Besides books, there’s another topic that makes Tami English smile: experiencing a vibrant art scene here.
English is Office Manager at the Derby Public Library and is also Chairman of the Derby Arts Council, which is part of the library’s mission.
She is his only paid employee and takes care of the logistics of planning and collecting the works of art, displaying them, securing them and dismantling them. Last year there were 13 shows, so it takes a long time.
Although there was an arts council before the library building opened in 2009, the new group has been much more active and in growth mode.
A plan was formulated in 2009 to bring art to life in Derby and, with its growth, library space is now booked until 2024.
One of the advantages of the library is the amount of exhibition space it has.
“There aren’t too many places with that space, even in Wichita,” English said.
The council hoped to share art from the local community when it started, but had no idea how many artists here.
“We knew Wichita had a community of artists and they were easy to find via Last Fridays, but how would we get them to come to Derby?” she asked.
This was to get the ball rolling and let it be known that Derby was interested in art, so the council launched art exhibitions four times a year – and it grew from there.
Word of mouth, creating spaces and receptions, were the keys to success, she says.
Thanks to that and time, he now has a waiting list for two hanging spaces.
No display fees are an aid for artists
Growth also came from the birth of new artistic groups, such as the Derby Photo Club, which exhibited the work of its members.
The library also has a steady stream of pedestrians, some specifically to see the shows, but most are library patrons.
Another factor that makes the library popular, according to English, is the lack of display fees.
There is a 15% commission on all the pieces they sell, but even that is modest compared to commercial galleries, she said.
The main venue on the east side of the library, the Gathering Space Gallery, can hold 50 to 70 pieces, but sometimes a show has many more as in the case of school art exhibits, which can have 200 pieces . In this case, they can be distributed throughout the library.
While the walls house traditional works of art, a showcase houses 3D pieces, which require more protection.
There is another exhibit area called the High Wall Gallery on the west side of the library which allows for smaller exhibits of 15-18 pieces. It’s especially useful for solo exhibitions, said English.
Although art is subjective, of course, and not everyone enjoys the same work, “everything makes sense to someone,” she said.
Currently, most of the council’s efforts are in the visual arts, but there have been discussions about supporting other art forms, including performances in the outdoor space offered by the library.
Efforts have been made to help the Wichita Children’s Theater and Ballet, and the council is part of the popular Art in the Park activity in April.
Director of English and Library Eric Gustafson appoints seven board members. Both are also members of the body, which meets four times a year.
Artists of all levels are welcome
The board reviews the images provided for show requests and strives to vary the shows by medium.
The content itself is fairly open, although there are a few rules, including no nudity or profanity – as this is a family space – but the Council is not in charge of censoring art, a she declared.
However, if the board members feel the quality is not worthy of the main gallery, they will likely direct the pieces to the High Wall Gallery.
English likes to keep the art on the walls.
Usually there are only a few days between shows and never more than a week.
If the walls are bare, she likes to put up a sign saying “this is your world without art”.
While sharing art with the community is essential to the council’s mission, he also wants artists to share their works and ideas with other artists, as it is a way to “provide inspiration and opportunities to continue to create and grow,” she said.
“These opportunities to try something new and talk with artists who offer helpful advice have produced a new wave of artists,” she said.
English also points out that people other than professional artists are welcome to exhibit their work.
“We showed works by people who started painting by watching YouTube or taking an art course in the DRC,” she said.
Due to the success of past shows and the development of the local arts scene, the council is planning an event in 2023 which will be exclusive to Derby artists.
“It’s exciting to be part of it,” she says.