The Concord Poetry Center



Founding of Concord Poetry Center

Founded in the spring of 2004, the Concord Poetry Center is located in the Emerson Umbrella building. A joint inspiration of Joan Houlihan, present CPC Director, and Richard Fahlander, Program Director at the Emerson Umbrella, who has provided ongoing encouragement and assistance, the concept was quickly approved in principle by Dillon Bustin, Executive Director of the Umbrella, and found quick acceptance and support from poets and other activists in Concord and well beyond. The Concord Poetry Center was established as the only organization in MetroWest and the Greater Boston area with an exclusive emphasis on activities and services for poets and lovers of poetry and is intended to serve a community of poets. Offerings will include poetry courses, workshops, seminars, publication consultations, readings and performances as well as a physical center and poetry resources.

The founding director is poet and critic, Joan Houlihan, an Acton resident. Houlihan, author of Hand-held Executions: Poems & Essays (2003) and The Mending Worm (March, 2006)currently serves as editor-in-chief of the poetry magazine Perihelion. The activities of the Concord Poetry Center are carried out under the mandate of the Emerson Umbrella for the Arts, which developed as told in the following.

Background of Emerson Umbrella

The first issue of the Concord Journal, dated February 28, 1928, carried a front-page article on a proposal by the School Committee for a new high school. The proposal was daunting since the construction cost, estimated to be as much as $500,000, was the largest expenditure ever undertaken by the town. In a letter to the editor quoted in the article, Mrs. Herbert Hosmer wrote, "This election and the action taken on school affairs at the coming Town Meeting will determine to a degree unusual in any one year the educational opportunities and advantages that the next generation of children will enjoy—those future citizens whose destiny it is to determine the character of the town when we who are acting now shall have passed out of the picture."

In March, the 1928 Town Meeting referred the proposal to a study commission. After a year of deliberations this group could not come to consensus and so issued a majority report (which did not call for a new building) and a minority report (which did call for a new building). The 1929 Town Meeting rejected both reports and appointed another committee to report in time for a special Town Meeting in May. Finally on May 27 the proposal passed, with refined cost estimates under $300,000.

As difficult as it was for citizens of the time to commit to "the educational opportunities and advantages that the next generation of children will enjoy," even more difficult would it have been for them to imagine that within three generations the new facility would be obsolete and abandoned by the School Department. In 1981, although some abutters wished to see the building demolished, a group of visionaries including Ellie Bemis, Kay DeFord, Rich Stevenson, and Sarah Kahn realized that through adaptive reuse the old Emerson School could continue to help "determine the character of the town" as an arts center fully consistent with the past educational use of the property.

The founders of the art center saw that on the ground floor the spacious chemistry lab could become a ceramics studio; the shop class could serve as a preschool, the industrial drafting room could make a good instructional studio for drawing and painting; the home economics room could be a food co-op, and the faculty lounge be a family drop-in center. On the second floor, the library could make a good dance studio, the principal's office could continue as administrative space, and the assembly hall could be used for lectures, readings and film screenings as well as a performing arts space for concerts, dance recitals, and theatrical productions. Throughout the building, the classrooms could be leased out as individual artists studios and offices for cultural organizations or human service providers.

During the winter of 1982 the founders began to organize Emerson Umbrella as a nonprofit corporation, gather a Board of Directors, and plan for a presentation at the 1982 Town Meeting in April. Town Manager Steve Sheiffer was in favor of their ideas and in March helped them arrange presentations to the Finance Committee, Planning Board, and Board of Selectmen. The committees tended to be receptive....

With corporate charter in hand, the Board of Directors in July [1982] also wrote bylaws and drafted a more detailed prospectus with budget projections for the purpose of gaining the Selectmen's approval and raising funds in the initial capital campaign. With this document the original intentions came into much clearer focus. The case statement takes a cue from Henry David Thoreau in quoting from his Walden: "In this country the village should in some respects take the place of the nobleman of Europe. It should be the patron of the fine arts."

The summer of 1982 proved to be a very busy time for the organizers. In June the Articles of Organization for Emerson Umbrella, written by attorney Neil Arkuss, were approved by the Secretary of State. The mission statement, Article 2, reads as follows:

The Center will be located in the Emerson School building, a former Concord public school, which will be leased from the Town of Concord for one dollar a year for five-year periods. Emerson Umbrella, Inc. will be responsible for all operating expenses of the building and for all repairs and maintenance. The central location of the Emerson School near the library, schools, elderly housing, and playground is ideally suited for serving the entire community. It is within walking distance of public transportation and Concord's main shopping areas. The building, constructed in 1929, is a sound structure and is of architectural interest. The exterior is attractive and in good condition. There are some 40,000 square feet of interior space, laid out in an intelligent and inviting way. With elegant lighting, wide hallways, a mixture of large and small rooms, an auditorium, and a variety of informal spaces, Emerson provides an appropriate environment for an interdisciplinary arts center, which encourages both concentrated work and interaction.


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