After My Story 2019 and a brief spell working at South Oxhey Library we discovered what a wonderful workspace a library could offer. The fantastic team at South Oxhey made us feel most at home, the workshop space is fantastic and we benefitted from regular visitors as library users popped their heads in to say hello and ask about our creations. This live way of working can be a delight for artists and generated a lot of interest in the project.
Installation at South Oxhey Library – Interactive Installation inviting audiences to create the Dream Library
It’s good to have dream, what’s yours?
As we cracked into the Arts Council Application and project plan for My Story 2020/21 an opportunity to include Artists in Residence as part of an increased engagement programme could not be overlooked. We were on a mission at My Story to continue to transform libraries into gallery spaces and ensure great art and creative opportunity is available to diverse communities.
The brief was prepared and a call for artists created, this paid opportunity asked for proposals to include one public session per week and some time dedicated to personal practice, creating work in the Library. A wealth of fantastic applications came flooding in, we were overwhelmed by the response and quality of the applicants. After a painstaking selection process, Shelia De Rosa was selected as Resident Artist for North Watford Library and Sophie Gresswell for Hitchin.
Sophie took up residence at Hitchin Library where her outreach work explored themes of identity and belonging to open conversation. Using the library, an established safe space for the local community enabled people to open up and talk about their experiences, all shared at the art and poetry event, Hold My Tongue, Hitchin. The turnout was good and the conversation rich. The residency provided a new perspective on library space and how it can be used, not only as a service, but also a space to explore themes of wellbeing and place.
Exploring Identity at Hitchin Library
The residency allowed Sophie to build on existing networks and make new connections. Sophie also benefitted from the support of the library team, whose openness to support Sophie in her practice enabled quality co-creation and the production of authentic work. The result was a truly collaborative and immersive installation exploring stories across generations. Sophie’s poetry played a central role at My Story Fest where the audience were delighted to enjoy live performances of her work exploring and presenting hard hitting themes of migration and colour through powerful poetry performance.
Our second Artist Sheila de Rosa set up a temporary print studio at North Watford Library.
At the forefront of modern photo-etching processes, Sheila has been teaching Solar Plate printmaking widely for over twenty years. Inexpensive and low-tech methods of using photographs was behind her proposal to Hertfordshire Libraries. Sheila used her residency to demonstrate a method by which photocopies can be ‘transferred’ to strong cotton-rag paper and enhanced using simple print techniques to create individual artworks based on the participant’s emotional attachment to Watford – making these their ‘Stories’.
Sheila facilitated several informal drop-in sessions which proved popular and were well attended by casual visitors to the library who welcomed the chance to create and chat with other library users. They were introduced to quick paper folding techniques and their efforts resulted in the beautiful paper houses and artbooks assembled together for the touring exhibition.
The work produced at both residencies is a key feature of My story touring exhibition which can be enjoyed in Libraries across Hertfordshire. Sheila and Sophie worked with all ages and backgrounds reaching out to local schools, families and 6th form colleges as well as running sessions with MIND, Home Educated children, Watford Women’s Centre and sessions for library staff.
The outputs of both Sheila and Sophie’s residencies are truly awesome and form the heart and soul of the current My Story exhibition touring to libraries across Hertfordshire.
A very big thank you from the My Story team to our fabulous artists in residence and to the teams at North Watford and Hitchin who worked tirelessly to ensure success. Sheila and Sophie are working on new residencies and new work. Sheila can be found at Open Door, Berkhamsted https://sheiladerosa.co.uk and Sophie will be exhibiting at Departure Lounge, Luton. http://www.sophiegresswell.co.uk
Artist in Residence at My Story with Hertfordshire Libraries has been a perfect outreach programme as the libraries continue to develop and grow their culture and creativity offer ‘Inspired’ at Hertfordshire Libraries.
I look forward to seeing this area of work continue to develop and grow, increasing footfall. offering more opportunity for artists, inspiring communities and transforming libraries into gallery spaces. The programme offers a good solution to lack of exhibition spaces and offers opportunity for artists everywhere. From emerging to established, the relationship between artists and libraries offers a great profile-raising opportunity to reach new audiences, open conversation, and ensure a more connected creative community across Hertfordshire as we celebrate the art of Herts.