With cold weather setting in, many library patrons are staying indoors to enjoy holiday celebrations and festivities. But Jen Waite, librarian at Buncombe County Public Libraries, points out that not all traditions are accessible to everyone. That's why the Pack Memorial Library branch hosts a free, annual performance of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. We spoke to Jen about how the library built its partnership with the Ballet Conservatory of Asheville and the value that arts programming brings to patrons.
1. Why did your library decide to host a performance of The Nutcracker? What value do you think it brings to your community?
Our Nutcracker performance is a chance to celebrate and highlight the arts and to encourage local dancers. We love offering live arts performances to our patrons of all ages. One of our goals with library programs is to eliminate cost barriers and provide free access to opportunities and experiences to all people. This free event provides an opportunity for people to experience a glimpse of the Nutcracker who otherwise not be able to afford a theater ticket. This event is also an excellent opportunity to highlight our library resources related to ballet, the Nutcracker, and Tchaikovsky.
2. The Nutcracker is a classic holiday show; what makes your version of the performance special?
One of my favorite parts of the Nutcracker at the Library is watching the little kids' enchantment with it all. Kids show up in tutus and costumes to watch the performance. It is also fun to watch the adults watch the little kids and the dancing! The program is set up like an extended story time. The Nutcracker story is read to the audience with live ballet performances inserted into the story. Many of these young ones might not have the patience to sit still through an entire theater performance of the full Nutcracker, so this format is perfect for that age. Another special component is that after the show, everyone is allowed to meet and mingle with the principal dancers and take pictures with them in their costumes. It is very generous of the dancers to share their time with our patrons in this memorable way.
3. This performance is a partnership with the Ballet Conservatory of Asheville. How did this partnership develop? What advice do you have for other libraries that are interested in partnering with local arts groups?
The Ballet Conservatory of Asheville is one of the top classical ballet schools in Asheville. They have staged the Nutcracker in Asheville for many years. Many of their students and parents are local library patrons. We asked them to work with us in this way, and we are grateful that they said yes. It is a wonderful new tradition and celebration of dance and the season. I would encourage other libraries to reach out to collaborate with their local arts groups and to start a conversation around mutual goals for engagement with the arts, lifelong learning, and reaching new audiences. We also work with the Asheville Community Theatre to host preview library performances of their musicals. Collaborations like this are a win-win.
4. What feedback have you gotten from patrons about the event?
This has become one of the favorite events of the year for patrons of all ages. It is so much fun to be a part of.