‘Little Libraries’ exhibit at MOCAD promotes literacy

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Detroit — An effort to promote literacy through dollhouse-size neighborhood libraries is being highlighted in a new exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.

The Little Libraries: A Collision of Art, Literacy and Community exhibit features 13 Little Free Libraries that have been transformed by local artists, including four that made from retired newspaper bins.

The exhibit is inside the Mobile Homestead at the museum at 4454 Woodward, and will run Friday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. until April 24.

Sofia Benavides-Colon, 9, of Detroit, looks at books on Saturday in the Little Library by Mitchell Schorr called, "Da Library Race, to Read Books, 2015.” Several artists participated in a panel discussion on the importance of using their art to decorate the book lending boxes and help circulate books in Detroit neighborhoods which are bereft of public libraries.

On Saturday, several artists participated in a panel discussion on the importance of using their art to decorate the book lending boxes and help circulate books in Detroit neighborhoods which are bereft of public libraries.

Barbara Barefield, Kelly O'Hara; Ndubisi Okoye, Eno Laget, and Debora Grace said they were glad to be a part of the "take a book, leave a book" program that has already helped put thousands of books in the hands of children and adult readers since 2014 in 150 Little Free Libraries scattered across Detroit.

“I wanted to make books accessible to families — and to people who might want them," said Barfield, 65, a ceramic sculptor and graphic artist from Detroit who put one in front of her home in Palmer Woods and another in Palmer Park. "What can be more important than that?"

A painter, O'Hara, 35, of St. Clair Shores, said she grew up in a community where public libraries were within walking distance but in Detroit "they are few and far between.

Okoye, 24, of Detroit wanted to "give back to Cass Tech" where he found his passion for literacy and visual arts .

"Forty-sevenpercent of adults in Detroit are functionally illiterate — I wanted to be part of something to do something about that," saidLaget, 66, a Plymouth "street artist."

Grace, a 53-year-old visual and performing artist from Plymouth, said "Detroit has received enough punches to the face and black eyes."

"Books change lives because knowledge changes lives," explained Grace, who painted her box in a "bumble bee colored theme" with the words: 'Reading Is Where It's At."

The Little Libraries artists discuss their artwork from left Barbara Barefield, 65, of Detroit, Kelly O'Hara, 35, of St. Clair Shores, Ndubisi Okoye, 24, of Detroit, Eno Laget, 66, and his wife, Debora Grace, 53, both of Plymouth.

The Detroit Little Libraries program was started by Detroit News reporter Kim Kozlowski, who moderated Saturday's panel discussion. Kozlowski told attendees that she and her husband set up a lending box in front of a Ferndale house they had lived in for 10 years and soon found themselves talking with people they had never met and discussing the importance of reading and books in their lives. She has been instrumental in the establishment of 150 Little Libraries in the Detroit area.

One of those visiting the museum exhibit Saturday was Anthea Calhoun, a 20-year-old college student from Detroit.

"This is great," said Calhoun, examining some of the books in the display. "I'm a reader and use our public libraries but I can see how this would be good for children and for others who don't know where libraries are at or have a way to get to them."

Over the next three months, other programs connected to the exhibit at MOCAD will include:

■Jan. 31: Storytime with Mary Grant, of the Detroit Association of Black Storytellers

■Feb. 28: Storytime with Charlie LeDuff, Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter, formerly at The New York Times and The Detroit News, now with Fox TV's The Americans with Charlie LeDuff.

■March 20: Live performance of Alex Trajano's podcast, The Beginning of the End, which explores universal themes of humanity through the lens of when things begin to end.

■April 16: 11 a.m.: Book Deserts in Detroit, a panel discussion, featuring Nell Duke, University of Michigan professor of literacy, language and culture; Satori Shakoor, executive director of the Society for the Re-Institutionalization of Storytelling, and Ethriam Cash Brammer, associate dean of the Center for Latina/o and Latin American Studies at Wayne State University.

■April 24: 1 p.m.: 826Michigan presents, A Lantern of Fireflies: An Illustrated Treasury of Tales of Adventure, Discovery, and Magic. This publication features twenty Huron High School ninth-graders and a class of second-grade students from Mitchell Elementary, in Ann Arbor. Volunteers from 826Michigan will be reading for this Sunday storytime.

Partners in the program include: First United Methodist Church of Birmingham, Rx for Reading Detroit, Detroit Rotary, Detroit Kiwanis, Detroit SOUP, Detroit Bikes, Detroit Parks, Community United for Progress, the Detroit News and Free Press, General Motors, Chrysler, 4731 Gallery and several individuals, including two Eagle Scouts.


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