January 14, 2009

Depressing News about the Dodge Festival

(I don't usually reproduce something that's going to be seen elsewhere, but when this landed in my email box it truly elicted a shiver. These are tough times for the arts. -SB)

To: The Poets, Poetry Teachers and Poetry Lovers who have been part of the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festivals

From: David Grant, President and CEO, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation

Greetings to you all at the beginning of a new year.

Some of you may know that we have reduced the Dodge Foundation's grantmaking budgets annually since 2002 in an effort to develop a sustainable approach to grantmaking and initiatives in relation to our assets. During that period, we have reduced all areas of our giving except for Poetry. The severity of the recent. financial downturn – a 30% decline in assets -- has meant that we must finally reduce that budget as well, at least for the near future.

I know how much Dodge’s work in Poetry means to so many of you, and I wanted to let you know the Foundation will remain committed to Poetry as a signature interest. But financial realities are forcing us to take a different approach to our Poetry activities in 2009 and 2010. Specifically, and most importantly, we know we will not be able to produce a Poetry Festival in September 2010 on the scale of past Festivals.

We will maintain much of our work with New Jersey teachers of poetry this spring, and we will actually expand our efforts to make the audio and video archives of past Festivals readily available via YouTube and other means for all who want to enjoy them. Yet we must at least take a cycle off from the biennial Festival as you have known it and, depending on how things turn out, we may need to “reinvent” the Festival on either a more affordable scale or in a more affordable venue. (Unfortunately, over the last three Festivals, the production costs have more than doubled, and a mere 20% of the Festival budget went toward hiring the poets at the very center of the event.)

Under these circumstances, our esteemed colleague Jim Haba will move this year from Poetry Director to Consultant to the Foundation. His longtime associate Martin Farawell will take on the role of Program Director for Poetry and lead our efforts with the Archive and other Poetry initiatives.

Neither you nor we have seen the last of Jim, but I wanted to take this opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate his remarkable achievements as the guiding spirit behind the Dodge Poetry Festivals since 1986. First as a consultant working with the Dodge Founding Executive Director Scott McVay, then later as our full-time Poetry Director, Jim strove tirelessly to create, in his own words, “a space in which poetry can assume its rightful place at the center of our imaginative and emotional lives.” The result has been a singular international poetry event, one which instead of featuring scholarly papers or professional advice always gave priority to the simple, direct and profound experience of coming together and listening to poets and poetry. The late Stanley Kunitz went to the heart of the matter, I think, when he praised the Festivals’ “great democratic spirit.”

Over the course of its twenty-two year history, the biennial Festivals drew approximately 140,000 people from 42 states ¾ including 17,000 teachers and 42,000 high school students who attended without charge and traveled from as far away as Florida, Maine, Minnesota and California. The Festivals also gave rise to several NPR radio programs and five PBS television series, including The Power of the Word, The Language of Life and Fooling with Words, all hosted by Bill Moyers and seen by a national audience of nearly 50 million.

From the outset, Jim strove to include poets and audiences from a wide base of the culture, and to invite unknown and unrecognized voices from those groups traditionally excluded from the Western canon. He recognized that America and American poetry could not thrive unless they had a deeper connection to the poets and poetries of other cultures, and so poetry-in-translation has been a central feature of every Festival. Under his leadership, the Festival spawned a complementary Poetry-in-the-Schools Program that has since sent poets into every county in New Jersey to work with thousands of teachers and students.

For me, Jim’s brief essay in the Dodge Foundation’s 2000 Annual Report, Slowing Down for Poetry, will always be the best rationale behind the Foundation’s significant (over $13 million since 1986) and ongoing investment in Poetry as an art form. He describes how “Poetry redeems our human possibilities,” and reminds us in this frantic modern world:

Image by image, thought by thought, feeling by feeling, poetry invites us to sink even more deeply into a kind of “before” time, at once achingly familiar and exhilaratingly new. Only by slowing down for poetry can we hope to accept its delicious invitation.

Perhaps the most lasting testimony to Jim’s achievement will be the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival Audio and Video Archive. Consisting of over 2,500 hours of audio and video recordings, recorded by industry professionals to the highest broadcast standards, the Archive is already one of the most extraordinary records of contemporary poetry and poets in the world. In the months and years ahead, the Dodge Poetry Program will work to make as much of this archive available to as wide an audience as possible, and we will be considering ways in which the Archive can continue to grow through newly designed events. The Festival experience itself cannot be duplicated, but we take heart that it can and will be shared by students, teachers, poets, and poetry lovers the world over. It is a remarkable legacy – not yet ended – but one for which Jim Haba has our everlasting gratitude, respect and affection.



Jack Wiler said...

The costs are staggering, the loss of funds to the Dodge equally staggering but I think that if the poets, teachers, lovers of poetry associated with the Festival can find a way to come together we can find a place for it in 2012.

Collin Kelley said...

Very sad to hear, but I have a feeling we're going to be seeing more of this over the next couple of years. Finding funding is almost impossible right now.

Oliver de la Paz said...

I second what Collin says. A festival I was participating in had to renegotiate my stipend (I, of course happily and understandingly renegotiated). It's happening everywhere and it'll continue to happen.