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San Diego County Library system’s community-specific arts and culture programming makes the arts accessible in a county that stretches 4,526 square miles.
Access to public art programming outside of San Diego’s major metro communities is limited, and the San Diego County Library system is working to change that. Across the 4,526 square miles that San Diego County covers, that’s an ambitious task.
The San Diego County Library — which oversees 33 branches outside of the city limits — juggles hundreds of arts-related projects each year, with a wide variety of programming like workshops (including a Neil Gaiman online writing class last month!), international film festivals and screenings, One Book One San Diego events, plus exhibitions and learning opportunities.
“County library branches enrich learning, experience and access to cultural arts through our community-wide events that support local interest,” said Kristin Ward, Principal Librarian of the San Diego County Library. “Our branches offer a variety of arts programming, ranging from art exhibits and displays, to hands-on art creation and interactive lectures and discussions.”
Rural Arts Programming
In the widely used North American Industry Classification System, arts and culture businesses are grouped with parks, nature centers and businesses related to sports and recreation, and those things are more prominent outside of cities. And according to the NEA, parks make up 6 percent of the arts and culture sector in urban areas, while parks clock in at over 20 percent of rural area arts offerings.
While nature-related visitor centers, wildlife refuges and more offer significant and vibrant cultural programming and arts opportunities, the discrepancy between rural and urban types of arts is noteworthy.
But instead of a pressure to imitate cosmopolitan trends in arts programming, libraries in the San Diego County Library system are always mindful of the community in which they’re located, and the needs, priorities and interests therein.
“As most branches are limited by space and scheduling constraints, exhibit space priority is given to art displays that appeal to all ages, reflect community interests or activities, support local artists and local art organizations and/or promote library programs,” said Ward.
Art in county libraries is funded primarily through San Diego County’s general fund, including much of the library’s programming and new buildings and its permanent art installations, such as sculptures or site-specific works (think: the new Anza Borrego Springs Library building architecture and “Walk of the Cosmos” installation).
Funding for art installations comes from Friends of the Library groups, both a countywide umbrella organization and individual organizations for each location. And library staff apply for grants for specific arts programming for their community.
“One recent example includes a grant from the California State Library, which funded the Rural Arts Project, a program that has allowed the library to bring arts education to areas of the County that have limited access to arts programming,” said Ward.
The Rural Arts Project, announced last fall, provides arts and culture programming, workshops and arts education for youth and adults in remote San Diego communities earlier this year via the Ramona, Potrero, Borrego Springs and Campo library branches. For example, the Alpine branch is offering printmaking classes next week (youth on the July 17; adults on July 20) as part of the project.
The San Diego County Library also manages arts programming in not-so-rural reaches of the county, including Japanfest (Aug. 3), the San Diego Storytelling Festival (March) at the Encinitas Library and the DIY Fest in Vista (March).
The “Mail Art: Correspondence from the Heart” exhibit currently on display at the Lemon Grove branch features American artists Ellen Glasgow and Sandra MacDiarmid. “These women artists and military wives chronicled their lives with handwritten letters illustrated with watercolors and intricate drawings,” said Ward.
Ward also stressed the importance of collaborating with regional organizations.
“El Cajon Library has also hosted homeless art programs and exhibitions in partnership with Heal with Heart to provide access to arts experiences for the unsheltered,” she said.