LARSON: Gwinnett Library gives customers key to culture

Special Photo. Akbar Imhotep tells Brer Rabbit stories to children at The Wren's Nest.

Special Photo. Akbar Imhotep tells Brer Rabbit stories to children at The Wren's Nest.

Time was if you heard any storytelling at the library, it was courtesy of a volunteer mom sitting on the floor with 10 toddlers squeezed in between two overloaded bookshelves. Same goes for art exhibits, which amounted to a bulletin board thrown together with whatever construction paper those same volunteer moms could find in a cardboard box stashed under the checkout desk.

The Gwinnett library system has come a long way since then. When it upgraded from 1920s houses and basements of commercial buildings, the larger space and bigger budget allowed for kids -- and their parents -- to benefit from professional storytellers, puppeteers, and even local acting troupes.

But there's so much going on in the world around us and many of those things just can't be brought into a library building, no matter how big the budget.

Thus was born the Key to the Arts and Culture program. Library customers can check out a one-week pass for free admission for four people to a variety of cultural attractions around the state, including the Hudgens Center for the Arts, Southeastern Railway Museum, and all Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites.

"Key to the Arts and Culture has made experiencing arts and culture something that might otherwise be beyond people's reach," Executive Director Nancy Stanbery-Kellam said. "Most are familiar with the saying that cultures, both modern and historic, are judged by how they treat their weakest members. While I think that is true, I also think the measure of a community can be determined by how they value knowledge, culture and the arts. Gwinnett is rich in all of these resources and is poised to take this part of our community to the next level."

The latest step up was to add the Wren's Nest, home of Joel Chandler Harris of Uncle Remus fame to their list of destinations. The Wren's Nest, located in Atlanta, is also the oldest house museum in the state and a landmark of international interest.

"I was flattered and honored on behalf of the Wren's Nest that they asked us to do this," Wren's Nest Executive Director Lain Shakespeare said. "Gwinnett has one of the best library systems in Georgia and I'm not surprised to see they have innovative arts programs as well."

The library and the museum will celebrate the launch of this new partnership at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Five Forks Branch with a free performance by world renowned storyteller and puppeteer Akbar Imhotep. Imhotep will be introduced by Shakespeare, who happens to be the great-great-great grandson of Joel Chandler Harris.

"Akbar has been telling stories for over 25 years," Shakespeare said. "He told me stories when I was a little boy."

If you can't make it to this historic event, you are still free to visit with these gentlemen at the Wren's Nest any time you want. Free passes are available at any Gwinnett library. Go check them out.

Susan Larson is a freelance writer who lives in Lilburn. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com or comment below her column.