Photo by Julia Rendleman, University Marketing.

Cabell Library’s new 400-square-foot outdoor screen to display art, animation, video, scholarly work

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Virginia Commonwealth University’s James Branch Cabell Library is poised to debut its newly installed 400-square-foot outdoor screen that will showcase art, animation, video and information about scholarly work from throughout the VCU community.

The screen, which overlooks the Compass, is 21 feet wide by 24 feet tall, and is located above the main entrance of Cabell Library, which recently wrapped up a major expansion and renovation that added 93,000 square feet of new construction and 63,000 square feet of improvements to the existing Monroe Park Campus library.

The screen has been installed with the hope to intrigue, inspire and inform the tens of thousands of VCU community members who pass by daily.

“VCU Libraries is known as a convener and center for innovation in cultural programming that reaches literally thousands of members of the academic and greater community,” he said.

The screen — also known as a media facade, a vitrine, or simply Cabell Library’s “big screen” — was installed as part of the library’s $50.8 million expansion and renovation. No tuition revenues or student fees contributed to the library construction.

“We host thousands of people for lectures and panels yearly, and share those scholarly programs via YouTube,” Ulmschneider said. “We hang art in our buildings to inspire students and give patrons something to reflect upon. This is just the newest way to do that outreach and education, and to showcase the diverse artistic and intellectual activity of our community.”

A newly formed library committee will be defining the content strategy for the screen and working with faculty and students to schedule programming. The committee has been charged to think broadly about types of exhibits for this high-profile visual medium, Ulmschneider said.

How To Get Involved

Have ideas? Want to display your art on the big screen or coordinate a class assignment that uses it? Are you a student who wants to submit your big screen art to be shown during regular Student Showcases? E-mail or submit your information online at Know what’s showing on the big screen:

Likely, the screen will be programmed to display visually engaging presentations, including animation, short films, kinetic-art projects and rotating still images. VCU Libraries also expects to show scientific images, materials from library collections, data visualizations of research and other creative expressions appropriate for an academic and research community like VCU.

“We are open to all kinds of ideas for themes and class projects,” said Sue Robinson, director of communications and public relations, and chairwoman of the big screen committee.

The display, she said, will especially highlight and celebrate the work of VCU’s vibrant student body.

“Imagine walking through the Compass with your family on Parents’ Weekend and being able to see your work displayed,” Robinson said.

The first student showcase is scheduled for the end of September to display work during Family Weekend. Deadline for submissions is Sept. 15.  

“The screen is not a billboard or jumbotron for advertising or promotional messaging,” Robinson said. “Instead, it is a platform for artistic, intellectual, and cultural expression, a way to make visible the unique expressions of the VCU academic and artistic community. Even on occasions when the screen will showcase a landmark campus event or a significant library event, the presentation will be artful or art-like.”

The displayed artwork will be the work of VCU students, faculty, staff and alumni, or will feature public art, such as the Richmond Mural Project, in the VCU neighborhood.

The screen has no sound, and will not be used to show sports events or films. Its “exhibits” will typically feature groups of six to 20 related images or gifs, each displayed for 20 to 25 seconds, while displays of stand-alone video or kinetic installations will generally run under five minutes. Programming will be displayed during high-traffic times and at irregular hours.

As a defining architectural element of the new library building, the screen also has an important property that video or projection displays can’t provide: It is transparent, even when the screen is in use.

Display designs can take advantage of the transparency to create powerful visual effects.

“During the design phase for the building, students often noted their desire for natural light and views of the outside world that Cabell Library previously did not provide,” Ulmschneider said. “The new screen honors that need while still providing a brilliant display. To students in the building, the screen looks like the mesh of a screen porch. Outside light floods through, and the view from inside is relatively unimpeded. Anyone outside the building also can see through the mesh into the building, even while the screen is lit up. Display designs can take advantage of the transparency to create powerful visual effects.”

It is the only such screen that has been installed at a library east of California, where California State University at Fresno uses one as an art installation. At North Carolina State University, a similar screen is installed on the student commons building.

The screen will show the following exhibitions: 

Aug. 29: “The Eyes Have It,” scientific illustrations from Special Collections and Archives
Sept. 6: The RVA Mural Project, student photographer focuses on big art in the neighborhood
Sept. 12: “Wildflowers,” images from a new digital collection
Sept. 19: Alumni exhibit by pop artist Nickolai Walko

Also coming soon: a faculty exhibit by Sonya Clark, student renderings of interior space for the ICA and an open showcase of student work.

Photo by Julia Rendleman, University Marketing.
Photo by Julia Rendleman, University Marketing.

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