The New York Public Library’s Jefferson Market branch celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Two years in the making, British artist Mark John Smith presents a series of new, immersive public works of art, exploring the Library’s—until now—largely unseen archive of historic and intimate engagement with the public from the past century.
This November, the Jefferson Market Library is delighted to unveil the centerpiece of Smith’s work, entitled JML50—a bespoke, large-format, three-story, 360-degree print adorning the walls of the Library’s second floor Gothic reading room. Documents recording pledges by children obtaining their first-ever library cards in 1967, letters of adoration, complaints, and even the flicker of love between patrons all feature in this uniquely site-specific insight into the complex tapestry of relationships formed during the Library’s 50 years in Greenwich Village.
Building on a legacy of activism and protest, the Jefferson Market Library, now a landmark, stands today as a testament to the power of collaborative work and the pursuit of a common goal—ensuring access to the tools and resources that sustain lifelong learning and creative engagement. The Jefferson Market building—saved twice by the public, once from demolition in the 1960s and then again from closure in the 1970s—stands as a monument to culture and the very communities that helped preserve it.
Drawing from his experience leading cultural engagement strategies in the U.K.—for the British Broadcasting Corporation, London 2012 Olympics, the Cultural Olympiad, and the NYC-based Franklin Collective—Smith has employed a series of events designed to foster engagement in the upcoming anniversary celebrations. These events offer unique curatorial control of the project to the very individuals that it honors—the public and patrons of the New York Public Library and the Greenwich Village community. Working collaboratively with Library Manager Frank Collerius, Smith has been an artist-in-residence at the Jefferson Market Library for the past year. During this time, he has witnessed and participated in some of the Library’s innermost workings, involving its staff and daily operations to highlight the network as a sculpture present within a very human institution.
“During my time at [the] Jefferson Market Library, I have been struck by the vast diversity amongst the library’s users and patrons. The Library, I believe, is the most reflexive public service available—it has terrific adaptability. Through its staff, it responds with immediacy to the changing needs of the public, always offering support, information, and a place of safety. What’s remarkable here is the fact that it is the Village that has of course saved this space—pre-Landmarks. This is a Library for the people, by the people, a place deeply rooted in this fantastically vocal, politically active, and critically engaged community. JML50 uses the lens of fine art to offer a new perspective on the perception of what a library can and indeed should be, given the social, political, and economic circumstances both…in the USA and abroad. In this new work, we are honoring the past whilst looking toward the future.”
Mark John Smith’s JML50 is a year-long celebration designed to engage the diverse demographics accommodated by the Library to foster lifelong learning, engagement, and a continual commitment to self-discovery, collaboration, and creativity.
In preparation for the project’s launch in November, Smith and Collerius offered an unprecedented look at the Library’s history through seminars, workshops, interactive street fair events, and artist talks. As the project continues to evolve, so too does the level of programming, with the introduction of a rotating series of curated events on the discovery and discussion of what a library is and what it can become.