New Initiatives Grant Final Report

“Art in Conversation: Jacob Lawrence & James Baldwin”

Please provide a brief narrative explaining your project and its outcomes.

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The Community Library of DeWitt & Jamesville and the Everson Museum of Art have partnered together in the fall of 2020 on a new initiative, Art in Conversation: Jacob Lawrence & James Baldwin. Art in Conversation: Jacob Lawrence & James Baldwin provides new public outlets for artistic engagement and discussion, in spite of barriers faced by the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative consists of two components: the first, a virtual book discussion series on the works of James Baldwin sponsored by a grant from Humanities NY, and the second, take-home ArtStory Kits for families inspired by the artwork of Jacob Lawrence. 15 people registered to participate in the virtual book discussion organized by the Everson. This was the maximum number of participants. 96 art kits were distributed to community members via county-wide delivery and pick-up appointments through the library system. Additionally, 28 copies of James Baldwin’s seminal works were added to Onondaga County’s digital and physical book catalogs which are available to any member of the library system. Since they were purchased in August (digital books) and September (print books), the titles as a whole have circulated 21 times and one of the collected essays print copies has circulated 4 times. Qualitative analysis of the project’s outcomes has been tricky but we have gotten positive feedback by phone and social media channels which shows indication that this project has helped to provide an opportunity for community members to address socially relevant topics, spark dialogue, and engage with art in a meaningful way. Participants declined to attend two scheduled, outdoor programs to bring their art and share their experiences with others. This may be due to the COVID-19 and families’ hesitance to attend in-person programming during the pandemic. A project modeled on this one could benefit from a required sign-up for such an event at the time a box is claimed. A unique social media hashtag might also serve to bring finished works together that are shared digitally.

What is the most remarkable accomplishment or finding of your project?

The COVID-19 pandemic has not halted people’s interest in engaging with art and the narratives, stories, and histories explored by artists. Indeed, I think this project shows that the pandemic has increased people’s interest in engaging with art especially with their children. We had several requests for boxes for school-aged children and we believe people are taking the opportunity during this time of recommended distance and sheltering to reach out in other ways to continue to connect with the arts and the stories they tell with their families.

Please provide a brief summary of your evaluation activities and/or results, if available.

A call for submissions of artwork created with the ArtStory Kits have returned five submissions. The conversation with the library about the impact of the kits’ content has been very lean and could possibly be helped by in-person activities that are safely planned. I believe some participants used the kit to engage with the social aspects explained within the kit and some used it as a creative outlet, putting aside the information about Baldwin and Lawrence, which I think has some merit even though it subverts the intention. 52 of the 96 ArtStory Kits were requested between the beginning of September and the end of October. Interest waned after October and we put the remaining kits out to be taken at the library’s Patio Pick-Up station. All kits were claimed by December 4th.

Anything else you’d like us to know?

We are very thankful to CLRC for supporting this opportunity for CLD&J to partner with The Everson and bring people an experience they can have at home in a time of seclusion as well as letting them engage with art and ideas during this difficult year. We have learned a lot from this project that we hope to use in the future!

Erin Cassidy
Assistant Director of Technology, Community Library of DeWitt & Jamesville

Are you interested in being our next New Initiatives Grant recipient? Check out the grant page for the rules & requirements!