By Jennifer L Warren
Monticello – Douglas Shindler and Michael Davis intend to flip the artistic narrative script in Sullivan County, specifically in Monticello.
“We want this area to be a place where people can be artists right here at home and not have to leave the area,” said Monticello-born and currently resident visual artist Shindler. “There is so much potential for artists and residents and opportunities for collaboration here in this community of Monticello.”
It’s this frame that prompted Shindler to pitch the idea for a Black Library to his photographer and designer friend Michael Davis a few years ago. The creative duo have known each other since 2014, when they met at Sullivan County Community College.
Thanks to a grant secured by Shindler’s employer, the Hurleyville Arts Center, and a series of generous donations, the Friends’ vision for this library, along with a collaborative arts space, is now in motion, sparking much excitement for artistic growth in Monticello.
“The idea of the library is to celebrate black culture and history by using art and a wide range of books—history, fiction, psychology, and art—by black authors,” explained Shindler, who co-led the project with his co-leader , Davis hopes to have a physical space locked down on Broadway by September. “We also want to really engage the community on multiple levels.”
Artist talks, workshops and exhibitions are also being planned. General community events — like a block party and an open barbecue — aimed at bringing the community together are also on the schedule. Actions aimed at providing art supplies to local students and securing free or very cheap studio space for artists complete the initial vision of community art.
“This is truly an overall community effort, and we hope to deepen our already trusting relationship with them to create a space centered on shared effort,” Davis said. He explained the deep roots he and Shindler have with Monticello and the crucial building blocks that are already in place as the process gathers momentum.
Meanwhile, the Black Library itself continues to grow as donations are poured in daily towards a book collection at the local Ethelbert B. Crawford Library in Monticello. The Drive, which began July 1, is expected to continue until at least September 30. The impressive compilation includes 60 photo books donated by their creator, Kris Graves, another friend of Shindler’s. Additional photo books were provided by Syracuse-based Light Work, featuring images of their artists. Shindler and Davis also personally purchased Kindles at a special price to further enhance the Black Library’s technological offerings.
Shindler and Davis see the Black Library not only as a creative, energetic, forward-thinking interior, but also as an exterior. As visual artists, the tandem knows firsthand the seductive power and symbolic meaning of the vastness of a place.
“We really want this to be a vibrant, expressive, and creative space—both indoors and out,” Shindler said. “We want it to be a beacon of hope that can transform and uplift our area.”
And more than anything, they want it to be a collaborative effort with their region. The first step in that direction comes tomorrow, Thursday, July 21, from 4-7pm at Gallery 22 in Hurleyville at a community event showcasing the Black Library-Community Arts Center. A community discussion will take place here to ask what residents would like to see at the Library-Arts Center. The background for the meeting is the current photo exhibition “The Day I Went Home” with works by Shindler and Davis as well as Tyler Sanford. With a raw, non-glamorous look at portraits of people – a celebration of local people – the exhibit also serves as a sort of salute to Shindler’s return to Sullivan County, an area for which he has gained renewed respect since leaving college now – along with the help of its community – doing whatever it takes to get it in front of as many people as possible.
“This Black Library can do so much here in this area,” Shindler said. “It’s just really exciting to see it unfold.”