Murray artists hope library art will spark positive conversations

ELLEN O'NAN | The Sun

Justin Roberts sits inside an eco-friendly maze he is building out of unwanted trees outside of the Calloway County Public Library. Roberts owns Walk the Willow in Murray, where he creates furniture out of willow branches.

As Murray taxpayers and board members continue to debate an expansion at the Calloway County Public Library, local artists Justin and Shannon Roberts are looking to spark positive conversations and connect patrons with nature and each other.

Justin owns Walk the Willow, a small business out of Murray, where he creates traditional furniture, reclaimed wood tables and shelves, and large-scale sculptures, all made from willow.

Believing the public library is the heart of a town, Justin and Shannon have organized a large-scale, community-funded art installation at the Calloway library called "Choices."

"We just really believe that public libraries are an important part of our society and that they add value to the community and everybody benefits, from the poorest demographic to the highest paid," Shannon said. "We're showing the library how much the community loves the library."

No matter what decision is ultimately made on the expansion, Shannon said, the couple wanted to do something that would express their love of the public library and its services.

"We can make art," Shannon said. "We can physically make something happen. If it's not exactly what we want, at least it speaks to it."

Inspired by "Oh, the Places You'll Go," the couple is using unwanted trees cleared from underneath powerlines by the city to create a maze that promotes outdoor play for children. The maze will be over a mile long and range between 3 and 9 feet tall.

The project will be divided into three phases. The couple said their goal is to have the first phase finished in the next two weeks, and the entire project finished by fall.

Justin said the final piece of the art project will be to permanently install a woven pedestal. "The pedestal will hold a large, reflective book. Every child or (person) that looks into the book will see a reflection of themselves," Justin said.

Shannon said the pedestal is meant to speak to the emphathetic power of reading.

"When we read, we become these other people," she said. "We see through their eyes."

Community support has been easy to come by, they said, with over 52 sponsors, including CFSB, Artisan Kitchen, Kroger, Woodmen Life, Kopperud Realty, Judge-Executive Kenny Imes and more. In just 21/2 months, the couple raised $2,160 for the estimated $6,000 project.

"We're also teaming up with the folks who need to do community service," Justin said of volunteers helping to build the art installation. "So they're getting their community service hours in a creative way."

A benefit, with proceeds going toward the library art project, will be held at 8:30 p.m. today at The Big Apple in Murray, featuring poets Ron Whitehead and William S. Trilbell and musicians JD Wilkes, JT Oglesby, Fate McAfee, Melanie Davis and Shannon Roberts. There is no admission, however, donations are accepted.

To volunteer to work or contribute financially, go to the project's Facebook page, Creative Communities with Justin Roberts, or email them at kindfolkhome@gmail.com.

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