The annual illustrator exhibit at the Portland Public Library always draws a crowd. This year’s show will focus on illustrations by people of color. Contributed / Portland Public Library

The Portland Public Library has been hosting an annual illustration exhibit in its gallery for 11 years and each year looks to expand its perspective. This year, it plans to showcase illustrations by people of color and it’s seeking a person of color to curate that work.

The illustration exhibit is always the library’s most popular event of the year, said Rachael Harkness, the library’s gallery and special programs coordinator.

“It brings together arts and books, and our gallery is at the intersection of those two things,” Harkness said.

The spotlight at the 2024 show will be on illustrators of color, who are “historically lesser known, and especially in Maine are not often seen,” she said.

The library expects to select a curator by the end of the month for the show, which will be held in November or December. Applicants of all backgrounds and levels of experience can apply, she said.

“We can really support them, and we have the time and resources to work with someone” as they learn the ropes, she said. “We’re excited to partner with either someone with lots of experience, or someone just getting into curating.”


“A lot of artists think they’re not curators, but the library is an open and accepting space taking down those barriers,” she said, and makes curation more approachable and less intimidating. 

Kirsten Cappy, executive director of I’m Your Neighbor Books and co-founder of the Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival, curated the library’s 2022 exhibit of work by Daniel Minter, the renowned illustrator and founder of the Indigo Arts Alliance in Portland. Prior to that she didn’t have experience in curating, but was knowledgeable in the world of illustration and very familiar with Minter’s work.

“My decisions were not from someone who knows about hanging a show or how people engage in a gallery,” said Cappy. “I came to it because Daniel said, ‘nobody knows my work better'” and she wanted to engage viewers in conversation through his art.

“I’m delighted that the library is hiring for this position,” Cappy said.

Minter’s work as an illustrator and artist reflects themes of displacement, diaspora, meanings of home and explorations of Blackness throughout the Afro-Atlantic world. The show of his work seemed to have a notable impact, especially for people of color, many of whom told Cappy “they hadn’t seen a show like this at the library before” and that they were excited to see a Black artist featured so prominently, she said.

Minter said that displaying his work at the library was a great experience, and that Cappy and the library staff were invaluable in arranging and organizing the show.


“It’s an open public space, but also gallery quality, equal to other local galleries,” he said.

With illustration, the art needs to be paired with the book it belongs to, Minter said, and “exhibiting illustration at the library really brings those things together.”

Minter often displays his non-illustration artwork, and said this show was a rare opportunity to showcase his illustrations in a gallery space to be viewed as art pieces in their own right. It was a chance for “people to understand that books don’t just materialize at the library, but are created from people’s minds and by collaborating with other people to make that happen.”

The guest curator will receive a $3,500 stipend for their contribution, and will be responsible for exhibit content, design and installation oversight with support from library staff. Candidates are asked to submit a resume and a short project proposal of 200 to 300 words.

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