In creating the project, the MCA took inspiration from university art libraries, which often generate tremendous demand. MIT’s Student Loan Art Collection has existed since 1969, and in a recent lending session, 975 people entered a lottery for 600 artworks. Demand also exceeded supply when the University of Chicago revived its lending library after a 30-year hiatus. By 8am on distribution day, around 100 students had lined up. Some had camped out overnight.
One challenge for art libraries is making sure that their collections are inclusive and diverse. The University of Chicago’s art lending library, Art to Live With, originated with a collection assembled by Joseph R. Shapiro, an alumnus and the founding president of MCA Chicago. A student-staffed Collections and Acquisition committee needed to be established to diversify the library, which included works by mostly male and European artists.
Measuring the impact of these initiatives is a challenge, too. This year, both MIT and the University of Chicago created surveys that aimed to determine whether students who borrowed art also became patrons of cultural events and spaces. (The results aren’t in yet.) Of the MCA in Denver, Lerner said that some borrowers may have a previous interest in particular artists, but he expects others to start “following” the artists whose work they borrow. At the MCA’s library launch event, 21 out of 28 borrowers told me that they didn’t know any of the participating artists. Several lottery entrants said they were participating because they wanted to hang original art in their home for free.