Artists bring community-centered approach to their artwork across libraries
PORTLAND, Ore. — Multnomah County Library (MCL) and Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) are teaming up to bring artwork to libraries throughout Multnomah County. This effort is part of the voter-approved 2020 Library building bond which will build, rebuild or expand nine library buildings while providing smaller upgrades to 11 libraries as part of the Refresh projects. Since the bond passed, Multnomah County Library has been hard at work on major updates, with the Operations Center and Holgate and Midland libraries leading the way as some of the first projects.
Public art for the community
As part of these updates, local artists are creating unique installations at each of these sites that represent the community’s history, culture and diversity.
“At the center of these new libraries is the belief that beauty and transformative spaces should be accessible for everyone,” said Vailey Oehlke, Director of Libraries. “Working with the Regional Arts and Culture Council offers an opportunity to bring the library, community and artists together in a vibrant way to ensure these new library spaces are not just functional for everyone, but also beautiful and inspiring.”
This artwork is developed in coordination with the Regional Arts & Culture Council through the Multnomah County Percent for Art Program, allotting 2% of the construction budget for all county-funded improvement projects toward the investment in public art. Artists are awarded projects as part of a robust public process, which includes selection panels led by local residents, business owners, artists, library staff and project partners.
The first library buildings to plan for public art include the Operations Center. As the heart of the library, it’s where every item placed on hold is sorted in addition to being the first stop for new books and materials. Plus, items for outreach to schools, shelters and more will be centered here. On July 6, 2022, the library broke ground on the Operations Center on the site of a former Safeway grocery store (221 NE 122nd Ave, Portland, OR 97230). This 73,000 square foot building is scheduled to open in late 2023.
Holgate Library will be a brand new two-story building, triple the size of the current space for a total of 21,000 square feet. It will be one of the largest libraries in Multnomah County. To begin on this new building, Holgate Library closed to begin construction on December 5, 2022 and will reopen in 2024.
Midland Library will undergo important renovations and an expansion to add 6,000 square feet of space, or an increase of about 25 percent. To complete these exciting upgrades, Midland Library closed to begin construction on December 23, 2022 and will reopen in 2024.
Thanks to feedback from members of the community, exciting new features at Holgate and Midland will include:
- Outdoor spaces for community connection.
- Large play and learning spaces for children.
- Teen rooms with space for technology, homework and creative expression.
- Art that represents diverse cultures.
Community artists representing community vision
Community engagement is a core value for the building projects. Selection panels prioritized artists with demonstrated experience and expressed interest in embedding community into their practice and work. Most artists selected for these projects are expected to create and host community engagement opportunities as part of their design phase. Some of these arts-focused events have already taken place and more are on their way in the coming months.
“We are immensely grateful for our continued partnerships with other community-centered, value-aligned organizations such as Multnomah County Library. RACC and MCL are prioritizing equity, accessibility, community, and innovation within our approaches to these significant projects. The expansive nature of libraries and the creativity with which MCL is approaching the library building improvements align well for the inclusion of public art. Providing opportunities for artistic growth is integral to our mission, as is the development, strengthening, and expansion of our arts and culture ecosystem. We are committed to centering the creativity and prosperity of artists and communities who, historically, have not been represented in the cultural fabric of this region. We are thrilled with the artists who have been selected by the community panels and extend our gratitude to all those working to bring these artworks into being," said Carol Tatch, Co-Executive Director & Chief of External Operations, Regional Arts & Culture Council.
Meet the artists
Operations Center: Exterior entrance
A new, large-scale, 2-dimensional permanent exterior artwork at the Operations Center entrance will be created by artist Tenya Rodriguez (they/them). The site-specific original artwork will greet staff and visitors alike with vibrant colors and energy as they enter the new building, which is considered the heart of the library system. The artwork will also be visible to vehicular and pedestrian traffic along NE 122nd Avenue, capturing the attention of those who pass by. Tenya is a queer, Latinx, self-taught artist whose practice centers on mark-making and layering as a way to communicate through experimental expressionism.
Photo credit: Tenya Rodriguez
Midland Library: Exterior canopy
As part of the overall building renovation, Midland Library will acquire a new entry canopy, framing the redesigned entrance and exterior public plaza. The underside of the canopy, spanning the width of the building, will feature artwork by local artists Lillyanne Pham (LP) and Paola De La Cruz (she/her). Lillyanne is a second-generation Vietnamese artist and cultural organizer who creates through a systemic consciousness framework and lens, specifically place-based justice and racial equity. Paola, originally from the Dominican Republic, interweaves digital and analog media, patterns, stitching and shape-based illustrations to evoke intimacy while challenging the themes of cultural identity, coming of age and interpersonal growth. Together, Lillyanne and Paola conceive and actualize socially engaged projects which blend one another's strengths, passions and creativity.
Instagram: @happynappystudio / @lillyannepham / @paola.lillyanne
Photo credit: Keanu Narciso, Instagram: @keanunarciso_
Midland Library: Gathering Circle
Kanani Miyamoto (she/her) has been selected to create an original 2-dimensional wall-mounted artwork which will frame Midland Library’s interior Gathering Circle, a communal seating area that encourages and fosters connection. The artwork will be located directly across from the new main entry doors and will be one of the first things visible as people arrive at the library. Kanani is a practicing artist, curator, adjunct instructor and teacher whose work focuses on sharing and celebrating her unique mixed heritage in the hopes of representing her community and the beauty of intersectional identities. Through Kanani’s community-centered work she brings awareness to the damaging effects of capitalism and settler colonialism on Pacific Island people and land.
Photo credit: Kayla Wiley, Instagram: @wileyimage
Holgate Library: Interior/exterior wall
The Interior/Exterior Wall public art project at Holgate Library is multi-dimensional in name and practice Salomée Souag’s (she/her) artwork will be etched onto exterior panels of the building's façade creating a permanent sculptural drawing on the outside. Elements of these exterior panels will be replicated inside along the full length of the ground floor lobby wall as part of a large-scale, site-specific, 2-dimensional digital mural. Salomée is a muralist, designer and creative from Switzerland who holds her Peruvian and Algerian ancestors closer to her heart, her community and her work. In her consistent and continuous evolution and artistic practice, she creates revolutionary work to give power to the people, youth and artists. Salomée’s bold and powerful work encourages everyone to break down boundaries and borders and to imagine expression.
Photo credit: Haley Busch, Instagram: @hal3_
Holgate Library: Exterior site enclosure
Arts activist Crystal Meneses (she/her) will be creating a 2-dimensional wall-mounted artwork for Holgate Library’s Exterior Site Enclosure. The artwork will wrap the enclosure, creatively anchoring the north entry outdoor patio. Located between the new library and the new parking lot, the artwork will be highly visible from SE 79th Avenue as people arrive at the library. In addition, the artwork will act as the backdrop to ground floor flex spaces that will be used by library staff and patrons for classes and events. Crystal creates from a communal perspective, centering connection and relationship and ensuring inclusion. Her mission is to inspire arts activism in the community while supporting others in discovering their passions and talents. Crystal’s expansive approach and ability to cultivate community is, in itself, a work of art. At the heart of everything Crystal generates is the desire to elevate collective healing, particularly amongst marginalized communities.
Photo credit: Alberta Akins