Library artwork

Madison Library branch manager Jessica Piper shows off some of the art pieces that patrons will be able to check out.

Here is something new for us to check out.

The new Metro Arts Lending Library is a collaboration between the Nashville Public Library and the Metro Arts Commission in which library card holders can check out original artwork and enjoy it at home for as long as three months.

“Metro Arts put out a call to artists last year in an effort to support local artists during a rough time (tornado, pandemic, you remember),” said Metro Arts Commission spokesperson Emily Waltenbaugh.

Waltenbaugh said the Arts Commission purchased art from 60 Nashville-area artists and is piloting the program at the Madison and Southeast branches first, with 30 artworks at each branch. She said the goal is to “expand access to arts for all Nashvillians while providing direct support to local artists.”

“Anyone with a library card will be able to check out an original framed artwork by a local artist and take it home for up to three months,” she said of the program, which officially kicks off with checkouts starting Aug. 1 and holds on pieces starting Aug. 2.

The artworks, which include paintings and photography that were bought for $300 to $500 each and then professionally framed, can be browsed in person at the Madison and Southeast library branches or online at www.metroartsnashville.com/lending-library or the library’s website at https://library.nashville.org/collections/metro-arts-lending-library-collection.

“Last year was so hard for so many people, including artists,” Waltenbaugh said. “We decided to use some of the public art funds to buy local art. The library was very excited about it, and we put out a call to artists.” She said 78 area artists responded, with each providing three prospective pieces to the selection panel.

“These are the 60 that were chosen,” Waltenbaugh said. “The artists were super thrilled. It means a lot to them to be featured.”

The works that the Arts Commission bought are now included as part of the city’s public art collection, just like some of the big public installations like Stix and Musica. The library pieces cannot be purchased by individuals since they are owned by the city.

Each of the original pieces is backed by a duplicate print. So even when the originals are checked out, patrons can still see what the collection offers.

Madison branch manager Jessica Piper said now that the art pieces are on display on a main wall of her branch, her library patrons are excited. “Ever since they were installed, people have been asking about them. People can’t believe it.”

She explained that once a library card holder selects a piece, library staffers will remove it from the wall and provide a carrying case for patrons to use to take the piece home. “They even come with a little nail packet so all you need to hang it at home is a hammer.”

Library card holders can check out only one piece of art at a time. And if people fail to bring the art back, she said they will be charged a replacement fee, just as they would for not returning a book or other items borrowed from the library.

Waltenbaugh said the pilot program with two branches and 60 pieces of art is “just a start” and that if it goes well, other art and other branches may be added. “That is the hope. We will see how it goes.”

I love this idea. When I first moved to Nashville, the Nashville library had a lending program in which card holders could check out prints of classic pieces from artists such as Van Gogh and Matisse.

I don’t know when that program was discontinued, but the exciting difference here is that these Metro Arts Lending Library pieces are all original artworks and not prints. And they all come from Nashville-area artists.

So, I say “check it out” — literally.

Mary Hance, who has four decades of journalism experience in the Nashville area, writes a weekly Ms. Cheap column. She also appears on Thursdays on “Talk of the Town” on NewsChannel 5. Reach her at mscheap@mainstreetmediatn.com and follow her on Facebook as Facebook.com/mscheap.