Five Philadelphia libraries are being overhauled thanks to a $25 million grant from the William Penn Foundation, and one bit of icing on the 21st Century Libraries Initiative cake is a Percent for Art component for each project.
On Wednesday Philadelphia artist Ben Volta presented “Diligence” to the Philadelphia Art Commission, planned for the interior of the Tacony Library on Torresdale Avenue. For the Tacony Library, which opened in 1906 as the city’s fourth Carnegie-funded branch, Volta looked to the past and consulted neighborhood residents and historians to help shape his artwork.
Volta proposed installing murals printed on cloth, featuring a monochromatic assemblage of historic images that he said, “imagines the industrial history of the neighborhood” - especially the Disston company, an institution which built up Tacony as a company town starting in the late 19th century. A Disston even donated the land where the library was built.
The artwork gives a “sense of evaporated history condensed on the walls,” Volta told commissioners. The largest artwork would be installed on a wall of the children’s room, a smaller piece would be tucked into an archway in the quiet room, and a frieze of saw blades rendered in Spirograph-esqe lines would tie the pieces into the main room.
Commissioner Natalie Nixon asked if Volta was satisfied with the soft resolution of the images, and he noted that they are all very old. It is a question of doing the best he can with what he has. Commission Chair Alan Greenberger said he thought the softness of the images worked and would create a better atmosphere. The collective response was enthusiastic final approval for the designs.
The Percent for Art budget for this project is $17,500.