Posts Tagged ‘Think Park’



Beginnings of A Living Library: Bryant Park, New York City

A Living Library, sponsored by nonprofit, Life Frames, Inc., was born in Bryant Park in the heart of New York City, adjacent to the Main Research Branch of the New York Public Library, in March of 1981.   Founder, Ecological Artist, Bonnie Ora Sherk experienced the Park’s energy, observed its seedy, but formal elegance, and reflected on the ways in which the space was being used, abused, and underused.

“I often have an epiphany,” A Living Library Founder & Director, Bonnie Ora Sherk says, “and I see the simultaneity of everything happening at once, in its full flowering.”

Bryant Park sits in the heart of New York City, at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, with the United Nations to the East, and the Hudson River to the West, next to the Main Research Library.  In 1981, it was known as “Needle Park”, due to rampant drug use and sales, and the artist envisioned how to transform it, creating a vital, new public environment.

That day in March of 1981 that she spent in the Park, was seminal to the evolution of this work.  Sherk felt the energy of the place, and imagined what it might look like to bring the inside of the Library outside.  She envisioned creating a powerful community space through a series of programmed landscapes that would engage all sectors of the community.  “I wanted to attract and engage visitors with new, exciting Park experiences and programs, as well as with beautiful and interesting vistas.”

Master Plan for Bryant Park Living Library © Bonnie Ora Sherk, 1981-83 (Click here to enlarge image)

Utilizing the Park’s Beaux Arts elegance, Bonnie envisioned introducing themed, Gardens of Knowledge that would fit into the existing peripheral garden beds of the Park.  They would become Learning Zones based on the Dewey Decimal System that would be developed around the Park, “which fit perfectly in the existing spaces,” and engage diverse communities in their creation and use.

Within each Garden, visitors would find Plants Related To Each Subject, Programs of Lectures, Demonstrations, Visual and Performed artworks, Research Institutes, and Green-Powered Digital Gateways, that would bring the inside of the Library outside, and also enable this site to be linked to Branch Living Library sites in diverse communities of the world.   Each of these themed Gardens would be a vehicle for including community participation and learning for all ages.

A few Photo Montages below, show some of the envisioned, themed, Gardens of Knowledge and other features, that the artist created in 1983, to better describe her concepts visually, so people would understand them.

Entrance To Bryant Park Living Library © Bonnie Ora Sherk 1983

Literature Garden © Bonnie Ora Sherk 1983

Mathematics Garden © Bonnie Ora Sherk 1983

Religions Of The World Garden © Bonnie Ora Sherk 1983

Flanking a central grassy area surrounded by hedgerows of roses and berries, International Gardens would represent styles and methodologies from around the world. These gardens would also invite participation from diverse Consulates, Embassies, and the United Nations.

Together, all elements would link the Library to its neighbors, to schools, and to other cultural and arts organizations - from local to regional, to national and international ones.

“As I had this epiphany, I thought, this would become The Living Library, and I became very excited. Then I realized that to call it, The Living Library, would be an insult to its neighbor, the New York Public Library. So I thought, I’ll just call it A Living Library, meaning another.  And then I became even more excited and happy, as I realized the initials spelled A.L.L., which is the embodiment and meaning of what I was envisioning. I felt this was a gift from the universe, and I knew that I was on to something very profound and gorgeous.”


Moving from Original Plan & Concept to Practice

The meaning and metaphor of A Living Library centers on a powerful premise and metaphor:

People, Birds, Trees, Air, Water, and all the things we create, are part of A Living Library of diversity: Parks, Gardens, Schools, Curricula, Libraries, Artworks, Networks, Communities. As such, Culture and Technology are part of Nature.  It’s all Nature.

A.L.L. Tree of Knowledge © Bonnie Ora Sherk 1990 (Click here to enlarge image)

Since A.L.L.’s Bryant Park conception, Branch Living Library & Think Parks have been established in New York City and across San Francisco, with more and more communities around the country and the world expressing interest in beginning their own unique, place-based, Branch Living Library & Think Park.

The Think Park is meant to make us more empathetic to ourselves, each other, and all species.

It’s ideal when people wanting to establish a Branch Living Library & Think Park in their community come to Life Frames, Inc., the non-profit sponsor of A.L.L. that Sherk established in 1992, or to Sherk, directly.  For example, several of A.L.L.’s Branches with schools in San Francisco and NYC were initiated by a request to the artist, by the school’s principal.

Each new site always requires a period of study – Research and Planning with community members – before Design can begin. “An understanding of the local place and its resources is essential, and really informs all that we do.  A Living Library Framework of Linked Local Resources is incorporated:  Human, Ecological, Economic, Historic, Technological, Aesthetic Resources – seen through the lens of time – past, present, future –and studied by the community.  This early Research Phase becomes a valuable Learning Program for the community, and informs the Planning and Design Phases of developing a Master Plan.”

Equipped with the A.L.L. Framework, and Sherk’s hand-drawn Community Master Plans that evolve from the process, participating groups embark on place-based, greening projects that become life-long, learning landscapes, demonstrating acts of beauty, profound hands-on learning, and performances of Being. Often, these transformed sites help solve local problems like flooding, watershed rejuvenation, issues of climate change, and transformation of underused, barren, concrete and asphalt environments.

Sherk invented a new term to describe this work:  Funcshuional Art. This practice is a planetary genre of art that marries the so-called Functionalism of the West, with Eastern, Northern, and Southern Cultures Spiritualism, Alignment, and Feng Shui, and Indigenous Cultures world-wide.”

Conversations about her work are peppered with these terms - words that repurpose language. “I had to create a way to describe the work with a language, so I could write and talk about what I’m doing,” she explains. “There weren’t words to really describe it yet, so I had to invent new ones.”

Through an extensive body of work, including the decades-long development of A Living Library and prior works, Sherk has sought to transform environmental consciousness along with forgotten spaces. Barren and abandoned sections of cities have been nurtured back into healthy and resilient landscapes. Through design charrettes, workshops, green skills job training, and integrated school programs for all ages, community members participate in, and sustain these Branch Living Library & Think Parks. 

Interested in learning more?   Explore in more detail the Bryant Park Living Library through the Photo Montages the artist created in 1983, hosted by Dinter Fine Arts here, and read more about A.L.L.’s evolution through an article about Sherk’s work in the context of ecofeminism in the Art in America, May, 2020 issue, here.

Some examples of Branch Living Library & Think Parks are shown below:

OMI/Excelsior Living Library & Think Park Streetscape Transformation – During, After © Bonnie Ora Sherk 1999-2005

 James Denman Rear Yard Ecological Transformation, Before, During After © Bonnie Ora Sherk 2017-2018


Expanding the Vision

This past year, a public health crisis kept us all inside. While we renegotiated relationships to our neighborhoods and local spaces, the world grew more digitally connected than ever. Meanwhile, we’ve had to evaluate our individual and group actions as we continue to witness the impacts of climate change on communities—others’ and our own.

Maybe it’s these layered contexts that make Bonnie’s work feel especially timely.

“The processes and purpose behind A Living Library evolve from systemic, ecological design, and through the transformation of places, we can also transform consciousness of people in these places.  Systemic efforts work best when they begin locally and incorporate local resources.  Later, Branch sites can be linked globally through Green-Powered Digital Gateways, into a meta- structure of A.L.L., so we can see the commonalities and diversities of cultures and ecologies from around the world, and  celebrate and share.  A.L.L. establishes a layering of knowledge and relationships.” 

And with developing partnerships in Liverpool, England, Lisbon, Portugal, Huesca, Spain, and Chongqing, China, to name a few places, A.L.L’s international presence is only growing.


What does Bonnie envision next in the expansion of A Living Library network?  Actualization of Green-Powered Digital Gateways !!

“We need innovative communication platforms that interconnect Branches and promote sharing of diverse ecologies and cultures. Then we can begin to approach a much better planetary understanding of the different systems in Nature, and what it takes to keep them in balance, and what we have to offer in each unique community.”

Green-Powered Digital Gateway 8 © Bonnie Ora Sherk, Drawing, Collage 2016


Bonnie Ora Sherk’s Public Talk on A Living Library at Kulturfolger, Zurich

Public Talk on A Living Library  

After a very successful opening of A Living Library Is Cultivating The Human & Ecological Garden at Parco Arte Vivente in Turin, Italy, as part of the International Exhibition, The God-Trick, the next stop was Zurich, Switzerland. Bonnie Ora Sherk was invited to give a Public Talk to introduce the concept of A Living Library to an audience of diverse residents, including artists, architects, landscape architects, educators, and representatives from public agencies.  During her presentation on May 07 at Kulturfolger, a non-profit art space in Zurich, she shared her vision to create International Branch Living Libraries & Think Parks , globally, and she spoke of the idea of developing a unique Zurich Branch Living Library & Think Park over time to involve diverse sectors of the community in the process. People were enthused and want her to come back !


Torino, Italia – A Living Library at Parco Arte Vivente: Exploring Through Exhibition, People, Public Talk, Food

A Living Library Is Cultivating The Human & Ecological Garden - Bonnie Ora Sherk's new installation on A Living Library is now open at Parco Arte Vivente (PAV), and will continue through October 21, 2018. As one of the invited international artists in the exhibition, The God-Trick, curated by Marco Scotini, and one of the speakers at the International Conference "Anthropocene, Ecological Crisis and Transformative Potential of Art”, she travelled to Torino, Italia last month. Below are a few images from her stay and travel in the city while enjoying the hospitality, warmth, and love of the people around.

Scene from A Living Library Is Cultivating The Human & Ecological Garden, Bonnie Ora Sherk's installation, with Lucia Ranabaldo at PAV, Torino, Italia

Scene from A Living Library Is Cultivating The Human & Ecological Garden, Bonnie Ora Sherk’s installation, with Lucia Ranabaldo at PAV, Torino, Italia


Now Accepting Applications For A.L.L. Green Futures Paid Internship For Middle School & High School Students – Spring 2018 !


A Living Library is looking for 20 exceptional Middle School & High School students to join its A.L.L. Green Futures Paid Internship Program as A.L.L. Eco-Stewards for the 2018 Spring Semester. Immerse yourself in a hands-on program that integrates many positive ecological disciplines into two-hour sessions, three times a week! Whether you’re getting your hands dirty at one of the OMI/Excelsior Living Library Think Park’s Gardens, or learning about the latest organic edibles, the experiences that A.L.L. Eco-Stewards learn will stay with them for a lifetime. Earn community service hours or a monetary stipend by participating in the Program.

Application to A.L.L. Green Futures Internship - Spring 2018
  • Tuesdays, Thursdays, & Fridays: 3:30-5:30 p.m., January 9-June 5
  • Located at OMI/Excelsior Living Library & Think Park
  • Limited to 20 participants

SF Rec and Park’s Partnership With Bonnie Ora Sherk and A Living Library Receive International Acclaim

SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department is proud to announce that its long-time partner, Bonnie Ora Sherk, Founder and Director of A Living Library (A.L.L.) and creator of the prototype, Living Library Nature Walk which links parks, schools, public housing, streets, and other open spaces leading to the currently hidden Islais Creek, is being featured in this year’s Venice Biennale. The international art exhibition in Venice, Italy, began this week and will continue through November. The Living Library Nature Walk will be exhibited as part of Bonnie Ora Sherk’s installation - Evolution of Life Frames: past, present, future.

Bonnie Ora Sherk is a long-time San Francisco and NYC-based artist, landscape architect, educator, and the Founder and Director of Life Frames, Inc., the non-profit sponsor of A Living Library. Her two part installation also features Crossroads Community (the farm), the pioneering, urban agriculture, multi-arts, environmental education, collaborative artwork that resulted in Potrero del Sol Park, incorporated the Chavez/101 Freeway Interchange, and was also one of the first Alternative Art Spaces in the United States. Sherk was the Founding Director and President of Crossroads Community (the farm) from 1974-1980 and made the original drawings for the Park, which will also be exhibited as part of her installation.

SF Rec and Park’s partnership with A Living Library is part of an overall effort to raise awareness of the importance of green space and to encourage community stewardship of neighborhood parks. A Living Library is a powerful and successful prototype for connecting communities in the Islais Creek Watershed, the largest in San Francisco, and aims to expand throughout the eleven neighborhoods of the Watershed, which include: Noe Valley, Mission, Bernal Heights, Potrero Hill, Bayview, Portola, Crocker-Amazon, Excelsior, OMI, Sunnyside, Glen Park - and to also transform its two neglected and flooding freeway interchanges - Chavez/101 and Alemany/101 into Northern and Southern Gateways to the Watershed. A.L.L. also provides multiple opportunities within these resilient landscapes for community and school hands-on education about watersheds and natural systems, flood mitigation, climate change, California native species, environmental justice, green skills job training, ecological transformation, all while creating a sense of place and wonder in the City’s open spaces.

“The Living Library Nature Walk showcases how parks can connect our communities, as well as the innovation of sustainable landscapes that can tackle many environmental challenges including climate change, wild habitat restoration and so much more,” said Phil Ginsburg, SF Rec and Park General Manager. “The fact that this project and the associated SF parks will be on display to receive international recognition, is a testament to Bonnie’s commitment to the coalescence of arts and nature.”

The Venice Biennale has been, for over 120 years, one of the most prestigious arts and cultural institutions in the world. Established in 1895, the Biennale has an attendance today of over 500,000 visitors at the Art Exhibition. The history of the Venice Biennale dates back to 1895, when the first International Art Exhibition was organized. In the 1930s new festivals were born: Music, Cinema, and Theatre (the Venice Film Festival in 1932 was the first film festival in history). In 1980 the first International Architecture Exhibition took place, and in 1999, Dance made its debut at the Venice Biennale.

Bonnie Ora Sherk says, “It is a wonderful honor and opportunity to have my work recognized in this significant international art venue. A Living Library, which links local biological, cultural, and technological systems and resources, and results in place-based, ecological transformation of communities and schools with integrated community programs, is actually a planetary genre. A.L.L. is both local and global in its reach, and is meant to be created in diverse communities of the world, interconnected through Green-Powered Digital Gateways, so we can share commonalities and diversities of cultures and ecologies - near and far. A Living Library is Cultivating the Human and Ecological Garden.”

Since 2002, SF Rec and Park has been in partnership with Bonnie and A Living Library helping to coordinate the Bernal Heights Living Library Nature Walk. The goal of A Living Library Nature Walk is to connect people and places in sustainable, ecological environments, and call attention to the importance of our Islais Creek Watershed, California Native Trees and Understory Plants, diverse wildlife species, and opportunities for ecological transformation of our city.

This summer, STEAM + Literacy With A Living Library, a hands-on Stewardship Camp for children in 3rd, 4th, and 5th Grades will be held in July in the Living Library Nature Walk based at St. Mary’s Park and Rec Center. For more information about the Summer Camp and to enroll, please contact: For more information about A Living Library, please visit: or

Please email for additional photos or Bonnie Ora Sherk’s contact information.
Joey Kahn
Media Relations and Policy Manager
San Francisco Recreation and Park Department | City & County of San Francisco
McLaren Lodge in Golden Gate Park | 501 Stanyan Street | San Francisco, CA | 94117
(415) 831  2741 |
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