No Surrender

 by Susan Kruse

“All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals.
Any compromise on fundamentals is a surrender.”
Mahatma Gandhi

Well tomorrow the new Library of Birmingham opens and I feel happy and not-happy about that.

Happy because, hey, new library!
Not-happy because in early discussions it was indicated that we would be exhibiting right from tomorrow for the duration of the opening festival. And that would have been awesome.

I won't lie to you, after all the hard work that we have put into the project it has been difficult sometimes to remain up-beat and positive about the changes to that initial vision that we have had to absorb over the last few months. When I tell you that at one critical moment it was briefly suggested that we hold the exhibition not during the opening festival, but in 2015, you might get some idea of the hurdles we have had to leap, the negotiating, adapting and re-thinking that we have had to do. But we fought through and I think we are still winning.

I think this is true of many art projects, particularly those that are artist-led, rather than ones instigated by large arts organisations, with plentiful funding and a reputation to match. Though that gets me thinking about the creation of a project as big as the Library of Birmingham and the negotiations, planning and re-planning that a project of that size must be subject to. What was it like for the architects, Mecanoo, how many designs were submitted and re-submitted before the final one was approved? What dreams did the architect, Francine Houben have for the space that had to be shelved or re-thought; did she accept change to fundamental aspects of the design, or only to the details? 

I wonder too what dreams the people of Birmingham had for their new library? Does it shatter or fulfil these dreams and expectations? A public library is a community space and I wonder how the community feel about their new library, what questions and challenges were they able to pose to the project's designers and library staff and how will the library respond in the future to its changing and growing community?

It seems to me that this is at the heart of democracy and community; the need to absorb compromise as well as the right to demand change. At which point should we continue to fight for our visions and dreams and at which point do we accept compromise and take the body-blow?

For me, as long as the heart of my plan for The Library of Lost Books remained intact then accepting change and compromise is something I can accept, even if it stings; we didn't let those lovely old books get lost and pulped, we gathered together an amazing group of artists to breathe new life into them and we are showing those loved, rescued, re-worked books to the world in this blog and in real-world exhibitions. 
That is what matters. That is what we are doing. All the rest is just detail.

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