The Art Bag Project at the
Rockbridge Regional Library
by Carol Elizabeth Jones
Coming up with creative marketing ideas is one of the challenges faced by public libraries everywhere. The patrons who use the library know how much it enriches their lives, and any loyal patron will tell you that he wouldn’t know what to do without the library. But what about those citizens who don’t use the library? What would make them think that the library is a place that has something for them? What would make them believe that the library is not a static environment but one of activity, creativity, and ideas? That was the question which led to the development of the Art Bag Project at the Rockbridge Regional Library.
What We Did
We toyed with the idea of selling library tote bags with a slogan that conveyed the notion that creative things happen at the library. As we were trying to come up with such a slogan, it hit us: instead of promoting creativity at the library, we could instigate creativity at the library. We decided to purchase sturdy canvas book bags. We stenciled the name of the library on the side gusset and then sent out invitations to area artists, asking them to apply their artwork to a book bag and donate the bag for exhibit and silent auction. We thought that if we had twenty positive responses, the project would be a success. There were forty-four bags in the final exhibit.
The Art Bag Project was an opportunity to send out press releases as the project progressed and to have an art opening at the library. We sent out formal invitations and pointed out that this would be a rare opportunity to eat in the library. The exhibit was mounted along an entire wall and each piece was given a number (for auction) and an artist credit. The most exciting thing about the exhibit was that the styles of artwork and materials used were incredibly varied. Some employed stitchery and quilting, some incorporated three-dimensional objects, many were painted, and some were just plain indescribable! The artists told us that they enjoyed having some aspects of the work defined for them (size, canvas, etc.) while other aspects were left completely open to interpretation.
We maintained bidding sheets for each piece of artwork in the exhibit. Bidding continued for a month. We made some money — enough for a few special things for the children’s area. (We grossed $1,088 and spent $400 for materials and the opening.) More than the income, however, the real value of the project was that people were interested. The artists were interested enough to participate. Area residents were interested enough to come in to see the exhibit and to bid on the bags. As a continuing benefit, forty-four one-of-a-kind bags continue to promote the library as they are being used by their owners. Perhaps best of all, however, was that no one could see the exhibit and the wildly different interpretations of what to do with a canvas bag without feeling inspired. People left the library with ideas, and that really was the whole point of the project.
Carol Elizabeth Jones is the youth services librarian at the Rockbridge Regional Library in Lexington, Virginia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She attends the University of Alabama School of Library and Information Studies.