By: Amal Abdullah, Staff Writer
The SFU School of Contemporary Arts (SCA), in collaboration with the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DVBIA), launched 11 Free Little Libraries — repurposed old newsprint boxes where people can take, borrow, or donate books throughout downtown Vancouver starting in early May. These self-governed lending libraries, created in the spirit of building community in Vancouver, are intended to create a sense of engagement, safety, and happiness in the city.
No longer being used for magazine distribution, the newsprint boxes were repurposed by students in the SCA. Each box was decorated by students with art that ranged from HAHAHAHAs and ROFLs in black and white text to an illustrated nature scene with birds on a branch. For Cristian Celis, an SCA student, bridging the gap between virtual and authentic connection was a key thought process in his artwork. “Everything nowadays is digital,” he reflected in an interview with Vancouver Is Awesome. “We feel isolated from society even though we are connected with the internet. That’s why I [decorated the boxes with] black and white drawings.”
Sabine Bitter, associate professor at the SCA and one of the professors who led the SCA class in this project, found that the project was a great opportunity for her students to realize work outside the walls of the classroom. In an email interview with The Peak, she wrote that the students in her first-year studio class who created the artwork prepared for this project by learning art experientially through discussing theoretical backgrounds about public art.
“How [does art] change from monuments or sculptural objects to temporary interventions or collective projects with different communities? How does art in public work differently than in a museum or institutional space?” – Sabine Bitter, Associate professor
“We don’t think anymore that the meaning of an artwork only lies within the work [. . .]
but that the meaning of the artwork is also produced by the audience who experiences it. This is specifically important when making public art: who is your audience, how are things read differently in different areas of the city? Your audience in the Downtown Eastside might be different than in Kitsilano or Downtown Vancouver.”
Bitter found that the experience of having their work already shown in a public context
was rewarding for the first year students. She believed that SFU should engage in more community projects such as these in the public sphere. “A small project like this contributes to our engagement with the public sphere, different communities and the understanding of the importance of learning through different forms of knowledge — the exchange of books might offer an opportunity for people who usually don’t have access to books or libraries,” she wrote.
Little Free Libraries is the second of two collaborations between the DVBIA and SFU SCA students. During renovations at SFU’s Harbour Centre campus in 2017, SCA students painted the wooden fence around the construction in progress.
For all library locations click here.