After an empty Walmart in Texas was turned into a library, our columnist Kirsty Logan started imagining the possibilities for other disused spaces; from shops to phone boxes, anything can be made into a creative hub...
I can honestly say that I’ve never been excited by a Walmart. Until, that is, I read about an abandoned Walmart in Texas being reclaimed and turned into a shiny-new, brightly-painted, book-crammed library. A library! What joy! So much more exciting than aisles upon aisles of badly-made, discount rubbish. I wish that every Walmart could be a library.
Well, they don’t all necessarily have to be libraries – just as long as they’re not still Walmarts, because I can’t stand to walk down yet another high street with the exact same shops. Our high streets have become such sad wee places. From one end to the other, it’s payday loan merchants, pawnbrokers, bookmakers, and dozens of shuttered shop-fronts. Even the high streets that are still in business mostly consist of endless indentikit chain stores. Is that really worth braving the rain? It’s time that we put something a bit more interesting in those empty shops.
We can rise above Walmart and its ilk, and all the scraped-out husks they’ve left in our towns. Let’s show the world that we care about more than sweatshop-produced dresses and multipacks of crisps. I know, I know, I’m a total rainbow-sunshine hippie sometimes, but I really believe that we can do this. Okay, so that Walmart library project in Texas was a multi-million dollar renovation by the local council, but let’s forget that for a moment and use our imaginations.
An empty shop is the perfect space: easily accessible by public transport, plenty of floor space, and – if you’re lucky – fittings that can be re-utilised into something more exciting. Just imagine it: phone boxes soundproofed and turned into personal listening booths to showcase unsigned musicians; a closed-down restaurant kitchen, its tiled walls painted fresh every day with imagined landscapes by a different artist, all done in wax crayon so it can be washed clean every night; the dusty, echoing shell of an old Woolworths taken over by a boylesque workshop and performance, complete with spangled nipple-tassels stuck to chests as hairy as a bear’s.
There are so many possibilities. Guerrilla film screenings! Impromptu gigs! Art shows! Collaborative storytelling sessions! Craft workshops! Activism meetings! Sorry, I’m getting overexcited now. But you know what I’m saying.
My heart will always lie with libraries, because you know what can be used as a library? BLOODY WELL ANYTHING. People have created libraries at subway stations, in old train cars, in phone boxes, on a travelling donkey (true story), and even in their own homes. And you know something else? I have a metric shit-tonne of books. If you plan to reimagine something as a library, let me know – I promise to donate a box of sturdy hardbacks.
And okay, so I know exactly sod-all about red tape and squatters’ rights. As a fiction writer I’m really a lot better at the making-things-up part than the practicalities of life. Maybe this whole thing is totally impractical; maybe it can only ever be a dream. But what a beautiful dream.
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