It's tough to imagine Don Marquis, when he served as town manager, from 1966 to 2000, joining a discussion about the future of the arts in Arlington. He likely did, as Town Hall was a venue for folk concerts in the 1980s. Do you remember? Still, it's hard to envision his pugnacious puss parceling out cultural collaboration.
But Adam Chapdelaine? Sure. The youthful town manager was there, among the 75 people at the Arlington Center for the Arts gathered to try to reimagine Arlington as an arts destination.
"I'm may be the only person in the room with a tie," Chapdelaine said. He allowed for another tie-wearer, Ryan Livergood, the new and equally youthful town library director.
Most wore no neckties. Instead, many present had ties to the town's arts community. Following a public conversation -- called Arlington Alive! -- that involved breaking into six smaller groups, representatives summed up. To help make Arlington a go-to place for the arts, the town should:
Form an umbrella organization for the cultural community with an "arts czar";
- Create an arts-and-cultural destination website; and
- Establish a signature arts event.
Arlington Cultural Council summary >>
Opinion: Looking ahead for public art >>
For a fuller list of goals provided, see below.
Climate for change
Why this conversation now? Some key rumblings reverberate and point to arts-friendly change.
For one, a Town Meeting bylaw change has loosened restrictions on permitting public art in town. That has led to proposals for art to grace the Mass. Ave. project in East Arlington.
For another, the Redevelopment Board and Planning Department are working on a new town master plan, which provides an opportunity to foresee a reshaped Arlington.
In addition, the town has hired its first economic-development coordinator, Alan S. Manoian, a position that aims to help cultural and business interests bring benefits to each.
Leading off the June 7 discussion were representatives of key stakeholders. In addition to the town manger were Jan Whitted, owner of ArtBeat, and Meri Jenkins, program manager, Cultural Districts, Massachusetts Cultural Council.
Here are some snapshots from the evening:
Chapdelaine, calling himself "artistically inclined," led an exercise in interactive mapping. Pointing to a large Arlington map on a screen with a number of moveable black splotches, he asked the audience to shout out the locations of public art he named.
The Uncle Sam statue? Laurence McKinney, long in Uncle Sam's corner, knew of course. A splotch was moved on the map to Mass. Ave. and Mystic.
Art museums? A splotch for the Dallin, at the Jefferson Cutter House.
Public art? The mural in the Court Street post office.
For arts-related businesses, Mosaic Oasis and Kidcasso got mentions.
Jenkins, a Lexington resident, fashioned the state perspective with an engaging English accent. As an example of the kind of event that Arlington might consider, she noted Somerville's PorchFest -- an idea that grew from the simple notion of musicians playing on their porches.
The event in May turned up 150 musicians.
"We're all trying to put down roots and call it home," she said. "We can do that via the arts."
Whitted told the story of an emerging business-and-arts perspective. From the opening of ArtBeat in 1996, she traced the arc from the first Feast of the East in 1999 to the formation of the Capitol Block in 2006 and Capitol Square two years later.
What has made the connection work? Her keywords: support, recognition, collaboration, community engagement, individual initiatives and the willingness to volunteer.
With that emerging mission, those present broke up into six groups to do the face-to-face work that creative conversation calls for.
Just before doing so, a resident asked Jenkins whether Arlington will get money for its efforts from the state cultural council. Her answer: "Yes and no." She made clears there is "a lot of matching funding."
Key questions to consider
In three rounds of 15 to 20 minutes each, the groups weighed these questions:
No. 1: What activities and opportunities can we envision to make Arlington a cultural destination?
No. 2: How can you draw on all the assets in this town to bring ideas into practice?
No. 3: What are you top three priorities to move forward?
Responses were noted on flip charts.
At the table moderated by Leland Stein of the Regent Theatre, 11 people included Selectman Joe Curro, Open Space Committee Chair Ann LeRoyer, and Karen Grossman, president of the Friends of Spy Pond Park.
Among their ideas: Street performers and redevelop existing Broadway locations, including the empty Arlington Automobile site next to the Broadway Diner.
In the end, more than 2 1/2 hours after the even began, the last flip chart at each table was presented on stage. The presenters and their lists were:
1.) Destination website
2.) Establish umbrella organization for the cultural community with an "arts czar."
3.) Signs (better promotion of arts venues)
1.) Marketing showing links to tourism
2.) Take advantage of technology
4.) Using bike path with signs to venues
Roly Chaput, former member, Redevelopment Board:
1.) Use of banners and bike path
2.) Central management
3.) Collaboration between for-profit and nonprofit to find common goals
4.) Need "big artists’ event" (not Town Day)
Jane Howard, founder of Vision 2020:
1.) Umbrella cultural commission
2.) Venues: Mass. Ave.
3.) Arlington event
John Budzyma, director, Arlington center for the Arts:
3.) Communication: web/branding
Scott Samenfeld, a musician and consultant to nonprofits (who imagined "a musician at a grocery store"):
2.) Leadership: cultural commission
3.) Community collaboration
The evening's sponsors were the Arlington Cultural Council, the Arlington Center for the Arts, Arlington Public Art, Vision 2020's Sustainable Arlington and the Arlington Committee on Tourism and Economic Development.
This story was published Tuesday, June 12, 2012, and updated the next day to add links.
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