November 2019 - The Philanthropy Issue

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La Biblioteca

The Public Library of San Miguel de Allende houses 60,000 books in Spanish and English. The library offers workshops, courses, and classes for children in computer, painting, English, guitar, piano, and choir. It also serves as a venue for conferences, cinema, and theater for all audiences, and it provides scholarships and mentoring programs for college-bound teenagers in the community. It is the home of our local paper, Atención, and Café Santa Ana.

Debra Broussard joined the Biblioteca Board in 2018, but her path to the position was anything but conventional.

Out of sheer curiosity, Debra began seeking out information on the paintings displayed throughout the library. Most, donated by the greater San Miguel community, had no listing for the artist, title, or date of the painting. Determined to solve the mysterious origins of each piece, she set out to discover as much as she could about each individual work. After painstaking research and a few surprises, she managed to identify a great deal of the artwork that hangs inside the library.

Upon realizing her dedication to this project, Debra was formally asked to join the Executive Board in 2018 and hasn’t stopped working on improvement projects since. Now the Vice President, we sat down for lunch at Café Santa Ana to talk a little bit more about the future of the Biblioteca and what makes it so special.

Can you please give us a little bit of background on the board and some recent history?

We have lots of talent and new energy on the board. Ali [Zerriffi] is the Board President and does a great job. Then there's Jennifer [Posner], who's sort of our big project manager and fundraiser, myself and Gerardo [Espinosa] our Treasurer, Gregory [Diamant], and Rosana [Conte].

We needed to right the ship financially because we inherited some financial difficulties. The federal Agency that manages the Biblioteca renewed our lease, but it now requires rent that we did not have to pay for until recently.

We also added an Advisory Board with subject matter specialists. We [as a group] are very international in composition. The role of the Advisory Board is to consult for the Board and meet with us twice a year. It just adds more people who are specialized and more contacts. For instance, we have an architect on our Advisory Board to help us with consulting on the theater project.

So you all have a great team put together as sort of a brain trust. What about fundraising?

We had an event in March that was the first evening fundraiser in recent memory. Maybe not the first ever, but certainly the first one in a while. We needed money to help pay the rent.

From my time digging through some of the artwork here, we realized that we had a few great pieces and some photographs donated that didn't have a regional tie to San Miguel that could be auctioned off to raise money. So we held a silent auction with thirty large scale prints and 2-3 paintings. We sold tickets and raised enough money to put a good dent in the rent payment for the year.

We also asked for things to be donated that the Library needed – table cloths, lights, ceiling fans. These were specific requests made to our donors that we were able to ask for at the event. These table clothes came from that!

In the future, we'll probably alternate January and July fundraisers, that way we are able to reach two different groups of people. The next one is in July. We need help with fundraising... We also need help with rebranding and social media if you know any one that can help with that!

What is your big project right now?

We need now to upgrade the theater. We're renovating, cleaning it up... We are working on new lighting and sound, a new screen at the front for movies, and we're addressing safety issues. A good deal of what we need has been raised thanks to Jennifer and her efforts, but they still need more. It is exciting to show the community that they are capable to completing such a large-scale project!

You describe the Biblioteca as more of a community center than just a library. What do you mean by this?

There are a ton of classes here, and every afternoon kids out of school gather at the library. There's a computer room to use the internet, a children’s choir, Conversations Among Friends where people try to talk to each other in English and Spanish, adult ESL classes to help those in the tourism industry, guitar, piano (we have a full size grand piano).

It' really a community center. Most of the classes are free. The teenage art classes are very competitive to get into. You must bring a portfolio and can only miss twice. There are also young kids art classes.

We have social enterprises that raise money – the restaurant, the theater, the gift shop, the tours. And we're revamping the San Miguel homes tour. The money helps to run classes, and it provides for scholarships for college and high school students. Students are matched with a mentor that can guide them into and through college, and we're working on internship partnerships with local businesses.

What are some of your goals for the future?

Coordination with other charities in town. I'd like to connect with some of the other groups and see how we can help each other. We need more younger people, and we need money.

Charlie [Hall] of Rose Ann Hall Designs donated a ton of stuff to the library gift shop, things that he couldn't sell for various reasons, he donated. He's creating a foundation to help those who are disabled.

What can we do as a community to help?

The Library could use volunteers to help with gardening in the central courtyard, replanting pots and watering. We could really use a volunteer coordinator and bilingual mentors for the scholarship program. The program has enough reserves to continue scholarships for two years out for existing scholars, which we are really proud of.

We need someone to work with IT folks to get the website up and going and help us created a social media presence – LinkedIn, etc. We also have an English book committee and a Spanish book committee that chose what books to buy for the library each year.

And anyone who wants to start a class, teach or come help, if you have a heart for it, come and do it!