Rochester Public Library Measures Art by Square Foot – Post Bulletin

Sometimes thinking inside the box can spur creativity. That’s certainly the case with the Rochester Public Library’s Square Foot Gallery art exhibit. It currently features images of everything from an eye crying ocean tears to a desert body of water.

The exhibit calls for Olmsted County artists of all ages to submit works that fit within one square foot. Each exhibition includes works by 24 artists that fit into a specific theme. The current exhibition, which is available to view in the Youth Services section of the library until September 15, 2022, features artworks that respond to the theme of water.

Eric Tarr, Youth Services Librarian at the Rochester Public Library, coordinates the Square Foot Gallery. He has worked in the library for about eight years.

“Libraries are great environments for learning, sharing and creating,” he says. “And the library learns, shares and co-creates with the community.”

The concept for the Square Foot Gallery, which first began showing art by local artists in 2018, came about in part because several of the library’s youth services staff come from an art background and appreciate the positive effect it can have on community. Seeing some “underutilized” display cases in the library’s Youth Services section, they did some math, used some creative thinking, and came up with the 12-by-12-inch concept. In total, there are 15 exhibitions in the gallery. That’s about 360 pieces of art.

Although Square Foot Gallery took a long hiatus during the height of the pandemic, it relaunched in April 2022 and has since featured broad themes such as art that is associated with the color yellow. Each new exhibit features eight artworks representing three age groups: 5 to 12 years, 13 to 17 years, and 18 and over. Works are selected for display based on adherence to technical guidelines, artistic merit, craftsmanship, originality and completeness of application.

“The library’s mission is to welcome everyone to connect and learn,” says Rochester Public Library Youth Services Manager Heather Acero. “One aspect of providing a welcoming environment is to represent and celebrate our community. Having an active art gallery space provides community members with an opportunity to see themselves on display and a part of that public space.

“Square Foot Gallery also addresses strategic priorities of the libraries and the city, including creating connections, providing cultural opportunities and fostering creativity,” Acero says.

The works on display in the current exhibition have titles such as ‘Pirate Sunset’, ‘Mermaid’s Sparkling Water’ and ‘Measured Flow’. Artists have used everything from colored pencils and acrylic paints to yarn and pebbles in their creations. Part of the beauty of the exhibit is how it displays artwork from many different age groups side by side. The way the pieces create a dialogue with each other about their common theme is fascinating.

“I enjoy the offerings most that embrace the creative process,” Tarr says. “Whether that means the artists are really creative in their interpretation of the subject, or collaborating with friends and family to create artwork together, or really sharing something of themselves in addition to their artwork.”

As Tarr works on developing each new theme for Square Foot Gallery, he says he tries to keep it “open and inviting.”

“Often I’ll yell into the office that I need help with a new idea, and someone will yell something back. It’s very complicated,” he jokes.

The library is currently accepting submissions for the next Square Foot Gallery Exhibition until 15 September 2022. The submission theme is ‘birds’. The submission application can be found at www.rplmn.org/services/more-services/square-foot-gallery. He encourages candidates to “just walk away.”

Entries can be submitted in person or by email for consideration. The Birds exhibition will run from October 6 to November 17, 2022.

“We value the effect and impact that art can have on a community,” Tarr says. “It is an important resource for communication and connection and meets several organizational priorities identified by our community.”

He doesn’t hesitate to point out, too, that the gallery and its art are “fun, and uplifting, and serious, and important, and so many other things. And it’s for everyone.”

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