Big Tree Arts


Boise non-profit delivers education and performance poetry

By Chelsea Chambers

Poetry slam enthusiast Cheryl Maddalena started non-profit Big Tree Arts (BTA) in July 2007 when she saw the local need for more literature and performance art education. (A poetry slam is a competition where oral poets read or recite original work, judged by the audience or a panel of five judges.) Since many of the area alternative school programs had little funding for extracurricular activities, BTA started connecting directly with these schools to bring in teaching writers, touring poets and performers to the classrooms. The educational curriculum is enhanced while also enriching the local poetry scene. 

Founder Maddalena is still an acting “slam master,” but no longer serves on the organization’s board, having overseen it from 2007 to 2014. I had the opportunity to discuss BTA’s mission with Lydia Havens and Tara Lzicar, two people helping to grow and expand Big Tree Arts.

Tara took on the role as president of the board in 2014, and has since transitioned into acting executive director of the non-profit. Tara spends her time managing the amazing people who run the BTA’s educational program, The Loud Writer’s Project, as well as working with poetry events and community outreach.

“My day job is that I am a clinical supervisor with Terry Reilly, and the program supervisor for the Family Violence Prevention Program. I am a counselor who specializes in family violence and domestic violence intervention. I don’t believe my career would have taken off the way it has unless I had the skills that Big Tree Arts helped me develop – program management, project organization, public speaking, volunteer management, creativity and leadership skills. As volunteers assist Big Tree Arts over the years, these are the same skills we try to help them develop. But the biggest impact of Big Tree Arts is how I’ve developed as a person. I’ve been a slam poet since November 2007 and because of poetry, I have developed my own craft, met amazing people and artists, worked with incredible local community artists and creators, and traveled most of the United States performing and volunteering with other area poetry events under the national poetry slam organization – Poetry Slam International, Inc.”

Lydia first came to Boise to feature at a slam event BTA was putting on in early 2016. She hails from Tuscon, but fell in love with the close-knit poetry community in Boise and made the decision to move here shortly after. “Not only has it helped me figure out what I want to do career-wise, its helped me strengthen my skills as an organizer and a writer. It really does feel like family here, and I will always, always be grateful for that.” Lydia began working for BTA in September 2016 and has since helped manage workshops, teaching sessions and events.

There are several upcoming slams to attend this season. Be sure not to miss the Monday, November 27th event at Goldy’s Corner, featuring Spokane poet Devin Devine. There will several more throughout the winter. Check their events page for more details and information. For more information or to get involved in this nonprofit, please visit their website at