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Borrow Before You Buy

The Minneapolis Art Lending Library lets borrowers take local work home for free.

By Ryan Klabunde

Walls looking a tad bare these days? Never fear. Whether you want to experiment with different types of visual art or don't have the budget to buy your own, the Minneapolis Art Lending Library (MALL) lets you borrow works of art by local artists much like you might check out a stack of summer beach reads. The collection features a blend of paintings, prints, ceramics, photography and sculpture - and borrowers can showcase the work in their home for three months. If you decide that you simply can't part with a piece of art, then good news: Most pieces are available to purchase.

With a mission of providing exposure to artists, building ongoing support of the arts and sharing the joy of art with all members of the community, we asked MALL Director Katherine Smith-Flores to shed some light on how an art lending library works.

What is the history of art lending libraries?

Art lending libraries are not a new concept; there are many art lending libraries in Europe, including a large one in France, and they have many branches throughout. There is also a very large lending library in Berlin as well. They have over 4,000 original contemporary artworks and their own space that anyone can come by. In the U.S., there are a number of art lending libraries that are popping up, particularly in Denver; Braddock, Pennsylvania; and Chicago. They're also common at colleges and some libraries. The Hennepin County Library used to have an art collection. A lot of times the collections are made of reproductions. What the Minneapolis Art Lending Library offers are originals.

Describe the library collection.

Currently, we have over 100 pieces in the collection and incorporate diversity as much as possible in terms of media as well as artist demographic. We have paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and textile pieces. The majority of the artworks are from local emerging artists, however we do have some artworks from national artists. In terms of rotation, we try to keep our collection fresh. Many of the artworks are on loan to us and available for sale, others we have bought and some were given to us. The artworks that are for sale, of course, cycle out and we get new artwork in. Because we want the art to be accessible, we also have limitations on size and weight, so nothing over 25 pounds and nothing so big that it can't be carried on public transportation or put in their car.

How do artists benefit by participating in this program?

We hope the artists grow and thrive by participating in this program. Each artist has the opportunity to sell their artwork and we communicate that to our borrowers. We clearly state how much each artwork is priced at on the back of our artworks. We have very reasonably priced artworks because we want to encourage sales. A new initiative this year, we started paying each artist a stipend for their participation in our program, which is our way of saying "thank you" to the artist because they are, after all, lending their artworks to complete strangers.  Another important thing to us, in regards to the artist and what we can do for them, is at most galleries there's a 40/60 or 50/50 model where the gallery owner will get 40% to 50% at least and the artist will get the rest. When we make sales, we only take a small percentage just for the cost of the sale.

Why do you think this program is successful in the Twin Cities?

I think we have a lot of art appreciators in the Twin Cities and people are really excited about this opportunity to borrow an artwork. A lot of artists want to be a part of the collection. In our last round of submissions, we received about 100 artworks and we typically see about 100 people at each lending event. Typically we lend out about 80 artworks, so it shows that people are interested in what we're doing.

Special thanks to Minneapolis Central Library.

Ryan Klabunde Read More
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