Voices go on

Speaking of collateral damage, one of many innocent bystanders affected by the continuing leak in the stock market balloon is Detroit’s own InsideOut. The literary arts project, which has brought thousands of blossoming Detroit Public Schools poets and prose writers into contact with writer-mentors-in-residence for the past nine years, took a serious hit to the dollar plexus last Sept. 23. That was the day, just a week before the start of InsideOut’s new fiscal year, when founder-director Terry Blackhawk learned that one of her main sponsors, a private family foundation, had suffered investment losses important enough to prevent it from continuing to support the project’s residencies, publications and such. That meant an immediate shortfall of around $135,000, a third of her budget. Mercy!

But Blackhawk, a nationally celebrated poet herself, had committed her energies and soul to the long haul, and wasn’t about to cry “uncle.”

“We formed a committee of people who wanted to help out. And over a hundred individuals have responded to our fundraising appeal with over $10,000 in contributions,” she says in her spartan office overlooking Woodward downtown. Then she adds that the Ford Motor Company Fund contributed $40,000 and other foundations responded with $49,000.

Furthermore, on March 19, the InsideOuters put together a fundraiser, with help from DaimlerChrysler (covering event expenses), Marygrove College (donating its theater) and WDIV-TV (as media sponsor). The evening featured a reading by nationally renowned poet Quincy Troupe and a silent auction to which Detroit artists and institutions — Tyree Guyton, Carole Harris, Charles Turner, Sergio De Giusti, CPOP Gallery, Robert Maniscalco Gallery and the Inn on Ferry Street — contributed works and specialties. When the rhymes and metaphors cleared, the event had netted another $9,000.

So do the math. With a lot of hard work, Blackhawk and crew made up most of the deficit — except that painful cuts in the 2002-2003 offerings still had to be made.

“We’ve had to scrap the summer program this year, Detroit Visions, a two- or three-week poetry and photography workshop. Then we cut back on the number of pages that each school can publish in its anthology, from 80 to 64, although some schools paid to keep the original page count. But we didn’t cut any schools or any days with writers, and we didn’t increase our fees to schools,” says Blackhawk proudly.

In 2001-2002, InsideOut served 2,472 students in 23 schools. It sent 29 Detroit-area writers and artists to those locations for 25 weekly visits, at an amazingly low cost per child of $155 (covered by the project).

At the end of each year, InsideOut sponsors a gala, which brings together the different kids, teachers and writers for a celebration and group reading. This year, it takes place at the Focus: HOPE Conference Center in Detroit on Thursday, May 22, 5-8 p.m.

“We’re still going to do it,” says Blackhawk, “because it builds community so well among our schools. Everybody comes together. Each school has students who read their works and all the books are on display.”

But since InsideOut’s real work is with students and writers, not the constant energy drain of fundraising, Blackhawk says that anyone who’d like to help support the program, either this year or next, can buy small ads in the gala brochure, or can sponsor a school to the gala for $100. Copies of Feels Like Jazz!, the project’s 2003 Arts & Poetry Datebook (pictured), are available at $10. And donations toward next year’s budget will be gladly accepted. Call 313-965-5332 (ask for Yvette Amstelveen) or write to [email protected].

George Tysh is the arts editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]