The University of Arizona Poetry Center is among the beneficiaries of a $1 million grant to the Academy of American Poets from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, one of the largest investments in poetry ever made by the leading cultural institution.
The grant will support the Poetry Coalition, a national alliance of more than 20 poetry organizations that was launched in 2016 to promote the value poetry and poets bring to U.S. culture. The UA Poetry Center is a founding member of the coalition and hosted the group's annual meeting in 2017.
The Mellon Foundation grant comes at an exciting time, said Tyler Meier, executive director of the Poetry Center.
The Poetry Coalition member organizations reached more than 30 million readers through their joint programs during 2018.
This past fall, the National Endowment for the Arts released the results of the 2017 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, one of the most important longitudinal arts participation surveys. The SPPA is a research partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau, and data from the recent survey showed that poetry readership nearly doubled in five years. As a share of the total U.S. adult population, those who reported reading poetry in the 2017 survey is the highest on record over the 15 years the SPPA has been collecting data.
"This data correlates with our experiences of growing interest at the Poetry Center," Meier said. "I think there are a range of reasons for this surge in readership. Most important are new audiences, but key investments and collaborations have also played an important role. And poetry is a capacious form that speaks meaningfully to the range of human experience."
Funds from the new grant will enable the work of the Poetry Coalition over the next four years, including support for both an annual March program as well as funding annual convenings.
The March 2019 program theme will be "What Is It, Then, Between Us?: Poetry & Democracy," which invokes a line by Walt Whitman in anticipation of the 200th anniversary of the poet's birth on May 31. The Poetry Center will carry out a series of programs for the university and Tucson communities connected to this theme.
The Academy of American Poets serves as coordinator for the Poetry Coalition, with assistance from the UA Poetry Center and the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University. Member organizations are based in 11 cities across the United States.
In addition to supporting Poetry Coalition programming, the Mellon Foundation grant will help support the creation of a pilot fellowship program that will place individuals in part-time, paid positions at select Poetry Coalition member organizations so they can learn about and assist with literary arts programming and administration.
"It is our hope that the fellowships will offer exciting new professional opportunities for poets and future administrators in the literary arts while simultaneously strengthening poetry organizations and their programs," Meier said.
"We are very proud that one of the most respected collections of contemporary poetry in the United States is here at the University of Arizona," said UA President Robert C. Robbins. "The UA Poetry Center is an important part of how the UA is positioned to leverage the arts to advance creativity-based education, and it is an honor to share in this investment from the Mellon Foundation. I look forward to seeing the ways in which this support will further advance the profile of the UA Poetry Center."