Outsider Artz Program (Courtesy Ingrid Betancourt)

Outsider Artz
Newark Public Library, Main Library

The Outsider Artz Project offers weekly art workshops for patrons who are experiencing homelessness. NPL’s social worker participates in the workshops, getting to know the participants informally as they create art together. This connection has led a number of workshop attendees to seek social work assistance.
Outsider Artz supports the library’s values of inclusion, expression and community, and strives to fulfill NPL’s commitment to serving underserved and marginalized patrons.

Program Overview
Inspiration for this program came via a homeless artist at the Van Buren Branch who voiced the need for people who are homeless to have a place where they could come together to learn about, and create, art. At the Main Library two other patrons had shared that they were members of an informal homeless artists’ collective – mostly artists who work with recycled or found objects – and wondered whether the library could support their efforts to exhibit and sell their work. We knew there was an interest in art programming in this community.

Outsider Artz was started in May 2019 as a six-week pilot project. The workshops take place in the Main Library’s Café on Thursday mornings, from 10:30 am – 12:00 noon. Local artist Mansa Mussa was hired to provide art instruction and materials during the initial six-weeks. Art projects have included: healing hands collages, octahedrons, photo frames, book arts, learning how to marble paper, and creating origami sun catchers. Coffee and refreshments are offered during the program.
Attendance: 9-16 attendees per week. (Maximum capacity is 20) We estimate we’ve had approximately 80 participants during May and June.
We have extended the program beyond the initial six-week period – through the end of the summer – with the rest of the workshops being facilitated by project organizers.
Project organizers: Susan Lazzari, Van Buren Branch; Ingrid Betancourt and Nadine Sergejeff, Special Collections; and Jessica Campbell, NPL Social Worker.

Provides programming to a traditionally underserved and marginalized patron population
Connects homeless patrons to NPL’s social worker, Jessica Campbell, for needed social services
Promotes patron wellness through artistic self-expression – enjoyable activities that provide temporary relief from anxieties and worries. “It’s very relaxing. While I’m focused on doing this I am not thinking about all my problems.” “I haven’t done stuff like this since I was a kid. It’s kinda fun.”
Challenges negative stereotypes about, and increases understanding of, community members affected by homelessness. Officers and staff have remarked positively on art produced by patrons, “William made that?!” During the workshops, some participants share their stories and experiences in Newark. Project staff has learned about life in the shelters, and about homeless associates who do not currently participate and what other projects might interest this population.
Builds connections/community among the participants as they often encourage each other in art expression and life situations.
Art is displayed in the café for the enjoyment of all patrons and staff. Artists feel recognized and valued.

Next Steps
Project staff has met with Lisa Duggan, Program Director at GlassRoots in Newark to discuss a possible Outsider Artz collaboration this fall. They are willing to provide monthly, bi-monthly or weekly glass-mosaic programs on-site at the library. We are waiting to receive their proposal.
If we move forward with this partnership, we may propose a mosaic project for the Courtyard.

About the Author

A distinguished librarian, Mr. Jeffrey Trzeciak has spent his entire career in urban library settings and joins the Library from Washington University in St. Louis, where he served as University Librarian. Over- the course of his 30-year career, marked by innovation and collaboration, Jeffrey has been a champion of civil rights and social justice, particularly in the African American, Hispanic and LGBTQ communities.

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