Skip to main

Art–Communication major earns $1,000 grant to build Little Free Library in Westminster

Through her passion for graphic design and community enrichment, junior Art–Communication major Gia Koutsokostas was awarded a $1,000 grant to fund a Little Free Library at the Charles Street Tot Lot in Westminster, Maryland. It all began in Assistant Professor of Art and Art History Chloe Irla’s Graphic Design II course.

Student Gia K. cuts the ribbon on her new little free library.

McDaniel Art students are building their professional portfolios in innovative ways — like creating brands inspired by Little Free Library locations across Westminster, Maryland. And Gia Koutsokostas, a junior Art–Communication major with a minor in American Sign Language, recently earned a $1,000 grant from Hey Westminster! to build her own Little Free Library at the Charles Street Tot Lot.

Student Gia K. places books into her new little free library.

Koutsokostas applied for the grant for a project in her Graphic Design II course, taught by Assistant Professor of Art and Art History Chloe Irla ’07. To develop professional skills and portfolios, student in the course were tasked with a semester-long project: choose one Little Free Library in Westminster to inspire a brand design.

The Little Free Libraries in Westminster were an initiative launched by Irla in 2020 after she received the Charles A. Boehlke Jr., Engaged Faculty Fellow award, which provides a $10,000 grant spread across a two-year period. With the support of Westminster City leadership, Irla soon began placing the libraries.

“I knew right away that I would find a way to get my students involved,” Irla says. “I try to instill in them the idea that we should be thinking beyond our studios, about ways we can use art to make things happen in the world.”

Little Free Libraries are community-sustained free book exchanges, and there are now ten locations in Westminster, including Local Homestead Products, Tahoma Farm Park, McDaniel College, Hersh Ave., Greens Tot Lot, William Winchester Elementary, Wayne Avenue, Carroll Arts Center, Westminster Family Fitness Center, and the recently added Charles Street Tot Lot.

Irla, who earned her M.F.A. from the Maryland Institute College of Art, knew the libraries would inspire her students to think about locality and “what it means to be a local, to work in a community, and to make work that’s outward-facing to the public,” she says.

Chloe Irla and Erin Benevento, associate dean for student development, with park representatives at the library intallation.

Cloe Irla and Erin Benevento, associate dean of student engagement, with City of Westminster park representatives at the library installation.

When Koutsokostas didn’t find the right fit for her brand among the existing libraries, it was only natural that she come up with a plan to add a new one to the map.

Irla and Abby Gruber, the director of recreation and parks for the City of Westminster, recommended that Gia apply for a grant from Hey Westminster! to place her library at the Charles Street Tot Lot. Irla was familiar with the grant network after earning a grant from the Baltimore chapter for her project Snowballtimore.

For Koutsokostas, though, it was a brand-new learning experience: “I had never applied for a grant that would give me the opportunity to make an impact on the community like this one did.”

The Charles Street playground was ideal for Koutsokostas’s imagined brand “Pinky Promise,” which promotes woman empowerment. The name references the childhood promises she made with her sister. “If you don’t have a woman role model in your life when you’re growing up, it can be hard to understand how important it is and how powerful it can be to be a woman. I wanted to bring that to the community,” Koutsokostas says.

Student Gia Koutsokostas filming with Hey Westminster at Charles Street park.

Koutsokostas was featured in a Hey! Westminster video after receiving her grant - another new experience.

Using her $1,000 grant, she purchased a double-decker library box and painted it in her McDaniel dorm room. Book donations poured in from fellow students and through her mother, who is a teacher in Pennsylvania.

Koutsokostas connects her success back to Irla and her Graphic Design II course.

“Professor Irla does a great job of creating enjoyable projects that will also help you get a job,” she says. “She helped me understand what I want to do when I graduate and even helped me change my dream career from video game design to graphic design.”

Koutsokostas also gives credit to her Art–Communication program and ASL minor, which taught her vital interpersonal and professional skills. “My major really helped me understand the field of graphic design and how to build business relationships,” she says.

The Charles Street Tot Lot Little Free Library was unveiled on April 27, 2022, and community members are welcome to visit and begin exchanging books.

Gia K. with professor Chloe Irla at the new little free library on Charles Street.

Gia Koutsokostas (left) with professor Chloe Irla (right) at the newest Little Free Library.