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Wednesday April 23rd 2014

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All for Art and Art for All

By Sarah McCartan and Jessica Forbes

When it comes to public art, countless cities around the world have taken it upon themselves to install pieces that not only beautify their landscapes, but also serve to tell stories and engage the public. And it doesn’t stop at pieces of the sculptural or fine arts variety.

Even though Banksy hasn’t put his graffiti stamp here yet—at least not to our knowledge—Pensacola has quite a number of signature pieces to call its own, those created by the community, for the community.

This fall, multiple public art- and public use-driven campaigns are unfolding locally—efforts that seek to take sharing the love, appreciation of and support for the arts, yet another giant leap further.

Little Libraries, Big Ideas

You know those books that are collecting dust on your shelves? Well, now might be a prime time to donate them to a communal home, or more specifically, a “Little Free Library.”

In the coming months, you may notice a growing number of structures in neighborhoods or at area businesses that resemble over-sized birdhouses or tiny versions of bus shelters. If you’ve stumbled upon one of these novelties already, then you have located the tangible product of a movement that is sweeping across the globe in an effort to share the joy of reading, promote literacy, and foster a greater sense of community. Lean in for a closer look, and you’ll discover each of these little houses is filled with a collection of books, boasting an affixed sign reading “Little Free Library.”

Similar to the idea of “Take a penny, leave a penny” trays, Little Free Libraries (LFL) operate on the cooperative, pay it forward philosophy. The initiative’s motto is “Take a book, return a book.”

What started as one man’s way of honoring his mother, a former teacher, has quickly turned into a global initiative. The Little Free Library program began in 2009 in Hudson, Wis. when Todd Bol built a small box modeled after an old-fashioned schoolhouse, filled it with books and put it on a post in his front yard with a sign reading “Free Books.”

Soon after, Bol constructed replicas of his structures and gave them away. Then, at a seminar on green practices, Bol met Rick Brooks. Together, the two developed a vision for spreading Bol’s free book practice, with a goal of promoting Little Free Libraries until 2,509 had been constructed, the same number of free public libraries that Andrew Carnegie supported around the turn of the 20th century.

The movement spread outside of Wisconsin in 2011, with individuals across the U.S. constructing a combined 400 LFLs by the end of the year. By August 2012, the program’s goal of inspiring 2,509 LFLs into existence had been reached, and it is estimated that by January 2014 there will be over 10,000 LFLs worldwide.

Until this fall, the closest registered Little Free Libraries were stationed in Fairhope, Ala. to the west and Panama City-Southport to the east. As of October, Pensacola is officially in on the initiative, thanks to Carolyn Appleyard, who has ignited a spark that is catching fire throughout the community.

“I first heard about this when my friend Rick Dye posted a picture of him and his grandson with a Little Free Library in Kansas City. I wanted one,” Appleyard recounted. “After learning more, I decided I wanted many.”

She first decided to put up her own LFL, a repurposed newspaper stand, in her neighborhood near Bayou Texar. As an active participant in several community service organizations, including Pensacola Habitat for Humanity, it wasn’t long before word, and interest, began to spread.

“A very informal group began sharing ideas and contacts, and things are falling into place for Pensacola’s Little Free Libraries,” said Appleyard. “We decided we did not want anything too formal, but just to begin sharing the idea and letting others be involved as they liked.”

Appleyard set up the “Pensacola’s Little Free Libraries” Facebook page to allow those interested in participating to join in the conversation. She also brought the movement to November’s Gallery Night, setting up a library in the Downtown branch of Gulf Coast Community Bank to introduce the concept to a broader audience.

Walk inside the bank, look to the right and you will see the LFL, filled to the brim with books, ranging from classics to lesser known titles. While Gulf Coast Community Bank is the first business on board, there are more sites in the works.

“Locations I know that either have libraries, or will soon, are Cordova Park, East Hill, Pineglades Neighborhood Association, Pensacola Habitat for Humanity, Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, Pensacola Sports Association, Gulf Breeze, and Gulf Coast Community Banks,” Appleyard reported.

An official world map of LFLs is available on the non-profit’s website; however, due to the popularity of the program, it may take some time before Pensacola’s LFLs land on the site.

“As of right now, there are a couple registered in the area, but the main office in Wisconsin is backlogged in getting them on the world map,” Appleyard stated.

Aside from asking that LFLs be constructed from recycled materials, there are few formal stipulations from Little Free Library headquarters, other than to simply encourage reading among children and adults. And, though pre-made LFLs are available on the official website, for the most part it seems the local LFLs are taking the DIY route, customizing their structures by location.

“Pineglades is being built by some of the members of their homeowners association. Pensacola Habitat will be building theirs, plus others for sale at the ReStore, I hope. Pensacola Sports Association will be building, probably with a sports theme. So, everyone is doing it differently depending on their talents and resources,” said Appleyard.

For those looking to get involved, LFL encourages three primary ways. First, build or order and install a Little Free Library. These libraries can be placed in parks, near restaurants, community centers, or event front yards. Second, collect or donate books to stock these libraries. And third, take and share books. Participate in the project by helping monitor and maintain library locations.

For more info, visit littlefreelibrary.org and facebook.com/PensacolasLittleFreeLibraries.

Tuning In

No longer do you have to slink into the Crowne Plaza to get your hands on a mighty fine set of keys—piano keys that is. A combined effort of the University of West Florida and The City of Pensacola has resulted in the official launch of a public piano project.

The idea of the project is to spread the love of and appreciation for music through installing public pianos throughout the community. Harry and Evan Levin, co-owners of Vinyl Music Hall, are, fittingly enough, the first members of the local arts community on board playing hosts to the project.

You may have spotted the brightly painted upright by now, either while perusing up and down Palafox during your work day, or stumbling about after-hours. In case you’ve missed it, the painted structure is located just outside of the Vinyl Music Hall ticket window, nestled into the corner of the building located directly on the corner of Palafox and Garden Streets.

Although “street pianos” are novelties that have caught on worldwide on behalf of
movements like the “Play Me, I’m Yours,” project, here on the home front, the project is the brain child of distinguished professor, and Director of the Piano Program and Chamber Music at the University of West Florida, Dr. Hedi Salanki-Rubardt. Rubardt approached Mayor Ashton Hayward with her idea for this project a year ago and thanks to the combined support from the university, city and local community, is now getting to see it to fruition.

At the unveiling ceremony, Rubardt shared her enthusiasm for the Pensacola area, noting that despite being a world traveler, it’s a place that she considers home, and it’s a community that she feels is becoming increasingly supportive of the arts. This piano project is one she hopes, will help sustain and further grow this support.

“Music and art belong to everyone,” she stated. “I felt this was a mecca for art and music. No wonder young professionals want to stay here. It’s home. And there’s so much happening here.”

Be it a person who has practiced for years who wants to sit down and play an entire masterpiece, or a mother simply letting their child have his or her hands on the keys for the first time, “These single moments have the potential to change lives,” said Rubardt.

The IN’s question remains, which local celebrity will be the first to sit down and play a jingle? Although we secretly hoped it would be the mayor, Hayward confirmed that he himself is no pianist. Still, he noted, he has musicians in his immediate family, even more reason he has enthusiastically applauded this initiative from the start.

“Bringing public art and music to the community is important to raise awareness,” said Hayward. “All of us are better when we support the arts.”

The public piano project has been made possible thanks to a combination of generosity from longstanding music store Dollarhide’s and private donations. Although the first piano has made its home at Vinyl Music Hall, a second piano has been delivered to the Community Maritime Park and will soon be in place and ready for play.

“This is one more step in making sure both our guests and residents are emerged in the arts,” said Jerre Brisky, Director of UWF’s Center for Fine and Performing Arts.
Brisky confirmed that like anything else, getting the first one in place is the hardest part, and that more pianos are expected to make their way to the scene in the coming months.

“There are two more ready to be placed and in process and another that is being painted,” he said.

As far as the art that is adorning the piano fronts is concerned, the idea is to mix it up, including the work of university staff and students and native artists. The artwork itself will be sealed to be weather resistant.

Although piano fanatics may shudder at the idea of putting their piano at an external wall of their house, much less outside to the tune of these public structures, there will be some checkups in place. Regular tune ups are planned, and the pianos are intentionally located in at least partially covered areas to remain somewhat shielded from the ever-changing Florida elements.

If news of the project has suddenly resurrected the inner-pianist in you, there is even talk of free piano lessons to come in the future.

To learn more about this project, contact Dr. Hedi Salanki-Rubardt at hrubardt@uwf.edu.