Brooklyn Arts Library
Are you a bookworm or just enjoy delving into someone else’s world? We have a secret hangout for you…
Best described as “An approachable place for anyone to feel like they can participate in art and not feel restricted by rules or their skill level, their education in art or anything like that, regardless of who you are you can enjoy making art” says Steve Peterman, co-founder of Art House Co-op.
Every year, Art House Co-op opens its doors to thousands of people to sign up and create a sketchbook based around a selection of topics. After submission, The Brooklyn Arts Library stores them just like any other library, for other people to come in and view at their leisure.
Sat, surrounded by an array of personal reflections on topics set by the group, we chatted with Steve to hear how this small town project grew to impact its local community and now the world.
YMM: How did the Sketchbook project come about?
SP: We started by doing different projects, and the sketchbook project was just the one that really took off and what we now spend most of our time on. It was something that filled up really fast and then we use to close it, but as soon as we learned to just let it go, we really realised its potential. I think this year will be our 6th year and our 4th year touring.
What is it about the project being open to everyone which is so important?
I wanted to start this project because I was more interested in the collective. The idea that anybody could do this and then become apart of something that was bigger than them. You and 10 of your friends could get together and make 10 sketchbooks but when you have 10,000 other people doing it, we’re able to travel around the country and do all these other things that you wouldn’t be able to do in a small group. Because there are so many people involved, we’re able to do so many great things with it. But it also came from the fact that I was never a great draftsman. I went to art school but I was always more interested in the process, so I never felt comfortable approaching a gallery, and I’ve never had a show apart from through Art House, and I never felt like that made sense. I wanted that feeling of going to my opening and showing my work to people other than my immediate family. And so it kind of stemmed from that, and Shane is a graphic designer so he would never have the chance to show his work. We both felt there was a need for art to go back to where everyone could just enjoy it. You shouldn’t feel like you have to make something and then just stick it in your closet, because you didn’t go to art school or you aren’t selling your work. It just makes art more accessible. Now we’re in such an impersonal age with the internet, its nice to go back to this analogue style.
I read on your site that the age range was from 5-87?
Yeah, we had a whole senior citizen group, down it Atlanta do it and that was really exciting, they all came to the show, and we’ve had tons of little kids do it. It’s cool that these works are placed together, it really breaks boundaries of what a gallery is.
Do you see it as a gallery or a library or a mix of the two?
I definitely see it more as a library. The idea came from more of a necessity. We had all of these books and we were like, how do we organise all of these things? Then we created the library, it just makes sense. We don’t really show like a gallery because you cant look at things without getting a library card. Back in Atlanta we use to put on shows but since we moved to NYC we don’t really have the space. We tried to intertwine the two but then it was kind of weird to have curated shows and the library as they don’t really mix.
Oh YEAH! Its a whole different world. We loved Atlanta but its a very small art community. We always had more people from NY participate than Atlanta. There was always a competition between NY and California, who had the most people.
I grew up in the North East, and Shane and I both felt this was the right move for us, and it’s been great. We’ve had such a huge reception and not just from Williamsburg and the locals, but NY in general. The opening event for the sketchbook project last year was insane. You couldn’t move for 10 hours. Yeah, we made the mistake of having it open for 10 hours. We’d had Brooklyn shows before we moved here and it was always the biggest and most exciting shows so it felt like the right place to be.
2012 is the first year the Library will tour outside of the states. How does the tour work?
Yes, 2012 is our first year going international. We’re going to London and Melbourne. We’ll be in London in October.
Right now, the idea is that we created a mobile library. Where we have custom rolling shelves where all the books come down. Last year we had around 14 shelves in the back of this truck and we travel across the country and set up. It’s almost as though you’re in our Brooklyn Library.
Tell me about the Limited Edition Project that is coming up…
We like the sketchbook project that we run every year, but we havent really changed it much since it started. We wanted to try something new. We’ve made a few little books in the past, but we’ve never made a book out of the sketchbooks. There is such amazing work in them and we felt we were doing them a disservice by not bringing that out. We thought it would be exciting to try something new. The idea behind the Limited Edition Project is to experiment with different ways to do art projects and this is the first one. Ok so it’s probably not groundbreaking, but it is a way to see how people feel about this. We have no limit on the participants in the yearly project but we limited this to 5000 people. The two projects allow us to do different things. The yearly projects allow us to go on tour but we can’t make a book, whereas the limited edition project allows us to make a book but wont go on tour.
What is the plan for the future? To have a library in every city?
We would definitely like to reach more people. This is the best example of what we do and when people visit they’re like “oh, I get it.”. We’d like to show this to more people and we’re working on a bunch of ideas for next year which will allow people to be far more interactive with this.
We figured its actually only 8-10% of people who submit who get to visit the show because we have such a wide range over the country and all over the world. We had around 95 different countries participate last year, and we obviously cant reach all of those people, but starting with the U.S at least, we really want to reach as many places as possible. We are really trying to make that higher and I guess that the most exciting part.
One of the interesting developments recently was the decision to go back to our roots and make everything a lot simpler. We have a lot going on and I think it became more complicated than it needed to be. I think if people stick with us they will really notice we are going back to our roots. We really want to go back to the core value of the project. We want to inspire people to make art work who wouldn’t normally get to do this, or who need a little boost or want to use this as a project to start a new project. We really want to reach those people.
I always use my mum as an example. I finally got her to sign up after she visited one of our shows, and now she loves it and wants to do it all the time. She got really into it, she used it to talk about something that had happened in her life. So we want to show more people that that can happen.
We sell art supplies here so people can create their sketchbooks. But we’re also really inspired by the vintage items we sell, which are all about the packaging and all have this element of craft. We like to be the place where you either buy the materials to create or view the sketchbooks, but mainly to be a place where people feel inspired
With the 2013 project due to launch on April 14th, Steve promises this year to be the most exciting yet, with an unlikely twist to come. Though he kept hush hush on the details, we think it will be well worth the wait.
Check out Art House Co-Op to keep up to date with all their news and projects and view their digital archivie. Or take a trip to their library at 103A N. 3rd St, Brooklyn, NY 11211 either way, Art House Co-Op is something artists of any degree should get to know.