The New Haven Free Public Library held the first in a series of collage workshops on Wednesday night as part of “Celebrate New Haven: A Collaborative City-Wide Photo Collage.”
Each of the five NHFPL branches will host two workshops per month from January to April, for a total of 40 workshops. The participants at each branch will create two collages throughout the course of the workshops, and one collage will remain at each branch. The other will be part of an installation at the Ives Main Library in downtown New Haven.
Most residents who entered the Stetson Branch Library on Wednesday night glanced briefly at the table in the main room and continued on. Breana Anderson, a 16-year-old New Haven resident who occasionally comes to the library to use the computers, said she did not know the collage workshop was happening and was not interested in participating.
One boy who passed the table commented, “We did this in art class,” before going to a computer to play games. The other children in the library were in a different room participating in a program called “Take it Apart & Make Art,” which involves disassembling technology. After the program let out around 7:20 p.m., a few of the children added images to the collage.
Residents were invited to submit photos for the collage, though portraits of individuals and groups would not be accepted. The resident-submitted photos will be pieced together with photos taken by local artist Rashmi and photos curated from the library’s historical collection. The photos will be placed to create an aerial photo of New Haven.
Rashmi, who previously completed a similar collage on a smaller scale at a library in Wallingford, approached the NHFPL with the idea for the project. NHFPL then acquired a one-year grant from the Connecticut Office of the Arts through its Public Art Community Projects Program.
Rashmi said she was inspired to spearhead the project because of what she views as an underappreciation of the value of art. Though she immigrated 25 years ago from Bombay, India, she remembers an emphasis in her community on science, math and technology, but not art. She noted a similar lack of appreciation for the arts in the United States, saying “with the government, the arts are number one on the chopping block.”
She added that public art is powerful because of the collective ownership aspect. She said she hopes the collages, especially the juxtaposition of modern and historical images, will spark conversations in the libraries once they are on display after the project’s completion in April.
“I hope that by introducing art in [participants’] life, I open a creative aspect that was waiting to be opened,” Rashmi said.
Ashley Sklar, the NHFPL’s community engagement and communications manager, said the project was particularly exciting because not only will the community have input into which photos are selected for the collages, but they will also create the collages themselves. Sklar added that the library branches had conducted outreach, including to senior centers and schools, in order to attract participants.
Still, branch manager Diane Brown said it was a quiet night for the library. The branch usually publicizes events through social media and word-of-mouth, but Brown said that winter break made publicity difficult. She said she knew of several local organizations that would be interested in the project and would contact them about the next event to take place at Stetson on Jan. 21.
Karima Robinson, a New Haven resident who used to tutor and run black history workshops at the branch, said attendance at library events is highly variable.
“When I did my black history workshops, nobody showed up,” Robinson said. “They didn’t know about it. They didn’t know me.”
But she said the workshops gradually attracted more participants over time. She said most of the libraries’ best-attended events are run by local school teachers who attract parents and students who already know them.
The library system has not yet decided how long the collages will be displayed. Once they are taken down, they will remain in the library’s collection and may be rotated with other artworks, Sklar said.
The next event in the series is Thursday night at the Fair Haven Library from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.