The Operating System


There are certain visions that become tangible in such a way as to appear simply as though they are naturally occurring – institutions and events, in particular, can appear to persist of their own accord even after just a few years.
What is all too easy to forget is that the longevity of many of these — especially when brought into being by smaller, younger organizations with skeletal staff and even more skeletal budgets — is a tenuous affair, uncertain from year to year, month to month.
There are few poets active in the New York City poetry community who have not been involved in (or at the very least closely connected to) one of the more enduring of these new traditions: The Annual New York City Poetry Festival on Governor’s Island, which hopes to see its 4th summer this coming July. But this festival has just 30 hours to hit its fundraising goal, or it won’t go on… which would be tragic. Let’s talk a little more about why.
In 2012, excited about joining the event in its second season, we wrote:
“Very much a project near to our hearts, in ‘reaching outside the established poetry communities, The Poetry Society of New York hopes to create new audiences for poetry and facilitate collaborations between poets and other artists.’ (Yes!)  This year’s event will also include a Children’s Poetry Festival, which will offer guided writing exercises to children and young adults and an opportunity for young writers to perform their work for an audience. By reaching out to colleges, high schools, and grade schools, the festival hopes to ‘encourage, educate, and inspire fledgling writers of all ages to become a part of a diverse and dynamic New York poetry scene.'”
The Children’s Festival was a great success, and has grown into a permanent fixture — as has the festival itself, which this year would see more than 60 organizations hosting readings on its three stages.
Let’s look at some numbers: attendance to the Festival was over 1000 its first year, over 2000 the last two summers, with 10,000 other guests to governor’s island passing through unofficially. Seems like a no brainer that the festival should continue, with such a clear outpouring of interest from both participants and attendees — why the struggle to finance? How sad that something so clearly successful should be in danger of not continuing.
Curious (and wanting to be able to address these questions for you – who’s surely asking yourself the same) I spoke to Stephanie Berger, one of the festival’s founders (alongside Nicholas Adamski), about this. She spoke, very frankly, of the challenge faced by continuing to stick to their intent to not charge participants or attendees to the festival — and to only charge vendors a low $40 fee, which basically covers the tables and chairs they use.
Despite receiving the space gratis from the city, the large donations (both financial and in kind) that have come in from the Hagedorn Foundation and other local sponsors are simply not enough to cover the steep costs that remain for such a large event in an expensive city such as ours. What costs? Rental of stages, sound systems, generators, and tents, security fees, liability insurance, liquor/food service licensing fees, printing and publicity costs, to name a few.
Clearly, there’s a larger conversation begged by this unfortunate problem about how to avoid crunch time crowd funding financing for large, successful, well attended events in our community. I’ve spoken to many organizations who feel that our community is averse to entrance fees in general — even though such fees are the easiest, most obvious backbone for directly funding via event attendance, and something that is already di rigeur in the other arts. Would you pay $5 to go to this festival?  $10? $20? If there was a sliding scale, and you could afford it, what would you give? Let’s start that conversation, soon.
But for today, it’s embarrassing that it should come to this. There’s 30 more hours to fund this crucial young institution. Put your dollars where your heart is! Come now:
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