T: Let’s rewind for a moment. Your book collection. Being trapped between books in your flat. How does that work; home offices and an increasing storage of books.
A: Yea, I shift them around. My dad tells me I should get more space [to continue this work], because I live in a studio apartment and have like 300 books [as we write 400] in here … so, there’s literally nowhere to put them.
T: Gathering the material; you also receive massive amounts of donations? Books cost … and as already mentioned they demand some physical space, as opposed to a lot of other things these days, and they are heavy, too.
A: Actually, when I first started the project, I was just buying used books out of my own salary. 60 dollars could easily give me 10 books, which is a really good deal, especially considering these are art books. And I am being strategic, I make lists to keep track of which ones I am aware of but need to save money for. And April is when my birthday is …
T: — Mine, too!
A: April babies! So, when April comes, I post those lists, in case anyone wants to contribute with books instead of other gifts, and at the same time helping strengthen the library, a good cause … and people saw this and actually started to send me books, even tried to figure out methods for transporting larger amounts by using ethical methods. And someone sent me a large box of books to my home, with retail values in the 100’s of USD class, even 500–600 if you’re as lucky as to get your hands on it at all … I was like ‘wow! Are people really this invested in the project?’ It is touching. In addition, art galleries and publishers are supporting this, even from Europe.
— Also, it helped a lot when Kimberly Drew, former Social Media Manager at The Met and author of a great art book called Black Futures — she does a lot of amazing things; one day last summer she had posted on Instagram about the library. She has around 340 000 followers, which created a real boost and many new followers, which again laid the grounds for more talks, donations, and fundraising. So, my idea was to hopefully be able to cover the out-of-pocket costs that I had been paying myself, perhaps 3 000 USD to start with, but it kicked off … and I ended up raising around 10 000 USD rather fast. And that’s what I have been using to establish and organize the library the last approximately 6 months. For now, donations are what keeps the project going. So, the exhibition coming up now this spring is another step trying to gain more visibility and opportunities for grants, and step by step give the library a more solid structure.
— For the storage issues; well, everything has happened so quickly, but for a few months the books will be moved from my flat to the museum. I guess this is sort of how I live life … “everything will be fine. Somehow. I’ll figure it out.” Many smaller part time jobs, consulting assignments, donations — together it works. For now.
T: So, your goal is to just continue as long as this project feels meaningful, then.
A: Yes. 2021 will be an important year trying to take things a little further. I’m not in a rush for a physical space, rather I hope to travel with the project, that it can be seen in various places by different people. So, for now I am very happy that BAL exists as a sort of pop-up capacity. Besides: A physical space requires rent, and a staff, and a lot of different things. Long term an office would be nice, open for visitors with a reading room where it is possible to document the books, take pictures and copies. As some of the books are quite valuable, they could be available on site, so they don’t get lost.
T: I totally understand your consideration regarding resources, and that exposure is key. Real humans!
A: First of all, I want to make the material and these histories accessible. Creating a library that is open to a community, is really what I am interested in — for all ages, research purposes, but also all sorts of people, everyone. And I want people that perhaps have no idea or knowledge about art-related content; I want them to be comfortable coming into this space, that it’s not closed off. And ‘feeling comfortable’ is unfortunately not the most common state of body and mind when it comes to galleries or museums. Basically, you need an art degree — you have to know something — before even entering those spaces. And I kinda wanna break down that wall …
T: Then we are back at education again.
A: Yea, saying it is OK not knowing anything when you come here, and to be part and learn. I learn all along, too — so please come learn with me! And I believe everyone can appreciate and learn from art given an entrance. So, once again: “What do I want to gain by doing this?” My answer to that question is: Awareness. If you leave the library knowing the name of just one [Black] artist you didn’t know about when you came in, or just a little bit of something new, I’m extremely satisfied. And to me, being able to register that I am increasing my knowledge, for example by visiting a museum and be able to identify an artist without looking at the label; those things make me excited. I want to provide a setting for people to feel like that.