Newton Cultural Center now in City Hall

Wayne Potash will perform at Newton City Hall.
Wayne Potash will perform at Newton City Hall.

That a big-city mayor can be a creative problem-solver should not come as a surprise. But Linda Plaut admits she was delighted and impressed when her boss, Newton Mayor Setti Warren, addressed the issue of where her office could relocate after losing its lease of more than eight years in a former elementary school on Nevada Street that was being returned to its original purpose.

“Come to City Hall,” said the mayor, as Plaut remembers it.

Even though Plaut is the director of the Mayor’s Office for Cultural Affairs, “I wouldn’t have thought of that myself,” she said.


And so Plaut, along with the full range of theatrical, musical, literary, and studio arts activities that her department oversees, did just that.

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As of two weeks ago, the Newton Cultural Center is operating from the hallowed chambers of City Hall, and rooms once used exclusively for necessary but somewhat stodgy events like Finance Committee meetings and executive sessions now hold drawing classes and improvisational drama.

“It’s like when college kids come home for the summer, and the whole house has a different look and feel and energy,” is how Plaut describes the sights and sounds of the summer arts programs that now unfold under the same roof as city governance.

In celebration of this innovative use of space and city services, Warren is hosting a grand opening for the Mayor’s Office for Cultural Affairs in City Hall, at 1000 Commonweath Ave. in Newton Centre, on Tuesday from 1 to 2 p.m. Highlighting the celebration will be a free concert by popular family entertainer Wayne Potash. WholeFoods Market will sponsor additional free activities, face painting, and refreshments.

Municipal demands will still take precedence, but Warren told Plaut that there was a fair amount of underutilized space at City Hall, on weekends even more than during the week. Now, the classic but somewhat austere auditorium will be the site of plays for all ages, and the conference rooms can be used on weekends for art classes.


As Plaut sees it, the new location reflects a citywide burgeoning of culture and the arts. City Hall belongs to the populace, and the range of multicultural offerings that her department now provides reflects Newton’s diversity, she said.

In the upcoming weeks and months, the city will hold a Russian Heritage Festival; a Pan-Asian noodle festival; an Indian festival; the Roman Totenberg String Competition, in honor of the late violinist, educator and longtime Newton resident; a spelling bee; a performance of “Our Town’’; Newton Open Studios, and a special-needs theater program.

“Newton has become a very multicultural community, and my department is dedicated to showcasing that multiculturalism,” Plaut said.

“This is really a workable solution, and people are so excited about it,” Plaut said of her office’s new quarters. “What a great concept, that you can come to City Hall not just to pay a bill or apply for a permit but to hear a concert, see some live theater, or take a class.”

For more information on Tuesday’s grand opening as well as the city’s slate of cultural events, go to www.newtonculturalcenter.org or www.newtoncommunitypride.org.


ALL THINGS THOREAU: The five-day annual gathering of the Thoreau Society is taking place with events in and around Concord through Sunday, including a performance of Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata at 7:30 p.m. Friday at First Parish in Concord, 20 Lexington Road.

The piece’s four movements — Emerson, Hawthorne, Alcotts, and Thoreau — will be performed by pianists Leslie Amper and Randy Hodgkinson. Tickets are $20.

For more information on the concert and other events during the organization’s annual gathering, go to www.thoreausociety.org or call 978-369-5310.

ART AS NARRATIVE: In celebration of that most archetypal cultural ritual, telling stories, 13FOREST Gallery presents its summer exhibition, “Scheherazade, tell me a story,” opening Friday with a reception from 7 to 9 p.m. at 167A Massachusetts Ave. in Arlington.

Featuring eight painters, printmakers, and sculptors, the show highlights the ways visual art can convey a narrative. Each piece tells a story, whether based on a personal anecdote, classic literature, current events, or cross-cultural mythologies.

The show will run through Sept. 13; for information on other events as well as gallery hours and directions, call 781-641-3333 or go to www.13forest.com.

AROUND THE BLOCK: Also in Arlington, the Arlington Alive Summer Arts Block Party takes place Saturday near the center of town offering a slate of free attractions.

The daylong event starts with musical performances from noon to 5 p.m. at Broadway Plaza, including zydeco by the Squeezebox Stompers, bluegrass and Texas Swing by the Bagboys, family fun with Ben Rudnick & Friends and Margot Fox, and Jon Cohan & His Golden Rulers featuring Woody Giessmann of the Del Fuegos.

There will also be arts activities for all ages, booths with local artists showcasing their works, and a food court will feature local restaurants.

The festivities continue at the Regent Theatre at 7 Medford St. from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., with singing by the Liberty Belle Chorus, performances by the Intimations Dance and Calamity Co Dance troupes, scenes from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” by Arlington Children’s Theater, improv with True Story Theater, and short films curated by the Arlington International Film Festival.

For more information, go online to www.arlingtonalivema.org.

RAISING FUNNY MONEY: A benefit to aid hunger relief in area communities, “Comics Unite,” will be held Wednesday at the Center for Arts in Natick, and feature big-name comedians Lenny Clarke, Tom Cotter, Jackie Flynn, and Tony V.

The fund-raiser for the United Way of Tri-County will also feature a VIP reception, including photo opportunities with the headlining comics, at the nearby Dolphin Seafood restaurant. The evening’s proceeds will support the Framingham-based agency’s efforts to provide food security and hunger relief to families in need across the region.

Tickets to the 6:45 p.m. show at TCAN, 14 Summer St. in downtown Natick, are $35. Tickets to the special 5:30 p.m. reception at the Dolphin, 12 Washington St., are $75, and include hors d’oeuvres and admission to the show.

For more information, call 508-647-0097, or go to www.natickarts.org or www.uwotc.org.

Send ideas to nancyswest@ gmail.com.