Today we talk with Ivy Jarvis, a librarian for the Glendale Public Library in Glendale, AZ, and an organizer for the Arizona Songwriters Gathering, an annual event that takes advantage of the library’s indoor and outdoor community spaces. Enjoy! ~Laura
Library as Incubator Project (LAIP): What was the impetus for starting the Songwriters Gathering? Was it library-initiated, community-initiated?
Ivy Jarvis (IJ): The Arizona Songwriters Gathering was founded in 1996 by Lon Austin. At the time, Lon Austin was the recreation coordinator at the City of Phoenix’s Encanto Park. He approached the Arizona Songwriters Association president, Jon Iger, and ASA member Gavan Wieser about offering a co-sponsored program at his venue. Together, they organized a program offering lectures and workshops on various topics of interest to songwriters, as well as providing songwriters with an opportunity to perform their original songs in front of an audience. In 2008, the Songwriters Gathering lost its venue and sought out a new home in neighboring Glendale.
Anne Owens, who was the adult programming librarian for Glendale Public Library, had already established a tradition of strong cultural programming for Glendale residents. She created a bimonthly “Coffeehouse” program featuring local musicians, as well as a weekly “Live @ the Library” series offering high-quality cultural performances. The City of Glendale’s Parks and Recreation department was also hosting the annual Glendale Folk and Heritage Festival at a historic park right next door to the Main Glendale Public Library. The Arizona Songwriters Gathering fit into the larger cultural picture of what was already happening in Glendale. Today, the Gathering is organized each year by a committee consisting of librarian Ivy Jarvis and songwriters Jon Iger, Randy Brown, Lon Austin, and Andy Hurlbut. A team of volunteers helps make the day run smoothly.
LAIP: What has the response been like to the program since its inception?
IJ: The Arizona Songwriters Gathering has retained a fairly stable audience of around 400 attendees every year. Songwriters and music lovers alike enjoy this day of networking, sharing, listening, and learning. Some songwriters come to hone their craft and learn tips and techniques for getting their songs recorded, copyrighted, and/or featured in TV and film; others are interested in playing their original songs in front of an accepting audience.
Unlike some of the larger “mega-events” that Glendale offers, The Arizona Songwriters Gathering is not designed to attract thousands of people. This free special event adds to the quality of life in our city by bringing people with similar interests together on a smaller scale. The day has a bit of magic in it. Everyone is very warm and encouraging, and participants love the opportunity to reunite with this unique group every January. Some lecturers, performers and attendees travel in from out of town and even from out of state to participate. So far as we know, it is the only program of its kind.
LAIP: What advice do you have for a library or community that is interested in getting a similar program off the ground?
IJ: My advice to others wanting to offer a similar program is to tap into the talents, personalities, and interests of your staff. If it weren’t for Lon Austin’s vision in 1996, the Arizona Songwriters Gathering wouldn’t exist. His passion for folk music and songwriting brought us this successful event 21 years ago.
Look to your community to inspire programming topics and ideas. The Arizona Songwriters Gathering is a natural fit for Glendale because it works as a part of the larger cultural picture in the library and the city as a whole.
Consider logistics as well; the Arizona Songwriters Gathering is literally a good fit for our library thanks to our large meeting room wing and extensive outdoor area, both of which are ideally suited for a festival-type program like this.
Finally, once you’ve decided what type of program you are interested in offering, reach out to the experts in the field. Attempt to create partnerships with professional organizations in your area.