Much ado at the Vineyard Haven Public Library

Tisbury selectmen and the library board of trustees seek common ground on library expansion and Shakespeare garden.

The garden behind the library once grew rue, thyme, and other plants that appear in works of Shakespeare. —Naomi Pallas

Through the doors of the first-floor reading room at the Vineyard Haven Public Library is a patio, and behind the patio a statue. The statue, commissioned by theater director Margaret Webster for her late partner Jane Brundred, stands on what was formerly a Shakespeare-inspired garden planted to honor Ms. Webster and her legacy as a prominent member of the arts community on the Island.

The since-obliterated garden reemerged when the library broached the subject of possible structural expansion at the annual town meeting in April.

The Tisbury board of selectmen met with the library board of trustees on Tuesday to discuss opposing views on the library’s current plans to add a function room, which would create more space for library programs, yet would replace the outdoor area and make a revival of the Shakespeare garden in its original location impossible.

Selectman Tristan Israel, who had landscaped the garden before it was obliterated and replaced by the patio and a leaching field in 1998, began the meeting by recognizing the library’s expansion needs, while maintaining that the garden is an important piece of the history of Vineyard Haven.

“[Margaret Webster] did so much, it’s just mind-boggling. She was part of an artistic scene here on the Island in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s … I feel that we need to honor legacies like [this] that are given to the town,” he said. “How do we [expand the library] in a way that allows us to have that open space out there — that light, quiet space — and space to honor the legacy of the Shakespeare garden and the sculpture, and Margaret Webster?”

Ms. Webster was a progressive theatrical director, writer, and producer. She was among the earliest producers of Shakespeare works on Broadway, and is remembered as a pathbreaker in casting African American actors in her productions. Ms. Webster first landed on the Island in 1939, and lived in Aquinnah before making a home in Vineyard Haven in the 1960s with Ms. Brundred, both of whom were active members of the arts community alongside Katherine Cornell, Lee Fierro, and others, as well as in the LGBTQIA community. The sculpture was erected behind the library in 1970, and thyme, spearmint, rosemary, and other herbs and flora named in Shakespeare were planted around it in 1976. For two decades the Shakespeare garden held concerts and Shakespearean readings in Ms. Webster’s honor.

Board of trustees chairman George Balco and library director Amy Ryan reminded the boards that the garden took up only a small space outside, and speculated about other ways to honor Ms. Webster’s legacy after moving ahead with the expansion.

“I have spoken to landscapers about what it would take to recreate [the garden], and was told that between 50 and 70 percent of the plants would have to be replaced every year, and that several of the species are invasive species … It is a cost consideration that needs to be taken seriously,” said Ms. Ryan.

“The Margaret Webster Fund is $2,487, which is part of the library’s trust fund, and generates about four dollars a year in interest,” Mr. Balco added.

Ms. Ryan mentioned ideas like moving the sculpture inside the library, incorporating a mural of Shakespeare-themed plants, and holding readings and performances in the new function room while relocating the garden to the Tisbury Amphitheater or elsewhere. “We certainly agree that it should be honored in some way,” she said.

Mr. Israel argued that due to its nature, the garden should not be relocated. “Obviously, Shakespeare and libraries belong together … I think it would be wrong to move this to any other place but the library,” he said, adding that West Chop, with its theater-involved history, is where the garden belongs.


Expansion demand

On a near-daily basis in the summer, the Vineyard Haven Public Library holds lectures and events with authors, scholars, and prominent figures. Storytelling, arts and music workshops for children, and educational workshops for adults continue throughout the year. The public programming room is also open to various community groups and clubs. In recent years, attendance and demand for these programs has grown.

“Our adult programming has tripled in attendance since 2008 … This month alone we have about 44 programs on our schedule,” Ms. Ryan said.

“The feedback that we’ve gotten [from the public] that’s positive is that the people love the programs,” she said. “The feedback that we’ve gotten as negative is that they do not love this programming room, and often feel crowded when they’re attending programs here.”

The board of trustees does not yet have a concrete plan to share with the public, but said that they are aiming for a capacity of 110 people in the potential addition. Mr. Balco remarked that the library has the funds to finance a majority of the planning, and will fundraise the rest. “The town is not going to finance it,” he said.

Trustee Sandy Pratt said, “At every meeting and in every survey, No. 1 has been programming. The programming is what the community is telling us they want.”


Neighborhood concerns

Members of the BOS and the audience voiced concerns over the potential loss of the quiet outdoor space, and the issue of surrounding parking and traffic.

Selectmen chairman Larry Gomez read a letter from Anne and Allan Davey, who live next door to the library. “There is limited parking available in this town … If there is a meeting space for 100 people added to the library, there will be additional attendees at the programs and additional programs being offered at the library … The parking is very crowded to the point of being unsafe,” the letter stated.

Ms. Ryan, however, said that the library saw 120 attendees at a recent program, so she does not believe the additional room will change traffic in the town.

Regarding that program, Mr. Gomez replied, “Yeah, and there were cars all over the place — and parked in the wrong direction.”

Wendy Andrews, who was hired by the library in the 1990s, recalled events with Art Buchwald, William Styron, and Mike Wallace being held at the Council on Aging as a solution. “No one thought anything of it. [The Council on Aging] was a town building. It was available, there was parking,” she said.


Selectman Melinda Loberg discussed the importance of pocket parks and hidden spaces in the town. “One of the [Tisbury planning board’s] goals is to make sure that people have these spaces where they can step out of the public ways.”

Vineyard Haven resident Katherine Scott uses the patio as such a space: “I thought that it was a shame to reduce the attractiveness and visibility of this library by cutting off the light to the reading room and cutting off the light to the children’s room, and by putting a function room right there on top of that garden.”

While considering ways to preserve the space and create additional space inside the library, Ms. Scott discovered the sculpture. “Here’s a whole piece of the legacy of the Vineyard that means a whole lot to the history of drama, the LGBT community, and the whole political activist community … [Ms. Webster] could really be part of the cultural menu of the Vineyard because of this garden,” she said.

No decisions or announcements were made at the meeting.

“We are way, way, way too early to present even preliminary plans to the public,” Mr. Balco told selectmen. “I think we are in agreement that we aren’t going to do away with the garden.”

Said Mr. Israel, “Whatever you do, this really goes to the heart of the Island … I think that with proper planning, probably the two could coexist.”


Saying no to Eversource

Prior to the joint meeting, the board of selectmen held its biweekly meeting.

The board will present a letter of objection to the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative regarding rate increases and a change to the way money generated from solar or green energy is calculated that has been proposed by Eversource. The proposal would mean that the current revenue of $37,000 from a solar array on the town’s capped landfill would be lost.

“The rate-increase burden would fall on the public of eastern Massachusetts and the Cape, to help people who live in the western part of the state,” Mr. Israel said. “Thus our letter, thus our objection.”

All voted in favor of the letter, which was to be presented at a hearing at Cape Cod Community College on Aug. 1.

The board voted to appoint Jeff Robinson and Jerry Goodale to the harbor management committee, and Robert Jewett to the dredge committee, and selectmen Melinda Loberg as designee for the Tisbury School Building Committee.

Also unanimous were votes for a busker’s permit for Kim Hillier and the renewal of common victualler’s licenses to Bites on the Go and Sweet Bites.

The board’s next meeting is Aug. 13.