Last Thursday was an especially busy night in Beeghly Library, but students gathered to perform as well as study. At least once a semester, the library hosts Culture Café, an hour-long event at 8 p.m. on a Thursday, for students to perform music, poetry, performance art, or whatever strikes their creative fancy. The library’s café makes the perfect venue, with its built-in stage and convenient coffee bar. Students can wander in for a study break, or bring along a guitar to share some creative vibes. “It’s an opportunity to make use of the café space, probably as the small stage was intended,” says Peter Szabo, Beeghly’s music librarian. “We want to expand the library experience.”
Culture Café came about as a way to connect with students and expand the role of Beeghly Library as a place of exploration. “We thought it was in the spirit of intellectual curiosity and discovery, which are important aspects of the library,” says Szabo. “Originally, we had an idea for a performance event for the music department. It started off more formal, but it evolved into something informal that students could be more involved in.”
As the music librarian, Szabo is involved not only with the music department, but also is committed to the more casual musicians that play such an important part in making the OWU community thrive. He takes part in Culture Café himself, playing drums in collaboration with students. “It’s fun to participate more, it sends a message to students to take part.”
The student turn-out can range anywhere from a quiet handful to a packed café with no standing room. Most students keep the tradition alive by coming to every Culture Café, and bringing something to perform. “Culture Café is an opportunity for students to share their talents,” says senior Alex D’Amore-Braver. “I’ve been playing at Culture Café my entire time at OWU, and it’s always fun.”
That evening, D’Amore-Braver played a song he wrote and most Café-goers were familiar with, even singing along with the chorus. The atmosphere was friendly and open, with students encouraging each other to take the stage. Szabo and collaborator Jillian Maruskin, public services librarian, also urged on performers. Maruskin read some of her own poetry, and spent time chatting with students about their art and creative process. Students played duets with guitar and voice, read their poetry, sang Pete Seeger covers, and even acted out an impressive and original performance piece. “It’s always great to witness the high level of creativity and talent that your fellow students have!” says D’Amore-Braver.
Culture Café is particularly exciting because it provides a venue that any member of the OWU community can drop by and experience. Beeghly is perhaps one of the the most familiar and well-loved buildings on campus, and provides a natural meeting place for all intellectually enriching student activities. The studious atmosphere helps students pursue new academic talents, but Culture Café reminds students that this same attitude is vital to creating and developing artwork.
“Culture Café represents the evolution of the library as a “place,” by not only pushing the library beyond its traditional boundaries, but by cultivating students’ sense of self and intellectual curiosity,” says Catherine Cardwell, director of OWU Libraries. “It provides an environment that allows students to experiment and share their talents.”
The date of Culture Café is announced in University newsletters, the library blog, printed posters, and via Facebook. Students can contact Szabo and Maruskin beforehand to schedule performances, or show up in a more “open mic night” style. Performing the work of established artists is a great way to break the ice for new Café-goers, but original work is also welcome and very much in the spirit of the evening.