Inkberry to close doors – though programming will live on

November 14, 2009

Inkberry will close after nearly a decade

By Jennifer Huberdeau

Posted: 11/13/2009 01:22:43 AM EST North Adams Transcript

NORTH ADAMS — Although Inkberry isn’t in financial trouble, the local nonprofit has decided to close its doors by the end of December and donate its remaining funds to the organizations that will help its programming continue.

Inkberry, which provides writing workshops, readings and other literary events at little or no cost, offered its first classes in the spring of 2001 after being founded by three Williams College graduates, Emily Banner, Rachel Barenblat and Sandy Ryan.

“Inkberry is a very volunteer-intensive organization,” Linda White, Inkberry board president, said Thursday. “In this economic environment, volunteers are stretched thin as well. Our board of directors is also a working board that helps run the organization on a day-to-day basis — we just don’t focus on fundraising.”

She said several of the board’s members will be stepping down and retiring in December.

“We haven’t been able to successfully recruit replacements,” White said. “Without those replacements, we could not sustain such a volunteer effort. We also know from experience that even though we are in a good financial position, that if we were to hire a paid staff we would run out of money.”

Rather than try to hold the organization together, the board voted Wednesday night that it would better serve the literary community by finding new homes for its existing programs.

“This decision was made only after we exhausted our other options,” White said. “We were going to merge with another non-profit, but that did not work out. The board has made solid financial decisions — we moved from Main Street to a shared space at Heritage State Park. Because of the move, our rent was considerably less and our utilities were shared with another nonprofit. It’s the reason we’ll be able to support our programming.”

She said the non-profit will make a donation to the Friends of the North Adams Public Library, which will continue its popular reading series, and to the MCLA Foundation to continue “The Write Stuff,” a writing mentoring program for middle school students conducted in partnership with the college.

“The donation to the library will continue to bring published writers to city for the reading and discussion series,” White said. “While the donation to the MCLA Foundation will allow for the Write Stuff program to continue through its Center for Service. ”

In addition, Wordplay, a monthly reading at Papyri Books will continue under the auspices of the bookstore; Ed Sederbaum has committed to continuing the writing workshop “Put Your Memories on Paper” at Sweetbrook nursing home in Williamstown, while the Wednesday Night Writers’ Group plans to carry forward on its own.

Over the years, Inkberry brought nationally known authors and poets such as Claire Massoud, Donald Hall, Ted Conover, Mark Doty, Rick Moody, Margot Livesey and Julia Glass, to the city through the reading series. Programming also included writing workshops and special events such as an exploration of rural living and a sense of place with New York Times columnist Verlyn Klinkenborg, and “Share Our Strength,” a workshop offered in conjunction with the Elizabeth Freeman Center.

For co-founder Barenblat, the closing of the organization’s storefront is both sad and bittersweet.

“It’s particularly bittersweet because we had such big dreams for Inkberry,” she said. “There’s so much we still want to see it do. What makes this bittersweet instead of just bitter, is the fact that some of the programming that we are most proud of will continue on. It’s really gratifying to know, and it takes some sting out of it.”

Barenblat said she could understand the need for the organization to close, especially as someone who spent over six years volunteering and overseeing it on a daily basis. She left Inkberry to pursue the next step in her life, which currently includes rabbinical studies and preparing to give birth in the coming weeks.

“In this economic climate, it’s just hard to find work,” she said. “It’s even harder to balance a paying job with volunteer work. We did hire an executive director for one brief shining moment. Jill Gilbreth, was a fabulous executive director, but we found that our fundraising efforts were not up to sustaining a living salary. They were just enough to sustain our programming. I have a ton of empathy — I myself am not able to pick it back up. I give my appreciation to those who have given their time and energy over the years.”

White said the board is both hopeful and happy about the future, while also saddened by the closing.

“We’re sad that the organization is coming to an end, but we’ve had a good run,” she said. “We’re also happy to know that while we’re shutting the doors, we’re also leaving something behind and that in some aspects, Inkberry’s mission will continue on.”