Growing a Community’s Passion for the Arts

MSAC guitar teacher Joe Harris, Doug Poland, MSAC student Jamar Walker

MSAC guitar teacher Joe Harris, Doug Poland, MSAC student Jamar Walker

Doug Poland is an active member of the Monroe Street Arts Center. As president and a member of the board of directors, he devotes much of his time to the growth and operations of the center. His work ethic shows a commitment to providing the Madison community with a space that is dedicated to growing a love of all aspects of the arts. And the long hours of hard work are worth it when he sees the creativity flourish in students throughout the MSAC.

Madison Magazine: How long have you been involved with the center?

Doug Poland: I have served on the board of directors since 2007 and as the board president since September 2011.

MM: Is the rest of your family as involved with the center?

DP: I volunteer individually. My wife Amy has enough commitments to civic and charitable organizations to keep her busy!

MM: You seem to keep yourself quite busy through your work at the center. What are some of your various jobs?

DP: The board meets monthly and participates in activities such as planning and holding fundraising events, negotiating leases and communicating with our landlords, maintaining the buildings where the Center is located, managing significant personnel issues, evaluating applicants for students scholarships, and guiding public relations and outreach efforts.

MM: That’s quite a handful of work you have! Do the other board members share your level of work ethic towards the center?

DP: This is a very hard-working board of directors, and its efforts, combined with those of our staff and faculty, enable the MSAC to provide the Madison community with a unique center for arts instruction.

MM: What are some of your favorite aspects of the organization as a whole?

DP: The fact that the MSAC offers such a high quality of arts instruction while still retaining a welcoming, friendly, relaxed and fun atmosphere. The staff, faculty, students and parents all care tremendously for the center, and it also is warmly embraced and supported by the neighborhood.

MM: Sounds like a well-balanced combination of arts and work ethic that the MSAC has created for the community. How does the center make the Madison area a better place to live?

DP: The MSAC offers a unique mix of high-quality arts instruction in an intimate, nurturing and welcoming atmosphere. Without the MSAC, hundreds of students for whom we provide arts instruction might not have opportunities to learn to sing, play the guitar or piano, draw or paint—especially from such talented and caring instructors.

MM: You seem to be filling a void of arts instruction. Is that something students and parents recognize?

DP: Absolutely. Parents especially appreciate our summer arts programs. As a parent of three children, I know how difficult it can be to fill their summers with quality activities, and the MSAC’s summer programs are tremendously popular and often are filled to capacity.

MM: Did seeing those options lead you to joining MSAC’s effort for the arts?

DP: There are a few characteristics of the MSAC that drive me to give so much of my time and energy. The first is that everyone who is connected with the center cares about it so much. It is rare to find an organization like this that people are so passionate about. Second, I am concerned that arts education in our schools has been so dramatically reduced, and our children are not given enough opportunities to participate in the arts to stimulate and cultivate their interest in the arts.

MM: Arts funding has been a topic of much debate, especially given the current state of the economy. How has the center managed to maintain such a level of passion for the arts in the community during this time?

DP: The growth of the Center is something I’m incredibly proud of. The way that the MSAC has grown so dramatically over the past five years in the face of grave economic conditions and continued reductions in funding for the arts is incredible.

MM: What sort of growth has the center seen in the past few years?

DP: When I became a director in 2007, the MSAC only had about 150 students and was facing financial challenges. In fact, closing the center was a serious option at the time. But through the very hard work of the board of directors, faculty, and staff, under the guidance of Jen Roth, who was hired as executive director in 2007, the center has thrived.  Jen just retired from her position this past October, and during her tenure MSAC more than doubled its student body, is financially healthy, and now is poised for more growth.

MM: Is that part of the reason you continue to dedicate yourself to this organization?

DP: Yes. We focus so much in the U.S. on the state of the economy and on productivity, but we neglect other aspects of our lives, like the arts, that also are critical to enhancing our quality of life. When I see how talented our students are and how much enjoyment they get from their lessons and performances with the MSAC, I know that all of the work is well worth it.

MM: Is there a particular student you can think of that shows the mission of the center in action?

DP: Probably the most fulfilling moment for me came last year when I ran into one of our scholarship students, Jamar Walker, and heard from him how much he enjoyed playing guitar and taking lessons from Joe Harris, one of our faculty members. I met Jamar about five years ago when he was in Cub Scouts with my sons, and I suggested that he apply for one of the MSAC’s scholarships. He applied, was given a scholarship and has been playing guitar—and loving it—ever since. He never would have had the opportunity to discover his love and talent for playing guitar if it hadn’t been for the MSAC, its wonderful faculty and the generous supporters whose donations allow us to provide music and art instruction to so many scholarship students.

MM: The center seems to appeal to everyone in the community.

DP: That was my final reason for joining the center. It is a wonderful vehicle to bring together not only the immediate neighborhood, but also a larger Madison community. We certainly enjoy the greatest support from families and businesses that are located in the Monroe Street area, but we also have students from many other neighborhoods in and around Madison who take lessons at the MSAC. It is such a unifying and community-building place.

MM: What would you say to people who are looking to join you in helping the MSAC continue to be a community-building place?

DP: We would be thrilled to have you! Participating in the life of the MSAC can take many forms, from serving on the board of directors or a board committee, to teaching a class at the center, to helping the staff manage the day-to-day operations. It takes a surprising number of people to accomplish all of the tasks necessary to keep the MSAC running at such a high level. Best of all, no arts experience or ability is required, and I am a prime example!

You can help Doug continue expanding the arts in the Madison area by attending the MSAC’s annual Arty Gras fundraiser on Friday, February 22, 2013. Tickets and more information are available at

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