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Consultant promotes 3 ideas to boost arts, economy

Next step is to develop business plans for upgrades, ConVal theater project, media center

Consultant Duncan Webb is working with the town of Peterborough on a study of arts opportunities and costs.

Consultant Duncan Webb is working with the town of Peterborough on a study of arts opportunities and costs. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

PETERBOROUGH — Consultant Duncan Webb met Monday with about a dozen residents, many of them from area arts organizations, to begin the second stage of his study on how to support the arts in Peterborough.

“My goal is to advance specific tangible ideas that people can wrap their minds around,” Webb told the group, after he reviewed three suggestions that resulted from the first stage of his work, a study of the feasibility of a new arts center in Peterborough.

Webb’s company, Webb Management Services Inc. of New York City, was hired last fall after the town received a $37,500 in grants to fund the feasibility study. Webb’s initial report, released in late May, offered three main suggestions: improving the upper floor of the Town House, partnering with the ConVal School District to design and build a large auditorium, and working with the Sharon Arts Center to develop a new media center, focused on emerging media technologies, that could bring jobs to the region.

“I’m looking for advice now on how to move forward. What will take us where you think we need to go?” Webb asked.

He described both the Town House and Bass Hall at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture as “underperforming assets” that could benefit from an investment of money.

Webb said the ConVal School District has a committee starting to talk about an auditorium. If a community can provide additional funding in exchange for access to a new building, it can be a win/win situation for everyone, he said.

Webb offered few specifics about what has labeled “the big idea” — some sort of collaboration with the Sharon Arts Center, which is offering a new Master of Fine Arts program. “I know there is something out there,” he said,

Those at the meeting had number of questions for Webb.

Mose Olenik, who works at the Mariposa Museum, said she was worried about whether the town could support an 800-seat theater, to which Webb replied that he’d need to figure out the cost impact.

“It could be the community decides it’s not worth it,” Webb said.

David Macy of the MacDowell Colony wondered if the Town House could eventually become a true theater that high school students could use. Webb replied that a facility that’s not actually at the school presents logistic difficulties. “To move students around on a regular basis is cumbersome and unwieldy,” he said.

In response to a question about how a theater project in Peterborough would relate to the Park Theatre renovation in Jaffrey, Webb said, “If [the Park Theatre] really gets going, it might affect how ambitious the high school auditorium might be. I’m not worried. They have so far to go. I don’t think there’s any reason not to shoot for these three options.”

Peterborough Town Administrator Pam Brenner said she was excited about Webb’s “big idea” concept.

“We need to attract young people,” Brenner said. “Peterborough is a college town without a college.”

She said the town should nurture any effort that could help provide jobs that would bring younger people to town.

Rachelle Beaudoin noted that the Sharon Arts Center’s MFA program is not a residential model. Students will do a lot of the work online and may not spend significant amounts of time in Peterborough, she said. Beaudoin urged residents to back other programs that attract young people, such as the Thing in the Spring events.

“We’re already here,” she said. “We need your support.”

Public Works Director Rodney Bartlett said the Select Board has given Webb the go-ahead for the second phase of his study, which is to do a sustainability study of his three recommendations and develop a business plan.

“You’ll have numbers,” Bartlett told the group. “It’s sort of fuzzy at this point but the sustainability study will provide data. We’d be very shortsighted not to take this opportunity.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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