Regional approach is key to growth

According to a recent arts assessment study completed by Duncan Webb of New York City’s Webb Management Services Inc., Peterborough is “a small aging community with limited economic prospects and an uncertain future.” It’s not the image many of us have “Our Town,” nor is it one we’d like to promote. But there’s a certain truth Webb is getting at for which there are no easy solutions.

Webb was asked to do an arts needs assessment for the town of Peterborough, with grant money from the National Endowment for the Arts and other sources. What Webb’s report makes clear is that Peterborough’s draw as an arts community isn’t expected to grow under current economic conditions and, therefore, there’s no basis for a major capital investment in arts facilities at this time. He suggests, though, that the arts could be the engine that drives economic growth, and that developing existing facilities, such as the Peterborough Town House; partnering with ConVal to build a new theater; and establishing a new media center for the arts could be the ticket.

The media center could be the starting point for establishing Peterborough as a hub for creativity and technology, Webb writes. It’s an enticing prospect.

We know from ConVal School District enrollment numbers that our student population is down and not projected to rebound anytime soon. We also know that many folks who live here commute or telecommute to work . And we know, too, that the region isn’t expected to regain its pre-recession job levels, let alone grow them, until summer 2014, according to a recent report issued by N.H. Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies economist Dennis Delay.

Webb’s recommendation of making improvements at the Town House makes sense, especially since it’s a potential source of revenue for the town each time the theater is rented for use. But building a new theater with ConVal would be off base at a time when the district is considering consolidation of facilities. What may have been missed by Webb’s assessment is that there is a renovation project in the works in Jaffrey to restore the Park Theatre, which intends to be a regional theater available for use by area schools and arts organizations. In an area as interconnected as the Monadnock region, it would be shortsighted not to consider partnership opportunities and resources in surrounding towns as this arts needs assessment moves forward.

The Peterborough Select Board has given its approval to further study all three of Webb’s recommendations: Investment in the town’s existing arts facilities, developing a new theater with ConVal and formulating a strategy to make Peterborough a center for creative technologies for the arts. There are merits to these recommendations but, without a fair consideration of the town’s neighbors, Peterborough could be going down the wrong path. The keys to economic development don’t often come from a narrow, one-town approach.

Sustainable growth in any sector of the economy is almost always better secured with the largest possible base.

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