Public Art in Public Libraries

The untitled Jordi Bonet mural at EPL’s Mill Woods Branch is hard to miss. Made up of 10 cast-iron panels finished in bronze, the 10x20 foot piece can be viewed from afar while the detailed cuts and carvings are also a sight to be seen up close.

The mural was commissioned for the 1967 opening of the Centennial Library, now the Stanley A. Milner Library, and was on display for years before being put in storage. It was restored and given new life in the Mill Woods Branch when it opened in 2015, and is one of nearly a dozen public art pieces embedded in EPL branches across the city.

Libraries simply make sense for public art, says David Turnbull, Director of Public Art and Conservation with the Edmonton Arts Council (EAC).
“What we’re really looking at is considering the space and the citizens that use that space. And libraries are a place for gathering, for experimenting – they’re a home away from home.”

Art can be consumed in many ways, says Turnbull, noting some pieces throughout Edmonton can be taken in while driving, others admired at transit stations, and others even interacted with – sometimes unknowingly.

“The infinity room looks simple in how it’s made, but there’s so much work that went in to make it look so simple – it’s an experience,” Turnbull says of the colourful room in Mill Woods, where customers sit to use laptops or study.

He adds: “And those benches at Highlands – there’s history of the neighbourhood there, but it’s also about how it’s functional in its form.”

Phantásien (Realities United) and Neighbourhood Benches (Beckie Chan) are two examples of what has become a staple in each new library, thanks to the City of Edmonton’s Percent for Art program. The program was established in 1991 and rewritten in 2007, and is responsible for allowing artists to bring countless creations to life.

Public art at EPL ranges from a number of busts and statues that were on display in Centennial Plaza (now in storage, being restored or even relocated), to Sidewalk Poetry (Agnieszka Matejko) outside the Lois Hole Branch, to abstract objects suspended from the ceiling (Sergio Serrano & Alexander Stewart) at the brand new Capilano Branch.

Some installations are large, like the Calder Community Mosaic (Rebecca Bayer) in the program room at Calder; others are more subtle, like Letter Cloud (Coryn Kempster & Julia Jamrozik) hanging at Clareview.

There is also the likeness of Lois Hole (Danek Mozdzenski) in the lobby of the branch named after her, a series of postcard-sized paintings making up Sculptures in Landscapes (Cliff Eyland) at Meadows, and The Scroll (Alisdair McRae & Negar Seyfollay) intertwined in the interior design of Jasper Place.

Turnbull has noticed some changes over the past few years and likes what it has meant for public art in the public realm: “We have a city architect pushing for buildings that are more than just structures.
“Architecture is an experience – and artwork, we want it to be there too.”

So what’s next? The EAC continues work on restoring the Norman Yates mural that was in the Milner Library, while a large statement piece for the new downtown branch is coming from Peter von Tiesenhausen.

Public Art in Public Libraries

Title Artist Location
Norman Yates Mural Norman Yates Currently being restored
Bust of Joseph Conrad Danek Mozdzenski Currently in storage
Untitled Jordi Bonet Mill Woods Branch, Interior
The Trader John Weaver Centennial Plaza
Mahatma Gandhi Memorial R. Jagannathan Currently being restored
Tough Minded Women Patricia Galbraith Centennial Plaza
The Scroll Alisdair McRae, Negar Seyfollay Jasper Place Branch, Interior
Sculptures in Landscapes Cliff Eyland Meadows Branch, Interior
Sidewalk Poetry Agnieszka Matejko Lois Hole Branch, Exterior
Neighbourhood Benches Beckie Chan Highlands Branch, Exterior
Letter Cloud Coryn Kempster, Julia Jamrozik Clareview Branch, Interior
Phantásien Realities United Mill Woods Branch, Interior
Calder Community Mosaic Rebecca Bayer Calder Branch, Interior
Lois Hole Danek Mozdzenski Lois Hole Branch, Interior
To be installed in 2018/19 Sergio Serrano, Alexander Stewart Capilano Branch, Interior
To be installed in 2019 Peter von Tiesenhausen Milner Library, Interior

Photos provided by the Edmonton Arts Council

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