After years of 10% or 15% cuts, in 2013 St. Lawrence County legislators cut library funding BY 100%. 2014 saw the Town of Morristown cut library funding by $2,000. We all understood the “why?” when everyone in the North Country was struggling. But The Morristown Public Library, an Association library with just over 900 patrons, refused to go back a decade or so when the library was depressed and the village paid the price; when the town was trying hard to progress but the kids and their parents had no programs to reflect progress. We have had so much success we couldn’t be forced to cut the new programs and the spirit. Not Morristown! We put our muscle and “spirit of volunteerism” into a Plein Air Festival. A Plein Air Festival provides a community with cultural education, entertainment, collaboration opportunities, and yes, acts as a fundraiser for a library.

Plein air simply means “in the open air”, a French term that became intimately linked with painting after the invention of the tube container. Before that, artists were restricted to their studios where paints had to be mixed. But with the portable tube they could venture out of doors and use the natural light of the sun. Voila’! It’s the era of impressionists.

Plein Air, an art movement on the rise, is now synonymous with “festivals” where artists are invited to come into a village and paint the scenery. The paintings created during the festival are offered up for sale with the sponsoring body – the library – receiving a percentage of the profits. The Morristown Public Library has enjoyed three August festivals between 2013 and 2015 with proceeds of $8,917, $6,000 and $7,365 respectively. These figures represent 17% of our entire annual income!

Now, don’t get me wrong, the money is fabulous. But it’s much more than that, as you already know. Plein air is a perfect fit as dictated by a library’s Mission Statement. Simply put, our collective library heart beats service.

Morristown has actively brought our community together in the sharing of the work and the joys of these four-day festivals. Currently, three years in, people talk about plein air all the time. And where do people go to discuss plein air? The library. Our 100% volunteer committee plans plein air year-round, and the rest of the town’s population flocks to the library in order to share ideas and offer services. This heartening atmosphere unsurprisingly spills over into conversations in restaurants, hardware stores and museums, always with the bright and energetic light of the library as the substance behind the enthusiasm.

We feel that Morristown was hugely successful in more than just the tangible measures. And you can too. If you are interested in this type of fundraiser, begin with a little plein air “Googling” and please – no need to reinvent the wheel – feel free to use as a model source of information.

Bonne chance!

Note from LTA: Thanks to the Friends Library Section (FLS) of NYLA for making us aware of Morristown’s Plein Air Festival.  LTA was proud to be a co-sponsor of FLS’ Plein Air Presentation at NYLA’s Conference at Lake Placid.