom to create whatever they want. With this information, we are planning to do away with the idea of a monthly theme, and instead feature a particular artist, movement or technique on a poster in the room. We’ll leave out a variety of supplies (kind of like what we would put out for collage): ribbon, string, paper in a variety of sizes, paper tubes, old books, photos, cardboard, stickers, etc. and let the kids use them however they like.
It is worth noting that without dedicated staff, the Art Room would be impossible. The room requires daily (and sometimes several times a day) cleaning and restocking.
*Kramer, Maria V. “Taking Part in Art.” Children & Libraries: The Journal Of The Association For Library Service To Children 8, no. 2 (Fall2010 2010): 31-37. Professional Development Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed September 15, 2013)