Art Exhibitions a Vital Part of Library Branches

Creative exhibitions are finally back in Johnson County Library branches, and Local Arts Librarian Bryan Voell couldn’t be happier.

“We’re just excited to have art back and to be working with artists again,” Voell said.

For years, the Libraries have been great spaces for the public to view distinctive paintings, sculptures, ceramics and other works by local artists. The COVID-19 pandemic halted all that in March 2020.

But in 2021 the Library’s local arts committee determined that art was one positive way to resume providing in-person programming. The displays reappeared in September, with a new round of exhibits beginning in January.

“Exhibitions is a passive program,” Voell explained. “It draws people in but it’s not something where we are putting people in close proximity with each other. People can enjoy the art safely.”

It’s another way to make the Libraries welcoming and meaningful for patrons.

“It’s being inspired by what they see on the walls, it’s learning about the artists and it gives the artists themselves another place to share their work.” Voell said. “We do provide an honorarium to the artists. That was important as well. Artists especially have been hurt drastically by the COVID experience, the shutdown. So this was a way for us to open that avenue of sharing their work.”

Johnson County Library has partnerships with the Kansas City Artists Coalition at the Blue Valley and Oak Park Library branches; with InterUrban ArtHouse at Leawood Pioneer; and with The Arts Asylum at Antioch. Those organizations curate exhibits from artists in their networks.

The Library also currently has gallery displays at Cedar Roe, Gardner, Lenexa City Center and Shawnee Libraries, with Corinth resuming exhibitions in January. And art will reappear on Central Resource Library’s brand-new gallery wall after it reopens.

The Lenexa City Center Library hosted a particularly significant exhibit in the fall. It featured a photographic series of decommissioned Minuteman Missile silos by Nate Hofer that was named a winner of one of five Global Peace Photo Awards, presented in Austria in September 2021. The award honors works internationally that capture humanity’s quest for a peaceful world.

“It was good timing for us. That was really cool,” Voell said.

While galleries were closed during the pandemic, Voell and the committee started a virtual program called Artists In Sight, in which he interviewed local artists about their work, their creative process and what inspires them. Those interviews are available on the Library OnDemand portion of Johnson County Library’s website. With the galleries back open, it’s another great way to promote the shows.

New exhibits are up from January through April 21, with featured artists including Kathy Liao, Brittany Noriega and Angie Pickman.

“It will be an awesome display,” Voell said of next year’s exhibits. “We have a pretty incredible list of artists.” 

Johnson County Library also celebrates student art work at the Blue Valley branch. In the past, work by  Blue Valley School District students has been posted in the gallery space. In 2022, it will be in the area frequented by young readers. The student display is coordinated by information specialists Jess Wagner and Rachel Novotny, who are part of the Library’s local arts team.

“There’s plenty of wall space outside what used to be the Storytime room and then as you go into the youth area,” Voell said. “It will be viewable by kids who may not go by the gallery.”

You can find this story featured in the Spring 2022 Guide. The Guide is your source for Library news, upcoming events and programs, service highlights, Friends of Johnson County Library and Johnson County Library Foundation news and more. Pick up your copy at a Johnson County Library near you. The Spring 2022 Guide is also available to view online at