A group of Newton artists, nonprofit leaders, city officials and mayoral office staff members gathered in the Newton City Hall War Memorial Auditorium on Wednesday, Feb. 5, to discuss what’s next for the city’s arts community following the recent completion of the CREATE Newton Arts & Culture Strategic Plan.
Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller opened the conversation by expressing her gratitude to the plan’s creators and stating the purpose of community forums.
“We’re here to find ways to speak our voices and connect with each other and build hope and build community and cross out of ourselves into larger groups,” Fuller said. “There’s so much energy and creativity and organizational skills in this room.”
Fuller introduced Gloria Gavris, leader of The Community Design for Arts and Culture Committee and chair of CREATE Newton. Gavris and the CDAC launched the plan after a year of research and discussion in collaboration with over a thousand Newton residents.
“The plan is a living organism, and you guys — all of us together — are what’s going to move this forward and actually make it happen,” Fuller said.
In order to gauge what the arts community in Newton needed, Gavris set up a series of surveys, focus groups and one-on-one consultant interviews, which she used to shape the four main objectives of CREATE Newton. The plan strives to continue the creative culture in City Hall, promote arts and culture in the village centers, build and promote dynamic and varied spaces for programming and, most importantly, grow arts, culture and civic collaboration and advocacy by merging Newton’s three key cultural organizations — Newton Community Pride, the Newton Cultural Alliance and the Newton Cultural Council — into a reenvisioned nonprofit.
Gavris gave her own definition of culture as it applies to Newton. Gavris explained that “Big C” culture includes the things one “initially” thinks about the arts: the orchestra concerts, violin concerts, the concertos at the Newton Free Library on Sunday afternoons. “Little c” culture, on the other hand, refers to the “community building aspects” of culture: PorchFest, Village Days, the annual Halloween painting contest.
“It’s all of those little aspects that build community and bring friends together, and meeting new acquaintances,” Gavris said. “It really makes Newton the kind of special community that it is.”
Gavris also called culture the “prism” through which the CDAC looked at arts and culture to provide the arts community with the physical and financial resources it needed.
“I spent a lot of my time professionally in nonprofits, and I understand the dynamics of raising money and how difficult it is,” Gavris said. “One of the things we hope to do is make arts and culture and bring it together in a stronger way for the community to bring everybody up and bring everyone forward.”
Paula Gannon, Newton’s director of cultural development, then spoke about the role of involvement in cultural development in terms of “Big I, Little i.”
“Sometimes, it’s a big, giant ‘I,’” Gannon said. “‘Little i’ is when I’m involved and helping, but it’s you who really make it happen. Each event is unique in that way. Navigating that and how we can be an ‘I’ of some size is really important to us.”
Several community members including Emily O’Neil, executive director of the New Art Center, and Sachiko Isihara, executive director of the Suzuki School of Newton, spoke about their ongoing projects including an arts scholarship program and an upcoming summer folk and jazz music series in Waban.
Following the community conversation, Mayor Fuller thanked Susan Paley, the vice president of community relations at The Village Bank, for her donations in support of the community. Gavris also spoke about the features of the Newton Arts Calendar produced by Howard Sholkin, president of Newton Community Pride, and the city’s Cultural Development office.
To close the event, Gavris stated CREATE Newton’s goals looking forward.
“We hope to continue and have these discussions,” Gavris said. “Not only is it important for us to hear each other’s concerns and needs, but also to meet each other. This is the community that we want to build, and you can all help each other.”
Audrey Sutter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.