Images courtesy of MALL
One’s engagement with art can vary immensely from time to time, place to place, style to style. Some of us enjoy viewing art on museum walls, or in galleries. Some of us enjoy making it in workshops or in our studios. Some of us curate it, organize it, and exhibit it. Some of us buy it and hang it on our walls. Often it’s a combination of some of all of these things. But it’s often easier said (or imagined and dreamed of) than done to go from viewing a piece of work that you really like on the wall of a gallery to actually taking it home with you.
That’s where the Minneapolis Art Lending Library (MALL) comes in. Conceived by three artists, Larsen Husby, Julia Casten, and Mac Balentine, MALL began as a project to try to get art out into the community. Community libraries used to lend out art pieces regularly, just like they do books, yet most have stopped this practice. My mom always loves to talk about how, when she was a child, my grandmother would borrow prints and sculptures from the local library. A particular favorite was a small statue that she would borrow over and over again. But storage constraints and the ability to view a seemingly endless amount of artwork online has made the practice of actually lending artwork something relegated to the past. Or is it?
MALL’s mission is to engage artists and the community in the culture of art having. It’s based on a model that has gained popularity in Europe, and MALL has been inspired by a number of similar projects, especially a network of artotèques in France managed by the organization ADRA. Artists simply donate their work for the allotted time period that it is lent to someone, and then they get it back after that person returns it. MALL does own a small portion of the work as a permanent collection, but most is lent by the artists themselves to then be lent out. Community members who borrow the work are able to keep it in their home for usually about two months or a little more — plenty of time to really enjoy it. There are four lending events during the year and they take place in different venues around Minneapolis in order to reach residents in different parts of the city. And while MALL doesn’t take care of any sales of the artwork (it’s strictly lending!) they are always excited to put a borrower in touch with the artist if the borrower decides they’d like to become an art owner instead!
One major hurdle in assembling any sort of art show (or for an artist to make the work to begin with) is that, if the work is for sale, how does one actually sell it? How does a viewer make the decision that a piece of art simply must go home with them? It starts with a culture of art ownership. In a technologically-advanced age where we can order digital prints of pretty much anything we want, expressly delivered to our doorsteps, or we can purchase “hand-painted” large canvases at big box retail stores, how can art lovers experience art in a way that shares its value as an original art piece, but also as a thing that can be purchased and owned?
MALL functions as a community-oriented, fun way to experience art on one’s own terms while at the same time serving the broader purpose of educating the community about art ownership. Of course it has met its fair share of challenges, from practical things like how to package the works safely and cost-effectively, to advertising, applying for grants, and organizing as a non-profit organization. However the goal is to create an enjoyable experience around art, both during the lending events and in the couple of months that one can have a piece of their very own before returning it — and picking up another!