The Kokomo-Howard County Public Library will become what is thought to be the first library in the world to host a piece of art by the street artist Banksy.
The well-known, stealthy Banksy has created coveted political and social commentary street art around the world. The KHCPL will display a piece Banksy created in San Francisco on the side of a bed and breakfast, titled “Haight Street Rat,” beginning Aug. 4.
The piece features a rat sporting a cap reminiscent of Che Guevara, the late Argentine Marxist military leader. The rat is holding a marker next to a drawn red line, and the other end of the line reads “This is Where I Draw the Line.” The piece that will be on display does not include the phrase.
Lisa Fipps, director of marketing and community engagement at the KHCPL, said as far as the library knows, they’re the first in the world to host an actual piece by Banksy. Other libraries have hosted displays with posters or prints of his work, but Fipps said as far as she can tell, the KHCPL is the first to host the actual piece.
She added in a press release that the piece, if sold, could bring in more than $1 million. Very little is known about the actual artist, but his work is widely popular. Art collector Brian Greif paid more than $40,000 to the bed and breakfast in San Francisco to take down the wall that “Haight Street Rat” was painted on.
Greif put on the work on tour with the requirement that the host site be free to the public and promote the value of street art.
Trina Evans, branch assistant at the KHCPL, learned about the work by watching the documentary “Saving Banksy.”
Evans said she grew up in Los Angeles, surrounded by graffiti, and she missed it when she moved to Kokomo.
Because of her love for the art form, she began following graffiti artists on social media, including Banksy. When she saw that the library was getting the documentary “Saving Banksy,” she knew she had to watch it.
“The movie was telling the story of how this one guy, Brian, wanted to save these pieces of art,” Evans said. “So when I’m watching the documentary, I couldn’t believe that he was spending his own money to save it … I can’t believe he was wanting to give it away.”
The documentary mentioned that Greif wanted to put the piece on tour at places that are free and open to the public, and Evans decided to see if the library could host it.
“Everything we do is free and for the public,” she said.
She was able to connect with Greif through social media and asked him if the KHCPL could get the piece, and he said yes, as long as the library paid the shipping costs.
“Library leaders talked about it and loved the idea,” Fipps said. “There was only one concern: would the city fear a rash of graffiti? We talked with Mayor Greg Goodnight and Deputy Mayor David Tharp, and they showed nothing but excitement about the idea of the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library hosting a Banksy.”
Tharp said he was excited when the library brought up the idea.
“Any time we can have public art integrated into everyday life, it’s a substantial benefit,” he said. “Having this installation at the main branch downtown, I really think it will be a great way for folks to experience this kind of art.”
Recently, the city helped a group of international students from Kokomo High School paint a mural on the side of a building off Washington Street. Tharp said the city is talking with a few other people interested in creating murals downtown, and he added that there are a few businesses interested in having murals added to their buildings.
He encouraged anybody interested in creating murals downtown to get in touch with the city. To get approval for a street art building mural project, contact Tharp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 765-456-7447.
Lizzy Lewis, a junior studying fine arts at Indiana University Kokomo who works in the university’s downtown art gallery, said she’s excited to see the piece come to Kokomo.
“I think that’s wonderful,” she said. “It will be a nice cultural infusion.”
Evans also said she’s delighted about it.
“We’re the heartland of America, but we’re not traditionally known for thinking that graffiti is street art, so I was a little concerned that maybe it was too much,” she said. “But I was very excited that the library backed me on that, and more excited that this person would let us host it in the heartland.”
The KHCPL has planned several events related to the piece of art, starting with the unveiling from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Aug. 4 at the main branch downtown. Those who sign the guestbook will receive a commemorative pin while supplies last. Children will be able to practice street art by stenciling on the library’s windows and chalking on the sidewalks. There will be a station where everyone is invited to work on a community street art project, and a “What would the rat say” contest with a chance to win a basket of Bansky-related items. The library will also feature posters and prints of other Bansky works.
From 2 to 4 p.m. Aug. 19 at the main branch, young adult author Shannon Lee Alexander will explain the basic terminology and techniques for getting started with street art. During the event, teens and young adults will be able to make street art they can display at the library and take home. Alexander also will have her novels, “Love and Other Unknown Variables” and “Life after Juliet,” for sale and to autograph after the program.