"The Giving Tree," "Where the Wild Things Are," "Winnie the Pooh" — all of these childhood classics were not always universally cherished. They were once considered controversial and contentious and were banned as a result. But from now until Sept. 29, the Chapel Hill Public Library, Chapel Hill Community Arts and Culture and Arts Everywhere are bringing together local artists to raise awareness of censorship with Banned Books Pop-Up Gallery.
Situated at a storefront on Franklin Street, the gallery — called Gallery 109 after its address — is nestled between the Hemp Store and the much-anticipated book café, Epilogue. A sign greets people walking along the Franklin Street sidewalk. Every day until Sept. 29, from noon until 6, the doors lie propped open. Original artwork and banned book trading cards wait for visitors inside.
In the gallery’s first three days, over 400 passersby have become patrons by stepping inside and observing the art. Daniel Siler, the marketing and communications manager for the Chapel Hill Public Library, said on the opening night alone, the gallery welcomed in over 200 people, even during a UNC football game.
“We’re seeing a very nice, steady stream of people who are otherwise engaged in whatever it is they are doing on their weekend,” Siler said. “We’re creating an opportunity for them to suddenly have a thoughtful arts experience that maybe they didn’t see coming.”
This gallery is part of Chapel Hill Public Library’s celebration of Banned Books Week. This national event addresses threats of censorship and the freedom to read. Chapel Hill Public Library specifically celebrates this week by enlisting the work of local artists and featuring their work on trading cards.
Susan Brown, the director of the Chapel Hill Public Library, said this pop-up gallery features the artwork of the past six years of banned books trading cards. The artwork is all from local artists and depicts popular books once threatened by censorship.
“I think that visual artists and literary artists have that crossover of intellectual freedom and freedom of expression,” Brown said.
Brown said she thought of the idea for banned books trading cards after noticing that Banned Books Week didn't have much programming, so she said wanted to try something different.
Brown said this idea came to her suddenly, but now this spur-of-the-moment idea is entering its seventh year at the Chapel Hill Public Library.
The trading cards for this year will be revealed at a public reception on Sept. 20, featuring the local artists involved in the project. The cards will also be available at the Chapel Hill Public Library during Banned Books Week from Sept. 22 to Sept. 28.
Kathryn Wagner, associate director of Arts Everywhere, said this pop-up gallery is just one of the many programs using the Gallery 109 space. Gallery 109 is a university-owned space, and she said the goal of having this space is to bring the arts to the heart of downtown Chapel Hill.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity with these storefronts on Franklin Street to turn them into these living, breathing artistic spaces, and this is just one example of what we can do,” Wagner said. “We have big plans for more things.”
For everyday people who see this exhibit, Brown said she hopes visitors leave the exhibit with the idea that Chapel Hill is an artistic touchstone, trusting that when they come back to the area, there will be something artsy to interact with. For students and residents, Brown said she hopes they leave this exhibit with a sense of pride in local artists.
From the standpoint of a librarian, Siler said he hopes people understand that even the stories that we hold closest and believe are universal can still be challenged by censorship.
Siler recalled hearing the outrage of a fifth-grader as they walked through the exhibit — “Winnie the Pooh! They banned Winnie the Pooh!”
That moment, Siler said, is what he hopes patrons of this exhibit experience to some degree.
“Even that thing that you think is so innocuous is potentially at some risk if we don’t step up and say, ‘We need to defend this book or our right to read what it is that we want,’" Siler said.
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