By Jennifer L. Warren
MONTICELLO – Douglas Shindler and Michael Davis are intent on flipping the artist narrative script in Sullivan County, specifically Monticello.
“We want this area to be a place where people can be artists right here at home and not have to leave the area,” said Monticello native and current resident, visual artist Shindler. “There is so much potential here in this community of Monticello for artists and residents as well as opportunities for collaboration.”
It’s that framework that sparked Shindler to pitch the idea for a Black Library to his photographer and designer friend, Michael Davis, a couple of years ago. The creative duo has known each other since 2014, when they met at Sullivan County Community College.
Now, thanks to a grant secured by Shindler’s employer, The Hurleyville Arts Center, along with an assortment of generous donations, the friends’ vision for that Library, along with a community arts space, is in motion, sparking plenty of excitement for artistic growth in Monticello.
“The idea of the Library is to celebrate black culture and history, using art as well as a wide range of books- history, fiction, psychology and art- by black authors,” explained Shindler, who along with his Co-Project Leader, Davis, is hoping to have a physical space on Broadway locked down by September. “We also want to really involve the community on multiple levels.”
To that end, artist talks, workshops and exhibitions are in the planning stages. Generalized community events- such as a block party and open barbeque- aimed at bringing the community together- are also on the itinerary. Drives aimed at providing art supplies to local students as well as securing free or very low rent studio space to artists round out the initial community arts vision.
“This is really a full community effort, and we are hoping to deepen our already trusting relationship with them toward creating a space geared at collaborative efforts,” said Davis. He explained the deep roots he and Shindler have with Monticello and the critical building blocks already in place as the process begins to pick up momentum.
In the meantime, the Black Library itself continues to grow as donations come in on a daily basis to a book drive at the local Ethelbert B. Crawford Library in Monticello. The Drive, which started on July 1, is expected to continue through at least September 30.The impressive compilation includes 60 photobooks donated by their creator, Kris Graves, another friend of Shindler’s. More photobooks have been supplied by Syracuse-based Light Work, containing images from their artists. Shindler and Davis also personally purchased Kindles at a special rate to further enhance the Black Library’s technological offerings.
Not only do Shindler and Davis foresee the Black Library as a creative, energetic, forward-moving indoor space, but an exterior one as well. As visual artists, the tandem knows first-hand the alluring potency and symbolic significance of the full breadth of a location.
“We really want this to be a vibrant, expressive and creative place-both inside and outside,” said Shindler. “We want it to be a beacon of hope, one that can transform and uplift our area.”
And more than anything, they want it to be a collaborative effort with their area. The first step in that direction comes tomorrow, Thursday, July 21, from 4-7pm, when a community event, introducing the Black Library-Community Arts Center will take place at Gallery 22 in Hurleyville. Here, a community discussion, focused upon asking what residents would like to see in the Library-Arts Center will take place. The backdrop for the gathering will be the present photo exhibit, “The Day I Went Home,” featuring the works of Shindler and Davis, along with Tyler Sanford. Taking a raw-no glamour look at portraits of people- a celebration of the locals- the exhibit further serves as a type of salute to Shindler’s return to Sullivan County, an area he has mined a new respect for since once leaving for college, and now- along with the help of his community- wants to do everything possible to showcase to as many people as possible.
“This Black Library can be a facilitator to so much here in this area,” said Shindler. “It’s just really exciting to see it unfolding.”