Poetry Center Head Leaving Post After a Decade of Impactful Leadership
Under Gail Browne's tenure, the UA Poetry Center has seen tremendous expansion in its programming and outreach, both regionally and nationally.
The University of Arizona Poetry Center saw tremendous expansion in the past 10 years under the leadership of executive director Gail Browne.
Browne, who began her tenure as executive director on July 1, 2002, has announced her decision to step down, effective June 30. She will continue to serve in an advisory capacity to the center through June 2014. A national search for the new executive director will begin in October.
“While it is difficult to imagine leaving the Poetry Center – a place I love beyond measure – this is the perfect time to bring in new leadership and ideas," Browne said.
"Over the past 50 years, the Poetry Center has grown into its role as a leading destination for the celebration of poetry and creative expression in the U.S. It is poised to take on a new vision and achieve even greater aspirations in the next era," she added. "I am eager to see how the center will continue to inspire and engage."
During her time at the Poetry Center, Browne oversaw the capital campaign for and construction of its landmark Helen S. Schaefer Building, located at 1508 E. Helen St. The building was the first of three major poetry facilities built in the past five years and won a 2009 Arizona American Institute of Architects Award for Design. The other recently constructed facilities in the U.S. are Poets’ House in New York and the Poetry Foundation building in Chicago.
The Poetry Center has received numerous other awards during Browne time as director. Among them: the Tucson Pima Arts Council Lumies Arts and Business Award for Arts Education Program in 2012; Tucson’s Favorite Public Architecture from Tucson Home in 2009; the Arizona Literary Treasure from the Arizona Humanities Council in 2008; and a new landmark library award from Library Journal.
"One of the things I am most proud of is our extraordinary building," Browne said. "This space has allowed us to expand our programs to better serve the University and the community."
In a 10-year span, the Poetry Center moved from several small cottages on North Cherry Avenue to its expansive building, where it has doubled the number of programs it offers.
Over that time, individual donations for program support have grown from about $5,000 to $65,000 annually. Last year, more than 30,000 people either visited the center or benefited from its off-site programming. In addition, more than 70 volunteers support the center, aiding with programs, tours, fundraising and community outreach, among other things.
"We're still a relatively small staff," Browne said, adding that the center employs eight staff members and three interns. "The volunteers have really enabled us to do so much more than we could otherwise accomplish. They enthusiastically give of their time, which has greatly added to our success."
Browne's achievements include overseeing the successful launch of voca, the center’s online digital archive of literary readings; the proliferation of on-site youth and adult education programs; and a series of acclaimed international symposia on poetics. Also, the Walt Whitman Circle launched this year as a fundraising initiative to support the center's programs.
Peter W. Likins, who was UA president during the construction and dedication of the new building, said: “Under Gail Browne’s persistent and determined leadership, the world-renowned Poetry Center at the University of Arizona was finally able, after decades of frustration, to create an ideal new home worthy of its intellectual distinction."
The UA Poetry Center was founded in 1960 by writer Ruth Stephan and dedicated by Robert Frost and is a special emphasis of the UA College of Humanities.
"The Poetry Center is a jewel of our UA campus. Its energetic and creative programming are enhanced by its affiliation with a Research I university, and its continued success, growth and reputation rest on Ms. Browne’s skills and talents as an administrator and inspired leader," said Mary E. Wildner-Bassett, the College of Humanities dean.
Wildner-Bassett said Browne has "a profound understanding of and dedication to the center’s mission and vision, and she is deeply committed to writers, supporters, the College of Humanities and the greater community – that is those of us who love language, literature and the contemplation of human experience.”
A California native, Browne came to the UA with a diverse background in arts marketing and administration. She began her career at the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, and before relocating to Tucson, she was a senior partner at Browne Zukow Associates, a San Francisco-based marketing firm. Browne holds a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing and received a master's in literature from the University of California, Los Angeles.
"I am hopeful that the new leadership will bring new ideas," Browne said. "We want to build on what we have been able to achieve so far. The building, library collection and other resources of the center hold vast potential to cultivate audiences for poetry for generations to come.”