Community Conversation sparks talk of making region an arts Mecca

  • Attendees speak on the needs of the local arts community at Tuesday's Community Conversation. Abbe Hamilton—

  • Attendees speak on the needs of the local arts community at Tuesday's Community Conversation. Abbe Hamilton—

  • Attendees speak on the needs of the local arts community at Tuesday's Community Conversation. Abbe Hamilton—

  • Attendees speak on the needs of the local arts community at Tuesday's Community Conversation. Abbe Hamilton—

  • Attendees speak on the needs of the local arts community at Tuesday's Community Conversation. Abbe Hamilton—

  • Attendees speak on the needs of the local arts community at Tuesday's Community Conversation. Abbe Hamilton—

  • Attendees voice concerns and dreams for the local arts community at Tuesday's Community Conversation. Abbe Hamilton—

  • Artist Lulu Fichter speaks at Tuesday's Community Conversation. STAFF PHOTO BY Abbe Hamilton

  • Attendees voice concerns and dreams for the local arts community at Tuesday's Community Conversation. Abbe Hamilton—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 8/15/2019 2:53:53 PM

Visions, encouragement, and praise dominated the lively and well-attended Community Conversation on “How do we realize the value of the arts?” on Tuesday.

Speakers referenced specific items like affordable temporary and permanent housing for artists, affordable studio and event space, lodging for visitors, permissive town governments and landowners, improved resources for teens and consistent, year-round events as dreams for the local art community – as well as desire for a better understanding of what resources already exist.

Jessica Gelter of Arts Alive, Mary Goldthwaite-Gagne of The Glass Museum, Ginnie Lupi of the N.H. State Council on the Arts, and David Macy of the MacDowell Colony served as “conversation sparkers.” State Senator Jeanne Dietsch served as moderator.

The recent closure of the Sharon Arts Center was an issue on many minds. Macy referred to its closing as an inflection point for the community.

“The impetus for the next thing is in this room,” he said.

Lauryn Welch, gallery manager for the Sharon Arts Center, spoke in order to address the “elephant in the room,” and said she wants to see “this thing we’ve got” with Sharon Arts continued in a different iteration. Welch would like to see an organized group develop ideas on how to continue providing what Sharon Arts has provided to the community.

Welch also spoke about the difficulty of affording housing and studio space on an artist’s salary. She referenced the Lace Mill in Kingston, New York, which offers reduced housing rates for artists. Gelter said that the medium income for an artist in the area is $24,000, as compared to the median income of $72,000 in Peterborough overall.

Several representatives from the Thornton Wilder Center for the Arts reiterated their determination to build a performing arts center in the area. Richard Sanders said ConVal High School students deserve a place to perform with better acoustics than a gymnasium, and that the high school property had the space to make such a community resource feasible.

Carter Hammond, a local musician and video maker, suggested a job share network, where people with relevant skills and resources could offer them to artists. He saw this as a solution to the overlapping nature of problems referenced in the discussion. Hammond used the example of a trained bookkeeper offering free services to artists to help them do their taxes, or a vacant barn for an events venue. Another resident referenced the job exchange board associated with The Grapevine Community Center in Antrim as an example of what the art community needs.

Brian Field brought up a dearth of lodging for visitors to the area. Dietsch said Peterborough needs more winter attractions for new lodging to be financially feasible.

Lulu Fichter Fichter, a local artist and teacher, introduced her “fantasy” for the site of the former IDG building on the corner of Route 202 and Elm Street, describing a “Mecca” for art, with events and studio space, a teaching and gallery area. “We’re close enough to the big areas, too, why not us?”

Michelle Stahl, of the Monadnock Center for History and Culture, pointed out that Peterborough already has the makings of Fichter’s Mecca, and suggested that the real need is to make better use of existing entities, and advertising existing opportunities.

Jan Kingsbury said an existing establishment like Andy’s Summer Playhouse provides high-quality teen programming and entertainment, but needs more attendance and support from the community.

Ivy Vann brought up a regional branding project currently underway, with one of its goals being a more cohesive unity between the Monadnock Region’s towns. She urged interested attendees to contact Phil Suter of the Keene Chamber of Commerce, Jamie Trowbridge of Yankee Publishing, and Rodney Bartlett of Peterborough for more information.

Dietsch reminded the assembly that well-established and revered entities like the Peterborough Players and MacDowell Colony were once new, too, and had founders that had to start from scratch.

Macy agreed, recalling the pageants Marian MacDowell staged in the early days of the MacDowell Colony. He said that 90 percent of Peterborough’s residents were involved in the productions at the time.

“[She] was an incredibly savvy businesswoman,” he said of her instincts to publicize, draw in big events and elicit the help of the local community.

Stahl urged attendees that when looking for an affordable venue or studio space, to “ask, because you just never know what kind of collaboration and support you might find.”

Kevin Goohs of the Peterborough Theatre said he was willing to rent out the theater and its stage for a modest fee, and encouraged artists seeking a small performance venue to get in touch.

Goldthwaite-Gagne encouraged attendees to follow their dreams, in the way The Glass Museum put on The Thing in the Spring and the Broke Arts Fair.

“No one gave us the authority to start doing these projects,” she said.

Macy agreed, saying “The scale of our community is small enough that if you have an idea, you can just do it. Word of mouth is enough to fill a hall,” or move an event to a larger venue.

He referenced Saturday’s Night Market as a time when a local did something to make a change instead of griping about the lack of nightlife in Peterborough.

Kin Schilling, local artist, related her delight with the Night Market and emphasized that the attendees were a mix of young and old that she had never seen before. It drew people in from out of town, she said.

Sarah Gingras plugged Peterborough Arts Collective meetings as an appropriate time to exchange information and updates on specific projects. The next meeting is at the Post and Beam Brewery on Aug. 26 from 6 p.m to 8 p.m.


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