Integrating Art into Our Community
October 2, 2016 by Natalie
By Jerry Wedge
My family and I arrived in Concord in 1993. We were told by a neighbor who had been here since the 50’s this was not nearly long enough ago to be considered true Concordians. One of the very first institutions we fell in love with was Town Meeting.
Our first encounter was a debate over affordable housing on land controlled by the School Department. Two competing interests going head to head eventually managed to find resolve; the Town was able to address the real need to keep housing affordable in Concord and the school went on to serve its students as exceptionally as always.
This is what we love about Concord; concern for and passionate debate about our priorities. Think about all that’s been accomplished through these shared passions! We have conserved our precious lands while renovating our libraries and other public buildings. We continue to address affordable housing, improved and expanded athletic fields throughout town, and we have invested heavily in our public schools. Most of the private schools in town have made significant improvements to their campuses as well, and many of our religious institutions have renovated their sanctuaries or added a meeting space.
I look at this list and think, what about the Arts? Where is the commitment to cultural institutions that make communities whole and vibrant? Imagine combining our towns intellectual base with stronger sense of the Arts, whether that be street fairs, public art, poetry slams, or just more opportunity to see and be part of a creative experience!
This is not leading to a request for a town meeting article to fund the arts. I’m not sure we are ready for that. First we need a cultural shift in the way we think about Art in our lives. For those who participate at The Umbrella, or 51 Walden, or Concord Art, or many of the other wonderful organizations, you’ll likely get what I’m saying. We have a long way to go before the arts are fully integrated into our lives.
The first step in integration is preserving our current art and cultural institutions. Historic preservation is the visual and tangible conservation of cultural identity. Our architecture is one aspect of our heritage with which we can interact and adapt. While some buildings have specific historic context and must be meticulously and exactly preserved, most buildings must be lived in, interacted with and maintained by the public. These buildings change with us, thus recording a piece of each generation’s story.
We have an obligation to respect our cultural community resource and preserve it for future generations, to work within the established history and location of cities and towns to build on the rich culture already at hand.
In addition to solidifying a community’s past, preservation can help strengthen a community’s future. Arts buildings help create vibrant, cultural downtowns that draw tourism, art, festivals, and other activities which in turn draw investment, revenue, and economic growth. A dynamic historic downtown is the centerpiece of community life: a place to shop, invest, create and live. Simultaneously, the arts can be a tool to boost economy and quality of life.
Local residents benefit through interpretive components such as arts education, events, and performances that complement an historic site’s didactic offerings and illustrate a special meaning between its past, present and future. The more the community is involved, the more attractive and effective an area will become for locals and visitors.
At The Umbrella, we envision the day when Concord is as gratified with its cultural institutions as it is about its schools and land. We envision a time when parents will stop at the community arts center after they've been to the Library because they understand this exposure to creative thinking is just as important as exposure to great literary works. And those same parents will sign their kids up for an art class as naturally as they sign them up for a soccer team. When art is pervasive in a community, we are all better off.