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Murals at Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNF) welcome teens with “nutty exuberance”

As a teenager, Melinda Beck spent time at the gloomy Mid-Manhattan Library, housed in a building that had once been the oldest department store in America—not a spaced designed with teens in mind. Four decades later, Beck, now a visual artist, helped transform that library into a vibrant public space that makes a special effort to welcome teenagers.

When the New York Public Library’s central circulating branch was reimagined and remade as the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL), making it a welcoming space for children and teens was a priority. Beck was selected to enliven the walls of the library’s dedicated Teen Center, which includes a media lab, a recording studio, and events just for teens. Beck created a series of six large murals featuring backpack-toting teenage figures and colorful, sinuous lines inspired by transit maps. “They, like all teenagers, carry the world in their backpack,” Beck writes.

The murals, which took two years to create, have been warmly received. The New York Times review of the new library mentions “the nutty exuberance of murals designed by Melinda Beck” as a particular highlight. SNFL also drew praise in the newspaper as one of “10 Works of Art That Evaded the Algorithm This Year.”

“I wish I could go back to the ‘80s and tell the teen me sitting in the old dark and dusty Mid-Manhattan Library looking through yellowing pictures of old blenders at the NYPL Picture Collection what she would grow up to create,” writes Beck.

Beck’s murals help create an environment that tells teenagers that the Center is a place for them, a place where they belong. As she writes of what her creation shows, “this is their city.”