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Pikes Peak Library District goes beyond the book to show visitors art of all types

For so many decades, the stereotype of any library and its role in everyday life remained intact: You would go there to find books. Period.

That began to change with the steady rise of audio and video alternatives, which libraries everywhere willingly have provided.

But the Pikes Peak Library District has developed another niche in recent years, as part of its long commitment to preserving regional history. PPLD has engaged local groups and artists to display their works, while also building its own collection of art and photographs to more than 100,000 items.

So whenever you think about arts resources in the Pikes Peak region, you've got to think about the library district. Especially its two main facilities, the Penrose Library downtown (20 N. Cascade Ave.) and the East Library (5550 N. Union Blvd.).

"It's a well-kept secret that we have," says Dee Vazquez, PPLD's community relations officer. "But we're always looking for ways to show our art, and we're just getting engaged with other organizations in the community."

Perhaps the library district's best-known works include its extensive Myron Wood photo collection, which covers local and regional subjects. Wood spent many years as photographer for Colorado College and the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and sold many of his photos to PPLD before his death in 1999. Besides periodically creating exhibits of Wood's photos, PPLD also has shared them with other galleries.

Among the district's other special collections are photos by Lew Tilley, the late local artist and instructor, including many shots of longtime Springs fixture Fannie Mae Duncan. And then there's the De Donde Eres? exhibition, with its plethora of documents, photos and videos depicting the San Luis Valley's history.

As far as shows go, PPLD often hosts traveling exhibits; in this way, it's explored subjects such as the Holocaust and Darfur, NASA and the Smithsonian. But also, three times a year its community-based arts committee puts out a call to about 200 local artists, asking for five show-ready pieces. The committee then examines the submissions, determines those of the best quality and appeal, and divides them into groups for exhibits. They'll go up, usually at Penrose or East, for up to two months at a time, before being replaced with more works.

"That allows us to show a large amount of artwork," Vazquez says, "and it's also an excellent opportunity for younger artists trying to get started and establish themselves."

PPLD also helps young would-be curators (while reducing its own costs) by reaching out to area college students for help with putting on shows.

At the K-through-12 level, PPLD offers much of its permanent collection to area school districts; this year, District 11 has an exhibit on community leaders through Colorado Springs' history that's traveling from school to school. Then there's an annual art contest for children as part of the All Pikes Peak Reads program.

In months to come, PPLD will participate in the local Western Heritage Days, following the "staycation" theme by spotlighting area history. June will bring a history symposium, focusing on innovation and enterprise in the region.

For an ongoing schedule of exhibits throughout the PPLD system in any month, go to ppld.org/aboutyourlibrary/events/ArtExhibits/default.asp.

routon@csindy.com

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