mark j (they/them) 


New York Public Library 
Program Director
Public Programming & Community Engagement

New York, NY 
2015 - 2018

JML50 for NYPL, commissioned in light of the 50th anniversary of the Jefferson Market Library (JML) branch of the New York Public Library. This three-year community engagement, educational and library advocacy work saw the library transformed into a conduit of creativity, narrative and expression, resulting in the installation of a permanent 6000 sq ft immersive public work of art, exploring the legacies of archive, activism and analog communication - namely handwriting. This project re-engages patrons with the past while promoting a lasting commitment to continuous, lifelong learning.

“In forming this new work, it was important to hand curatorial control over to the public - this led us to discover a remarkable shift in the use of gesture, language and handwriting over the last 100 years of correspondence. The resulting visual impact of this discovery, found in the new 6000 sq foot permanent work on view from November 16th 2017, is one that re-augments the understanding of self and with it, our experience of contemporary society.”

“Much like my work with the 2012 Olympics, JML50 is designed to engage, inspire and interact. I believe in art as a tool for positive change and development. What’s truly unique about this project is the community that it serves.

Looking back and researching the history and evolution of this remarkable building, you come to see how this site has inspired so many. This is a true public space - in making this work I see the public as my collaborators - this is a work made by the public. They inspire me on a daily basis, as does the commitment and dedication of all the staff here at JML - this building is alive, it’s living and breathing, a truly vibrant network as sculpture.”

About JML

Originally a courthouse, the Jefferson Market Library has served the Greenwich Village community for over forty years. The building, a New York City landmark, was designed by architects Frederick Clark Withers and Calvert Vaux (who also assisted in the design of Central Park) in a Victorian Gothic style. It was erected—along with an adjacent prison and market—between 1875 and 1877 and cost the city almost $360,000. What the city got for its money, in addition to an architectural gem—voted one of the ten most beautiful buildings in America by a poll of architects in the 1880s—was a civil court on the second floor, now the Adult Reading Room, and a police court, now the first-floor Children's Room. The beautiful brick-arched basement, now the Reference Room, was used as a holding area for prisoners on their way to jail or trial. Scattered about the building were offices and chambers, and looming a hundred feet above ground was the fire-watcher's tower. The tower, still intact, commands an uninterrupted view of Greenwich Village, and houses the bell that would summon volunteer firemen.

Building on a legacy of activism and protest, Jefferson Market Library, now a landmarked building, stands today as a testament to the power of collaborative working and the pursuit of a common goal - namely to ensure that all have access to the tools and resources required to sustain lifelong learning and creative engagement. The Jefferson Market building, saved twice by the public once from demolition in the 1960s and then again from closure as a library in the 1970s, stands as a monument to culture and the very communities that helped preserve it.

Exploring the archive
100 years of history
600 pairs of white gloves

In the summer of 2017, members of the public joined JML50 on 8th Street to proclaim a love of libraries by making placards and voicing their support for the opportunities and spaces provided by the New York Public Library system.

In this, the 50th anniversary year of JML, the project promoted a looking back into our archive and inspired research about those members of the community who came together to help save the building and indeed its home in Greenwich Village.

In 2020, against a backdrop of uncertainty and division, we look to the future by celebrating and giving thanks for what the library system, as a public space, can provide in inspiring a new wave of patrons to strengthen and enrich their lives via the power of collaboration, discovery, learning, tolerance and togetherness.

Ultimately - Libraries are for all.

#JML50 Placards
More urgent now, what does your library mean to you?

“JML50’s focus is community, unity and collaboration. The history of this remarkable building is one that links inextricably to the narrative and unique personal journeys of all who come to use it. In exploring the archive with the public, what becomes clear is the vibrancy and level of impact that the NYPL has had on so many - the space is alive”