Art lending project flourishes at Braddock library

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Less than a year ago, the Solomon Center at Carnegie Library in Braddock was an empty room. For the past five months, it has bustled with patrons borrowing paintings, prints and other small works of art.

Even though the 2013 Carnegie International will end Sunday at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland, Transformazium plans to continue its Art Lending Collection and has already expanded it to include musical instruments. People can take home one of two guitars with amplifiers donated by Hunter College in New York City.

"Facilitators and community members come up with ideas to keep the program going," said Mary Carey, one of three facilitators who help people choose and check out items. "Musical instruments were the idea of the community, and we want to honor their ideas."

Transformazium is a collaborative art group that moved to Braddock from New York City several years ago and includes artists Ruthie Stringer, Dana Bishop-Root and Leslie Stem. When Transformazium was invited by International curators to submit a project, the group was inspired by a similar program that Ms. Stringer experienced as a child.

The lending library started with 96 pieces donated by artists featured in the International and by other local, national and international artists and collectors. Since it opened in October, 20 pieces have been added to the pegboards at the library, which will celebrate its 125th anniversary March 30. The collection consists of paintings, drawings, etchings, photos, screen prints and a few small sculptures. Two art catalogs at the library have refillable pages to make documenting the changing the collection easier. Almost all of the artists in this year's International contributed works.

In addition to borrowing art, patrons can choose art to be hung as part of the International, which was started by Andrew Carnegie in 1896. Guest "curators" choose three pieces and write a personal statement about why they chose them. One of the most popular pieces was "The Life Giver" by Barbara Richards. Two free passes to the International are available for checkout at the library.

"People love to be curators," Ms. Carey said. "Having their statement with the art makes them feel like part of understanding that art."

Borrowers range from housewives to college professors to students of all ages. The busiest days are Saturdays and Monday and Tuesday afternoons.

"There's one patron that fills her wall with new art every week," Ms. Carey said.

About 40 percent of borrowers have come from Braddock Library's service area, which includes Turtle Creek, East McKeesport, North Braddock and Chalfant. Sixty percent are people from other parts of Allegheny County, including Lawrenceville, Oakland, Swissvale, Homestead and McKeesport. More than 90 people have accounted for 355 works checked out to date.

The first piece loaned was "Defunct Projector" by Phyllida Barlow. Among the most popular are "The Moorish Chief" by Eduard Charlemont, "Alixa and Naima" by Swoon and "Monday Morning on Commerce Street" by Ernest Watson.

Although the lending library is connected to the International, "it was always intended to go past the International," said Ms. Bishop-Root. "That was a part of the original plan."

The Heinz Endowments provided funding for the art lending facilitators through this fall. Other support came from the Sprout Fund and the Carnegie Museums. Transformazium is applying for continued funding from local foundations and individuals to make the program permanent. Its success has paved the way for other lending programs.

"Art lending was kind of a pilot program," Ms. Bishop-Root said. "With the Borough of Braddock, we're also exploring a garden and tool lending collection."

One goal of Transformazium and its project was to make libraries into more than just a place to check out books.

"Transformazium's use of that library and engagement was very much in line with what an institution can do both with art and the world," Dan Byers, co-curator of the International, said on the International's website.

Nikki Pena: or 412-263-1280.

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