Viewpoints: Creative placemaking in Peterborough and the Monadnock Region

Published: 8/9/2019 1:25:14 PM

On Tuesday, August 13, we’ll gather in Bass Hall to air aspirations for the future of the arts in Peterborough. To use jargon crafted by Richard Florida and folks like me who hope to exert a positive influence at the messy intersection of public policy and private development, we’ll be talking about “creative placemaking.”

Given Peterborough’s relatively modest population and distance from a major metro areas, we’re blessed with an enviable concentration of artists, writers, and performers, as well as the presenting institutions needed to make them visible. In addition to cultural interactions, we are bound together with a shared appreciation for the trails, ponds, and vistas surrounding Mount Monadnock. This combination of the arts and the natural environment are two essential ways we know ourselves and feel connected to one another.

One of catalysts for this community conversation is the decision to sell off the Sharon Arts Center in the wake of the merger between New England College and the NH Institute of Art. NEC has opted to cash out the acquired real estate to temporarily shore up their bottom line. What college leadership views as an asset to be liquidated, we are accustomed to viewing as a cultural hub at the center of our downtown. While we may bemoan the apparent betrayal, we might also acknowledge that Sharon Arts was struggling financially even before the first merger with NHIA. As frustrating as it is that we lack influence over what will become of the building in Sharon or the gallery in Depot Square, we can gather in Bass Hall to express our shared values and speak to one another about our aspirations for the future of the arts in our downtown.

As part of envisioning that future, we can also take stock of our rising stars: Broke Art, the Thing in the Spring festival, and Firelight Theatre are delightful additions to Peterborough’s arts scene. The Monadnock Center for History and Culture has expanded to include arts and culture in its programs and historical exhibitions and the Peterborough Players season has grown far beyond the bounds of summer stock. The Town Library is poised for an extraordinary expansion in the months ahead and we have yet to see how those new facilities will function in the local arts ecosystem. These are a few of the growing edges, ideas and activities that are gaining momentum and generating excitement.

While mourning the loss of a flagship arts institution, we can also salute and honor the faculty, staff and board who inspired legions of youngsters while supporting creative exchange among adult practitioners. To regain our bearings, we can give our attention to what is blooming or about to bloom and work together to build healthy soil that will support desirable cultural organizations for decades to come.

Long before the term “placemaking” was coined, Peterborough somehow established itself as the cultural center of Monadnock. Working together, we can build on this legacy, expand the region’s arts audience, and give future generations something to talk about.

A Peterborough resident since 1994, David Macy has served on the boards of Monadnock Arts Alive!, New Hampshire Citizens for the Arts, and the Alliance of Artists Communities. Macy was founding Chairman of the Peterborough Arts Council. Macy is Resident Director of the MacDowell Colony.

Macy will be part of the Ledger-Transcript’s Community Conversation about the value of arts in the region – Tuesday at 7 p.m., Aug. 13 in Bass Hall of the Monadnock Center for History and Culture in Peterborough – along with state representative Jeanne Dietsch, director of the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts Virginia Lupi, Arts Alive Director Jessica Gelter and Glass Museum co-founder Mary Goldthwaite-Gagne.


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