Rochester Public Library measures art by the Square Foot
The current exhibit on the theme "Water" runs through Sept. 15, which is also the deadline for community members to submit art for the "Birds" theme.
Sometimes thinking inside the box can spur creativity. That’s definitely the case with the Rochester Public Library’s Square Foot Gallery art exhibition. It currently features depictions of everything from an eye crying oceanic tears to a desert watering hole.
The exhibition asks Olmsted County artists of all ages to submit works that fit within a single square foot. Each exhibition features the works of 24 artists that fit within a certain theme. The current exhibit, which is available for viewing in the library’s Youth Services section until Sept. 15, 2022, features artwork responding to the theme of water.
Eric Tarr, a Youth Services library associate at the Rochester Public Library, coordinates the Square Foot Gallery. He’s worked at the library for about eight years.
“Libraries are such a great environment for learning, sharing and creating,” he says. “And the library learns, shares and creates right along with the community.”
The concept for the Square Foot Gallery, which first started showcasing art from local creators in 2018, came about in part because several of the library staff in the Youth Services division come from a background in art and appreciate the positive effect it can have on the community. Seeing some “under-utilized” display cases in the Youth Services section of the library, they did some math, used some creative thinking, and came up with the concept of the 12-inch by 12-inch format. In total, the gallery has hosted 15 exhibits. That’s about 360 pieces of art.
Though the Square Foot Gallery took a long break during the height of the pandemic, it relaunched in April 2022 and has since featured broad themes like art that connects to the color yellow. Each new exhibit features eight pieces of art representing three age groups: 5 to 12 years old, 13 to 17 years old, and 18 and older. Works are chosen for display based on adhering to the technical guidelines, artistic merit, craftsmanship, originality and completeness of application.
“The library’s mission is to welcome all to connect and learn,” says the head of Youth Services at Rochester Public Library, Heather Acerro. “One aspect of providing a welcoming environment is to feature and celebrate our community. Having an active art gallery space provides community members with an opportunity to see themselves on display and part of this community space.
"Square Foot Gallery also addresses library and city strategic priorities including creating connections, providing cultural opportunities and encouraging creativity,” Acerro says.
The works on display in the current exhibit have titles like “Pirate Sunset,” “Sparkly Mermaid Water,” and “Dimensional Stream.” 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 art works from widely varying age groups side by side. The way the pieces create a dialogue with each other concerning their shared theme is compelling.
“I most enjoy the submissions that embrace the creative process,” says Tarr. “Whether that means that the artists really get creative with their interpretation of the theme, or they collaborate with friends and family to create artwork together, or they really share something of themselves in addition to their artwork.”
As Tarr works to develop each new theme for the Square Foot Gallery, he says he tries to keep it “open and inviting.”
“I often shout out into the office that I need help coming up with a new idea, and someone will shout something back. It’s very sophisticated,” he jokes.
The library is currently accepting submissions for the next Square Foot Gallery Exhibition until Sept. 15, 2022. The theme for submissions is “birds.” The application for submission can be found at www.rplmn.org/services/more-services/square-foot-gallery . It encourages applicants to “just wing it.”
Entries may be submitted in person or via email for consideration. The Birds exhibit will run from Oct. 6 to Nov. 17, 2022.
“We appreciate the effect, and impact, art can have on the community,” says Tarr. “It’s an important resource for communication and connection, and it meets several organizational priorities set by our community.”
He doesn’t hesitate to also point out that the gallery and its art is “fun, and uplifting, and serious, and important, and so many other things. And it’s for everyone.”