Friday, December 11, 2020

On the Wall


As I sifted through photographs the other day, this one from February jumped out. 

Taken at the East Columbia Branch of the Howard County Library, it’s probably the last photo I have taken in a public place “in the before times.” I was probably checking out a stack of books to augment our classroom science table. As I went to get in line I noticed a new mural. 

“Well, this is new,” I thought, and snapped a picture. “Maybe there’s a story in this.”

Well, that was a while ago, eh? 

I have long since returned all those classroom books. Memories of being able to pop in and noodle around at the East Columbia Branch (my favorite) feel but happy dreams these days. 

But I was still curious about the mural. When did it get there? What prompted its creation? Who was the artist?

This week Christie Lassen, Director of Communications and Partnerships at Howard County Library System, was kind enough to put me in touch with Suki Lee, the Branch Manager at the East Columbia Branch. Here’s what I learned.

It turns out that the mural was quite new when I spotted it. My photo is dated February 15th.  Here is a photo from artist Anson Asaka’s Instagram feed dated February 4th.

The process for the creation of the mural began within the East Columbia Branch community in August of 2019. From Ms. Lee:

A forum was held at the East Columbia Branch in August 2019. We asked the participants - "What gives you Pride in the community?"

The artist was present at the forum and created a visual representation based on the verbal feedback.

The mural is about "Community".

Diversity is represented by the individuals on the bridge.

The bridge symbolizes the connection between the communities and its ties to the library and Columbia.

Neighboring schools are displayed as logos on the students' clothing.

One thing I love about this mural is how the image of Columbia’s iconic People Tree is seen prominently even though it physically does not exist in immediate proximity to the location. It’s a statement, I think. We feel it everywhere in the community where there is diversity, connection, pride in who we are.

Mr. Asaka describes himself as a self-taught visual artist. He is a lawyer for the Baltimore NAACP. Here we have again another great example of how the arts can be combined in many kinds of life paths. You can be an astronaut/scientist who plays the flute. You can be an attorney who’s a mural artist who works with communities. Don’t let your parents talk you out of those arts courses, kids. 

The Howard County Library System does a particularly good job at involving the public in programs and experiences within each branch. When there are construction and improvement projects the community is always a part of the equation. The East Columbia Branch was most recently reopened after renovatations in 2018. Perhaps this particular wall was a piece of the long-term plan for including community voices.

I like that.

As you might expect, as the year draws to a close the Friends and Foundation of the Howard County Library System is making their pitch for ongoing support for library programs, which have been mightily augmented during the pandemic. Take a look at what they have been doing and make a donation if you can.

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