Steps at Main
In Reading, Pennsylvania, the Reading Public Library joined forces with community organizations to offers its steps as venue for community events. Library administrators recognize that performing arts are a way to build relationships with community members and transform community members’ perception of its space.
From the library’s perspective, staff were seeking a way to make the library more relevant for the low-income Latino community who live nearby. As part of this work, the library established an outreach coordinator position to develop non-traditional programming, starting with baseline surveys to identify obstacles that prevent folks from using the library. Respondents expressed challenges like working multiple jobs, inadequate transportation, childcare needs, and undocumented status. Residents also cited that the building — a Carnegie library — seemed uninviting and not built for them. The coordinator quickly understood that typical methods of outreach were not going to overcome those challenges.
The library realized its work had to become more than just getting people into the library. So they brought their programming outside. In July 2017, the library hosted its first Steps at Main event. Channing Durant performed hip hop dancing in front of a large crowd on Reading Public Library’s front steps. He had choreographed two dances, and led 18 participants in the performance.
It would be the first of many “outside the library walls” programs that the library has co-designed with different organizations. Four years after the first performance the library steps have become a community engagement platform where community members have found dance, music, theater, and poetry performances that have created a sense of “this is ours, too.” Now it is not rare to see performances taking place, or even a wedding. And because the library is a democratic space, it’s steps attract residents from all walks of life.
Property Type: Commercial Structure
Project Type/ New Use: Art – Small Scale (e.g. painting; performance; visual), Event(s)
Project Purpose: Community engagement
Duration: Temporary (less than one year)
Initial Cost: Under $10,000
Funding Source: Unknown
Organization Type: Artist(s)
Implementation Partners: Artist(s); Nonprofit – Arts & Culture
Community Type: Urban
Contributions By: Daniel Egusquiza