The People's Library is a conscious community of student artists that is creating positive change within and beyond the walls of MCAD.
The People's Library is a conscious community of student artists that is creating positive change within and beyond the walls of MCAD.

Photos courtesy of the People's Library 

The People's Library is an MCAD student group that provides a safe space for students to discuss topics a traditional classroom may not. The organization has also been heavily involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQIA events, and other important current issues.

The People’s Library stands for revolutionary solidarity with all people fighting against the forces of colonialism, classism, elitism, sexism and racism. We understand that we as artists are subject to the same oppressive forces that affect our communities; our struggle is one in the same. In our art we are conscious and in our actions we are productive.

Mayday Parade
The People's Library at the Mayday Parade

Members include Mike Blamo, Sterling Edwards, Autumn Garrington, Carolyn Hernandez, Kestrel Blue Hendrickson, Jonathan Herrera, Nancy Julia Hicks, Claire King, Cole RedHorse Jacobson, Miguel Mercado, Gabe Oviawe, Leon Reyes, Karina Tverbakk, Kameron White Grayson, Ascher Sinkkonen, Hawwa Youngmark, and Kendra Ruesken, to name a few.

I spoke with founder of the People's Library, Jonathan Herrera, about the People's Library's mission and their upcoming events—

What is the vision of/influence behind the People's Library?

I created the club at MCAD in 2014, the first semester of my sophomore year. Originally it was a book club, hence the name. The idea was to read progressive literature throughout the semester and discuss ideas that were brought up by the books, such as Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.

These discussions quickly led to a collective eagerness to change the world rather than simply talking about it.

Through a slow and organic change we now see ourselves as a group who prioritizes the praxis; both thinking about the world as well as organizing and mobilizing to create physical change in the consciousness of students at MCAD and the community around us. 

People's Library Open Mic Night

Students speaking at an open mic night 

Describe The People's Library in three words.

Praxis, collective, and autonomous.

Like I said before, we apply both theory and practice of ideals in the real world by organizing and mobilizing bodies in order to transform the conditions we find ourselves in. Our definition of praxis comes mainly from Paulo Freire who outlined it as the synthesis of thought and action and that one cannot be productive without the other.

The word collective defines who we are and how we function. All projects we organize are the product of collective input and effort. We also function formally as a democratic and free space where ideas are rigorously discussed as logical or ethical things for us to focus on in order to give everyone a voice in the projects we work on.

Lastly, we are autonomous! We are a student-run group and plan to keep it that way. MCAD does fund the majority of our events and projects but we are not bound to listen to any instructor, department chair, or the president. We are cautious with money or influence from both inside and outside the institution. We are self-governed and self-motivated!


Solidarity Walkout

The People's Library at a solidarity walkout

Does the People's Library have any events coming up this year?

Jonathan: One of the more concrete events we facilitate is our weekly Liberation Movie Nights program where we screen films or documentaries which mainly focus around revolutionary or non normative ideals every Wednesday in auditorium 140 at 7:00 p.m.

We also take field trips to events that are happening in the Twin Cities that we feel align with our politics. For example, last semester we took trips to gallery receptions like American Art: It's Complicated and took trips to protests like the ones happening at the Fourth Precinct organized by Black Lives Matter. We as students are aware of what issues are important to our generation. When the Guerrilla Girls first came to MCAD there was a huge student input about trans-issues and trans-inclusive politics in art. After the incident we organized van trips to Intermedia Arts to see their Visibility exhibition.

I think what I'm trying to say is that our events tend to be influenced by what the general body of MCAD does or demands. An easy way to stay aware about what we are doing at any given time is to participate in our weekly meetings (every Sunday in the back of the MCAD library) or sign up for our weekly newsletter (just shoot me an email with a name and MCAD email).

What do you and the People's Library hope to accomplish in 2016?

Jonathan: From our last few meetings last semester we agreed to set our focus on three main issues to tackle this upcoming year: gender-neutral bathrooms, more access to psychiatrists on campus, and adjunct labor awareness work.

We will begin organizing to have gender-neutral bathrooms on every floor in the main building of MCAD this year by setting up meetings with Jay Coogan this semester in order to start figuring out the next steps toward this process.

A member of our group brought forward the issue of the lack of psychiatrists on campus last semester and we hope to create more accessibility by either having the current MCAD psychiatrists work more hours or hire more staff in order to better facilitate the needs of students.

And lastly, we will be heading a campaign to raise awareness about the relationship between the money we invest into MCAD and the way faculty are treated by the institution—part of this campaign is a 148 gallery show (reception in April) that revolves around the issue of money and labor right here at MCAD.

Backbone Exhibition

The People's Library curated Backbone } 1492, an exhibition that stood as a "celebration of the oppressed, using Black History month as a platform" last February. The year 1492 "signifies the beginning of a long history of injustice" through years of enslavement, colonization and exploitation of labor. 

They also carpooled to the Fourth Precinct in Minneapolis to stand up against racial injustice late last year. Students stayed overnight to protest with Black Lives Matter and to hand out free pizza to as many people as they could.

Black Lives Matter Fourth Precinct Minneapolis

In late 2015 they facilitated a campus-wide clothing drive for Syrian refugees. Every Monday in November and December, the group collected donated winter gloves, jackets, hats, shoes, blankets, and more. 

Donations for Syrian Refugees