The Library is Our Center for the Arts

For many Americans, the local library is the only gallery, performance space, or collaboration space in town.

Edward Engquist
Jan 15 · 4 min read

The idea of a “Center for the Arts” conjures up images of everything from cavernous theatres sitting proudly on some prestigious learning institute’s campus to small galleries springing up somewhere downtown offering space to local productions and creators.

But did you happen to think of your local library when considering this phrase?

Libraries offer more than shelves of books and highly-trained reference staff. They also are vibrant community centers serving to help and host local creators, interest groups, and organizations in the creation and display of artistic expression. For many Americans, the local library is the only gallery, performance space, or collaboration space in town. So the next time you wonder where the pulse of local creative spirit for your town is, consider the nexus point that is your library.

Libraries are uniquely-equipped to serve as equal-access creative and expressive centers within their communities. Your local public library may be holding educational workshops to develop artistic and creative skills such as writing or painting right now! Events like these are commonly organized by community members or local charities and businesses to enrich creative literacy and provide an opportunity for artistic skill acquisition and development — whether it is for therapeutic means, to kickstart a professional interest, or simply as a fulfilling hobby.

As a makerspace, libraries support users by providing space, time, and materials to allow people to come in and create in a free-form, supportive atmosphere, often opening opportunities or cultivating a drive to create which can be difficult to generate in a vacuum. By transitioning to a space staffed by knowledgeable professionals and being given the reins to your own creativity, you can discover an artistic talent or develop a project which may otherwise lie dormant. Makerspaces also serve as excellent outlets for young budding artists to explore their talent in a positive environment free from pressure to conform to a preset curriculum.

As artistic venues, public libraries host artistic events and displays such as local theatre rehearsals and performances, concerts featuring local and visiting musicians, film showcases, and more. Check your local library’s event schedule to learn more, or request time to organize your own local performance as soon as possible. There is no better time to immerse yourself in the creative output of your community or to show off your own unique artistic expression. In this way of playing host to the living, breathing art of the moment or highlighting creative endeavors of local significance, libraries most truly embody their position as vital organs in the ever-evolving life of local culture.

Classes, performances, and other scheduled uses of a makerspace are all active, vital ways libraries continue to embody their status as centers for the arts, but it is important not to overlook the contributions of their collections as well. Not only does your local library contain an impressive and wide-ranging catalog of literature and other media related to the arts, but they also contain the ability to host and display local art itself. Many libraries feature galleries that showcase community art, displaying pieces and information within their walls and printing up-to-date newsletters following current creators, but they may also offer informed tours and educational panels focused on these pieces and the people who gave them life. Some artistic installations may be permanent, while others rotate frequently throughout the year, giving you a reason to return and follow the latest creative output in your community and even participate yourself by having your works featured for all library patrons to admire!

In addition to being intertwined with their local arts communities, libraries also interact with and are inspired by other libraries across America which also offer artistic programming, as well as library organizations that support the arts. These connections allow libraries easy access to traveling workshops, exhibits, performances, and more, expanding their artistic and cultural capacity beyond the community and featuring scheduled programming and talent from beyond the local sphere of influence. Keeping up-to-date with your visiting programs and organizations is a great way to experience the greater artistic community from the comfort of your hometown, as well as an excellent opportunity to request more of what you would like to see from your library in the future.

As we can see, libraries are not only as repositories of knowledge and entertainment but as living, breathing centers for the arts in your community and communities across America. Highly-trained library staff work tirelessly throughout the year to provide the best programming available and to foster, feature, and celebrate local creativity from the most humble grade-school finger painter to the next Stephen King, Andy Warhol, or Taylor Swift living in your town — who knows, it could be you!

EveryLibrary works to help libraries in small towns and big cities have the resources they need to serve everyone. Join the fight for America’s libraries at today.


Stories about libraries and librarians around America.

Edward Engquist

Written by


Stories about libraries and librarians around America. We cover the breadth of experiences that people have through their libraries, and showcase the amazing people who work there.

More From Medium

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade