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Just Buffalo enlists Kickstarter to help fund "Wordplay"

With traditional funding sources for arts in education programs generally less available as a result of the ongoing recession, some established organizations are turning to more innovative approaches to fundraising to support their programming.

One such local organization is Just Buffalo Literary Center, which is partnering with Kickstarter -- the online pledging platform for creative projects that employs the model known as "crowdfunding" -- to support the publication of "Wordplay," the annual anthology of student writing culled from the organization's writers-in-education program.

Each year as many as a dozen Just Buffalo sponsored professional teaching artists visit over 100 K-12 classrooms in as many as 30 Buffalo area schools to help young people discover the beauty and power of the written word, and to introduce them to the use of some basic poetic and prose forms from a writer's perspective.  In recent years, as many as 4000 students have participated in the program, which places special emphasis on serving high-need schools in the City of Buffalo where over 70% of students are living at or below poverty level.

According to Just Buffalo Education Director Barbara Cole, "Wordplay" has been an integral part of the organization's Writers in Education program for nearly two decades, not only as a document of young writers' first experience in print, but also as a "chance to open these young minds, to hear what they have to say" about their experience in this community.  Poems like this one by then-3rd grader Vivian Hunt speak directly to Cole's point: 

            How My Life Is Like A Book

            My life

            is as secretive

            as a book.

            I need

            to be opened


            I speak.                    

But quick glance through the most recent edition of "Wordplay" reveals a great deal more than just self-discovery and self-empowerment happening on these pages.  There are flash fictions on fantasy themes and mini-narratives on family life, poems about justice and injustice, nature and environmental awareness, abecedarian poems, and this remarkable short poem by 5th grader Tatyiana Gordon that demonstrates the influence of Just Buffalo's teaching artists on these young writers, especially on their choice of literary models to write in imitation of:

"I am in Need of Music”

(inspired by Elizabeth Bishop)

melody sinks in my heart

colors swaying through the moon-green sea

forever flushed on my limbs

liquid floats over my quivering lips

I flow to the stillness of that song

Good writing, of course, isn't just about working within established traditions.  Sometimes it's about saying something fresh and perhaps just a tad bit irreverent.  4th grader Joanna Haque says that in this little gem that is not only vivid, but will haunt you next time you're on the greens:


I like playing Golf because

you have to have a nice day

to play it. And it feels like you’re

hitting a ball into somebody’s

mouth. The sound is like a light

just turned on. 

Just Buffalo distributes 5000 copies of Wordplay annually free of charge to all participating schools, teachers, and families involved in the project, as well as to many accessible community locations such as public libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops.

In order to make the 2011-2012 edition of "Wordplay" what Cole describes as "the biggest and most representative" of the aspirations of young people involved in the program yet, Just Buffalo is seeking $5,000 in pledges from the community through the involvement of Kickstarter, an online "threshold pledge system" for funding creative projects which has been described as "largest funding platform for creative projects in the world."

Founded in 2009, Kickstarter has a track record of having raised well over $40 million in what is essentially seed money (in the private sector, one might call it "venture capital") for projects from the worlds of music, film, art, technology, design, food, publishing and other creative fields.  One of several new fund-raising platforms based on the model known as "crowdfunding," which circumvents many traditional avenues of investment, Kickstarter facilitates a goal-oriented, pledge system that accepts payments of as little as $1 or as great as the entire project target (in Just Buffalo's case $5,000) through the mechanism of Amazon Payments.

An important thing to note about Kickstarter is that it employs what is called a "provision point mechanism" on each creative project it reviews and agrees to fund-raise for.  Project sponsors or "owners" (where there are copyright issues involved) choose a deadline and a target minimum of funds to raise. If the chosen target is not gathered by the deadline, no funds are collected.

Just Buffalo has chosen 5 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, August 31 as the deadline for its minimum goal of $5,000 in pledges to support the publication of "Wordplay."  If you are interested in donating to the project, or if you simply want find out more about Just Buffalo's Writers-in-Education program or Kickstarter, visit Wordplay: celebrating Buffalo's youngest writers.

--R.D. Pohl

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