mass Poetry Board of directors: both dreamers and go-getters!
Mass Poetry’s small board of directors are not only ambassadors and true-believing fund-raisers for the organization, they also dream big. While Michael Ansara, co-founder of Mass Poetry and board member, is aware that a poetry reading won’t fill Gillette Stadium next year, his other dreams are ambitious but attainable – if we have the necessary funding and commitment. Though a fact-checker would tell Amy Gorin that the probability of reaching every single student in the Commonwealth with Student Day of Poetry is improbable, she’s out there working to fund incremental and real increases in Mass Poetry’s educational reach. Don McLagan, a third board member, has a more existential vision. He sees poetry as tugging at the “knot of existence,” a salve for the “hubbub of life.” He’d like to spread that balm throughout the population of the state.
But these true-believing ambassadors have their feet on the ground, and they are busy raising funds to make their more realistic dreams possible. Recently they have been organizing “An Evening of Inspired Leaders,” our December 7 event. Along with the event organizer, Kirun Kapur, they’ve sought out the well-known readers for the evening, brought in sponsors and donors, and generally talked it up as a must-see event. One of Amy’s more daring dreams for Mass Poetry is to have the “Inspired Evening” as one of the arts events of the year for Boston!
Meanwhile let’s look at where the board sees Mass Poetry now and where it sees the possibilities for the future – provided the organization can raise the money. Right now Mass Poetry is responsible for amazing programs on what some call an incredibly small budget. Here are the major programs:
Student Days of Poetry – which is reaching 6,000 students this year with poets providing monthly programs in at least 10 schools
An Evening of Inspired Leaders – a fund-raising reading featuring more than a dozen state-wide leaders
Poetry on the T – poetry in ad spaces on Boston’s MBTA
U35 poetry reading—an emerging poets reading series
Common Threads – a program that promotes the reading of 6 to 10 poems each year through libraries, book clubs, etc., with over 300 group discussions this year
Poetry Festival: a three-day celebration of poetry in Salem with headline poets from across the country
Poetry workshops especially designed for the professional development of teachers
That’s where we are now. But Michael believes in the next few years we can reach six times our current student reach – 36,000 young people – and that half the high schools in the Commonwealth can have access to a poet in the schools. Amy foresees having poems not only on the T, but in restaurants, train stations, doctor’s offices – wherever people congregate and have to wait. Michael sees Common Threads reaching not just 300 groups across the state but 3000. He foresees mini-poetry festivals in “every gateway city across the state” and the combined Massachusetts Poetry Festival as drawing not just 1500 people but 3000. Don sees Mass Poetry as a connector acquainting “poets with audiences, readers with poems, poets with poets, and teachers with poetic craft.”
It is the board – always in the background, always tirelessly working – that makes the programs of Mass Poetry happen: They are the fund-raisers!
Amy says, “I used to be shy about asking for money, but I came to realize that money is the fuel that gets things going.” Michael reminds us that the staff makes a huge difference, but “it all starts with the board. Every board member must be committed to both donating and raising money to support Mass Poetry.”
Don chimes in: “The board of directors are responsible for the growth and well-being of organizations. . . . Growth and well-being translates to articulating vision, hiring great leaders, overseeing operations, and raising a steady flow of funds to keep it all going. For small organizations, this means days of hands-on work (there is no one else to do the work) – noisy visioning debates, hours of recruitment interviews, budget and performance reviews, asking friends for money, asking again and again.” Then he quips, “The board of directors of a small non-profit is a lot of work for ‘no profit.’” Except, of course, all the programs Mass Poetry already manages.
A fourth member of the Mass Poetry board – and a co-founder of Mass Poetry – is Nicco Mele. He was not available as the other members convened but is still involved in the health of Mass Poetry.
The board is crucial to Mass Poetry’s success. But, according to Michael, “We want Mass Poetry to continue for years – it must continue for years. That means it must outgrow the dependence on a few individuals.” He elaborates, “To sustain and expand the work we do we will need a great board that raises double the amount of money we raise today, a dynamic and effective Executive Director, a wonderful Program Director, an Outreach Coordinator, and a cracker jack development staffer. In a sense we are in a bit of a catch 22 – if we had those people we could raise the money we need – but we need to raise more funds so that we could hire more than a program director. We are hoping that through building a strong and vibrant and expanded board of directors we will get out of the Catch 22 we are in today.”
Don gets it: “As a member of the board of directors, what I do matters – to me, to my community and to the art of awareness.”
As Mass Poetry grows its board, it will grow and maybe in the future it will bring about what Amy dreams of -- “that Mass Poetry will bring back poetry as the lingua franca it once was to American society.”