Fine Art Programs, Teens, and Libraries: Changing Lives One Program at a Time

By Benway, Natasha D. | Young Adult Library Services, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Fine Art Programs, Teens, and Libraries: Changing Lives One Program at a Time


Benway, Natasha D., Young Adult Library Services


I'll never forget the day Megan's father turned to me and said, "Thank you so much! Your library's teen art contest has changed my daughter's life." Megan had entered our art contest and was now accepting the Best in Show Award at the 2009 Texas Media Awards during the Texas Library Association's annual conference. Previously, Megan had not felt confident in her artistic ability, and it was only through her family's encouragement that she had agreed to enter the library's teen art contest.

Megan was astonished when she won both her age category and best in show at our library's teen art contest. Megan's father informed me that winning the art contest was the catalyst that propelled Megan to begin to pursue photography as a serious career. The next year, Megan participated in art contest after art contest, winning first place and scholarships in nearly every contest she entered. She compiled her portfolio and was granted a scholarship to a prestigious art school on the east coast. Gone was the shy, insecure, self-taught photographer. Megan was now ready to take on the world.

Why Should I Emphasize the Fine Arts with the Teens at My Library?

Megan's story is not included here as a way to show my accomplishments, but rather to highlight how one event can change the life of a teen.

Budget cuts are being felt everywhere--within school systems, family budgets, and libraries. Teens are facing limited opportunities in school to experience art, theater, dance, and music classes because of budget cuts. Families who were once able to afford the costs of attending extracurricular activities in the fine arts may no longer have the money to do so. There are also teens who have had little or no exposure to the fine arts, regardless of the state of the economy. It is also important to remember that the library is a place where teens should be encouraged to explore and learn more about themselves and the world around them. The availability of fine arts programs in the library allows teens to express themselves creatively, learn about different artistic fields and people, and interact collaboratively with their peers in various ways.

Budget cuts and teen self-expression are only a couple of reasons for highlighting the fine arts at your library. Programs that highlight the fine arts such as art contests, writing contests, and dance workshops attract a large number of teen participants and their parents. These programs are a great way to increase community awareness for your library and build community relations. Approximately eighty participants attended our library's art contest each time it was held in the last three years. During all fine art programs, we distribute information about other teen programs, the teen collection, and other youth and adult programs offered at the library.

What Will This Cost Us? Money and Time

Since all libraries are mindful of their budgets, especially in view of budget cuts, many readers may be wondering: Exactly how much do these types of programs cost? The answer is simple--the programs will cost as little or as much as you want them to cost. The importance of introducing fine art programs to teens at the library lies not in the end result, but rather with the creative process each teen goes through to reach the end result. For example, a teen who enters a library's art contest will learn about peer review through the judging process; a teen who enters a writing contest will practice how to use grammar and other literary devices correctly; and a teen who participates in a dance workshop will learn more about his or her body and the effects of movement. For the fine art programs described here, all you need is a room. Anything else is extraneous.

Although a fine arts program can be as inexpensive as it needs to be, the time and effort devoted to programming shows. It takes time and energy to find sponsors, to identify outside teachers willing to teach free classes and to secure food donations. …

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