Skip to main content Skip to site map (in footer)

Dancing Around Libraries: How libraries are the new home for arts activity

  • Date: 17 October 2012
  • Artform: Libraries, Literature, Visual arts
  • Area: South East, South West
Black and white art An example of one of the pieces of work as part of the Off the shelf exhibition, Credit: Sarah Tunaley

Gone are the days of libraries where silence is the norm. Modern libraries are increasingly engaging with wide sections of the community and the image of vibrant, busy social hubs is more commonplace. 

Arts Council England announced in September a new funding stream called the Library Grants for the arts award, worth up to £6 million. The funding will support projects that stimulate ambitious and innovative partnerships between libraries and artists and/or arts organisations, encouraging communities to participate in cultural activities.

Chris Fardon, Library Relationship Manager, South East says: 'It's really exciting to see libraries working in partnership with the cultural sector and how this is working for the benefit of the public. For example there's dance in libraries, art in libraries, and a whole wide range of arts starting to appear in libraries. The integration of libraries with the Arts Council has opened up many new possibilities. 

'With libraries as venues, it helps arts and cultural organisations reach new audiences. We hope that the Grants for the arts library fund will encourage more libraries to work in partnership with arts organisations.' 

This autumn, 35 libraries across the UK are hosting a special tour through England, Wales and Scotland from Children's Laureate Julia Donaldson. She is the author of classic childrens' books such as The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom and StickMan. As part of her library tour, schoolchildren from selected schools will be invited to their local library to see Julia read from some of her books and also present their acting and singing performances, which have been inspired by her books.   

To coincide with the launch of her libraries tour, Julia has launched a new website for teachers to help them bring picture books to life in the classroom by using drama and performance. To see other stops on her tour, visit: 

Alongside the Library Grants for the arts award, the Libraries Development Initiative was also created earlier in the year to test new approaches to library service delivery to build vibrant, sustainable 21st century library services within the framework of our 10-year vision, Culture, knowledge and understanding: great museums and libraries for everyone.

A total of 13 projects were funded, each receiving a share of £250,000. The successful libraries will test innovative, locally appropriate and enterprising ways of working, resulting in a resilient vision for future public library services as a whole.

Cambridgeshire Library Service received funding to develop community-led commissioning for arts and library services in rural deprived areas.Their project aims to increase access to cultural activity in deprived rural areas through the development of the library spaces. It will use the community networks of local libraries together with an innovative mechanism to enable local communities to choose high quality cultural activities to take place within those spaces.

Rachel Drury, Senior Manager, Regional Planning, East, Arts Council England, said: 'Libraries are a vital hub for all communities, providing not only books but a whole range of valued services. Arts Council funding will enable libraries to build on this creating new opportunities for the public to engage with high quality cultural experiences. We're looking forward to seeing what great ideas there are out there, supported by interesting new partnerships.' 

Portsmouth City Council also received a £20,000 award to support their popular Portsmouth BookFest, which unites a local bookstore, the cities' libraries, several arts organisations and the local authority as partners in an exciting city festival of all things literary. The award is supporting their work to engage hard to reach groups in the city with this year's festival - through employing a community worker and targeted marketing in the North of the city for example. They are also offering discounts on books and tickets for Portsmouth library card holders.

The BookFest features a wide range of events for children, young adults, and genre specific fans such as fantasy, history and running and with top authors including James Herbert; ex-SAS soldier and bestselling author of Bravo Two Zero Andy McNab; Deborah Moggach creator of These Foolish Things which was adapted into the hit film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; debut novelist Tanya Byrne; and Kate Mosse. 

The festival runs from Saturday 20 October to Sunday 4 November.

This summer, four Portsmouth artists used a local library as an art exhibition space and workshop space in a project called Off the Shelf. Artists Jon Adams, Steve Oliver, Ginny Topp, and Sarah Tunaley created new works using the book as inspiration - which were then displayed for a month at Southsea Library. As part of the project, the artist also delivered a series of free bookmaking workshops in the library. Off the Shelf was supported with a £5,670 Arts Council England Grants for the arts award. 

An exciting recent development is a partnership between two Arts Council England National portfolio organisations - New Writing South in Brighton and Writers Centre Norwich - who have produced a library and literature toolkit. For more information on this, and links to a number of important toolkits, go to

Other good news in the East, Focal Point Gallery (FPG), a highly regarded visual arts National portfolio organisation, will be relocating to The Forum Southend in September 2013 from their current location on the second floor of Southend Central Library. The gallery is part of a much larger regeneration project worth approximately £29m.  This development will create a new high quality gallery space and re house the main libraries for Southend Borough Council, South East Essex College and University of Essex. In this new location FPG intend to curate and tour their own shows and show work loaned from national and international collections.

For more information on Library Grants for the arts, see For more information on Library Development Initiative, see