Regional Reports

New England

Published in: GIA Newsletter, Vol 9, No 1 (Spring 1998)

Sharon Panitch

New England Builds Communities through Culture

Building Communities through Culture (BCC) fosters and encourages community-building projects in New England by linking arts and non-arts partners in select areas in the region. Established in 1995 as an initiative of the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), BCC is supported by The Boston Foundation, the Fund for the Arts, and a 1997 NEA grant of $200,000 for Leadership Projects in Underserved Areas.

The fifteen communities currently participating in BCC include: New Haven and Waterbury, Connecticut; East Boston, Dorchester, Lowell, and Northampton, Massachusetts; Lewiston and Portland, Maine; Newport and Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Pawtucket and Westerly, Rhode Island; and Burlington and North Bennington, Vermont. Holyoke, Massachusetts, the newest community in the program, joined BCC in 1997.

In each of these communities, Fellows — one working in an arts capacity and one in a civic capacity — come together to create or build upon a wide variety of programs, events, and other undertakings that strengthen and revitalize their communities through the arts and culture. All of the Fellows convene regularly to present and analyze their work in community building. In addition to bringing the Fellows together to share their accomplishments, BCC is establishing a system to accurately measure the effectiveness of the projects undertaken through a system of cultural indicators created with, rather than for, each of the communities involved.

Some current BCC projects include:

  • A site-specific dance piece celebrating the lives of the immigrants who lived and worked along the Blackstone River in the 1800s, to tour throughout the state (Pawtucket, Rhode Island).
  • A community computer network for the exchange of information and ideas to support and advance the implementation of the city's twenty-five year plan to improve its natural environment (Lowell, Massachusetts).
  • A two-part project to 1) offer an intergenerational arts and community service program at the Vermont Arts Exchange, and 2) create historic preservation assessments and architectural reports for ten to twelve units of affordable, intergenerational housing for artists and elders in a preserved mill building (North Bennington, Vermont).
  • A “cultural map” that charts the flow of culture throughout the community, highlighting people and organizations, events and calendars, rituals and traditions (Portland, Maine).

All of the projects in BCC communities are catalysts for change, helping communities identify and celebrate their strengths and draw on their own creative resources. Exemplary of this process was the recent New England Artist Trust Congress IV, organized by BCC Fellows Patryc Wiggins and Kathy Hubert of Newport, New Hampshire. In September 1997, the town of Newport welcomed more than 300 artists for several days of art-making, community installations, seminars, focus groups, and public art. The two BCC Fellows along with many volunteers produced a seamless celebration of Newport's heritage and the role of creativity in pulling the community together. The Congress was also an opportunity for Newport residents and New England artists to learn from one another and to make a lasting impact on this small industrial town in central New Hampshire.

Cultural Traditions and Community Building

“The goal [of community arts] should not be to tell a neighborhood, ‘Lucky you, here are some real artists to come to make art for you,' but to cultivate new artists and new voices from local sources. Good community artists ‘animate' what is already there.”
- Lucy Lippard, The Lure of the Local

As towns and cities throughout the region look for creative ways to revitalize, communities are increasingly turning to local resources — their own cultural heritage and the artists who maintain that heritage — to inform the process. Artists within these communities are often at the center of efforts involving community empowerment, economic development, and cultural tourism. On October 1, 2 and 3, 1998, NEFA will present a major regional conference that will illuminate communities and projects where cultural traditions play a vital role in community regeneration. Local Ingenuity: Engaging Cultural Traditions in Community Building will be held in Portland, Maine and will bring together traditional artists, arts professionals, and other community members to share their experiences and to explore what it takes to do this kind of work.

The purpose of Local Ingenuity is to identify strategies for collaboration and participation. Conferees will have an opportunity to learn about exemplary work happening both in the region and around the country. They will engage in facilitated dialogue with other practitioners around tough questions such as, “Who owns this project?” and “How does a project move from an institutionally-based structure to a community-based structure?” They will explore topics such as community politics, building trust, and money and power. Art critic and writer Lucy Lippard will deliver the keynote address. Ms. Lippard's most recent book is The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society.

Local Ingenuity's evening activities will be associated with the House Island Project (HIP). HIP, a project of Portland Performing Arts, creates programs in response to the aspirations and challenges of Maine's ethnic communities. Participatory activities will include music and dancing with Franco-American musician, Benoit Borque; the Mariachi band, Mariachi Chapala; and Michael Connolly and Claire Foley of Portland's Irish music and dance community. Plans also include a storytelling showcase at a local venue and a film showcase at The Exchange movie house.

New England Dance Project

The New England Dance Project (NEDP), founded in the early 1990's, was an extension of NEFA's efforts to identify and support choreographers, dancers, and their allies, inside and outside the region, whose work enriches our lives. In particular, the NEDP seeks to develop audiences for dance by supporting tours of dance artists and companies to communities throughout New England.

For the 1998-99 season, twelve companies have been selected for touring support thus far: Adam Rudolph's Moving Pictures with Oguri; American Repertory Ballet; Ballet British Columbia; Ballet Folklorico de Veracruz; Chandralekha; DanceBrazil; Doug Elkins Dance Company; Hubbard Street Dance Chicago; Larry Goldhuber and Heidi Latsky; Marta Renzi and the Project Company with Anna Sedlackova; Paul Taylor Dance Company; and Transatlantic Traditions: The Next Generation.

The 1998-99 tours are likely to reach thirty-five presenters across the six New England states, and the companies are based around the globe, from Japan to Czechoslovakia. Particularly noteworthy is the rare tour of Chandralekha, a seminal figure in modern Indian dance whose participation will mark only her second sojourn to the United States.

The advisors for the New England Dance Project are: Laura Faure of the Bates College Dance Festival (Lewiston, Maine); Arnie Malina of the Flynn Theatre (Burlington, Vermont); Jeremy Alliger of Dance Umbrella (Boston, Massachusetts); and Ella Baff, the recently appointed Executive Director of Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival (Becket, Massachusetts).

The New England Dance Project is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Freeman Foundation, and the six New England state arts agencies.

Economic Impact Study

In 1997, NEFA, with Dr. Gregory Wassall of the Northeastern University Department of Economics, completed an update of NEFA's previous economic impact study of cultural organizations in New England. The study, entitled, “Arts, Cultural, and Humanities Organizations in the New England Economy, 1996,” makes clear that arts and cultural organizations in the region make notable contributions to New England's economy via admissions fees, organizational spending, employment, tax revenues, and overall economic impact.

For the study, a total of 9,841 organizations were identified and classified by budget size using both state arts agency and IRS records. Information on total income for 5,262 of these organizations was obtained from public information made available by the IRS. This data was combined with information taken from 685 questionnaires completed by a wide range of cultural organizations in the region, and projections were made based on the two sets of data. The survey demonstrates conclusively that the cultural sector is larger and more economically significant than previous studies revealed.

New England's arts, cultural, and humanities industry, as measured by 9,841 organizations, in fiscal year 1995-96:

  • Created a total economic impact of $3.895 billion, including indirect and induced spending of $1.555 billion.
  • Had 99,469,331 admissions to its events, or 7.5 times the entire population of New England. In contrast, attendance at the six professional major league sports teams operating in New England during their most recently completed seasons totaled 5.1 million, about one-twentieth the number of total admissions to cultural events in the same year.
  • Spent a total of $2.340 billion, of which, $1.183 billion was for employee compensation, $840 million was for other operating expenses, $236 million was for fees for contracted services, and $80 million was for capital expenditures.
  • Provided 111,270 jobs, 25,232 of which were full-time. Counted among these employed persons are 44,067 artists and humanists.
  • Received $2.353 billion in income, of which $1.227 billion was earned, $624 million was from foundation, corporate, and individual donations, $246 million was from federal, state, and local government donations, and $256 million was in the form of interest and transfers from endowments.
  • Collected and/or paid $100.9 million in federal income and social security taxes, and $24.9 million in state income and sales taxes.
  • Benefited from the help of 425,947 volunteers, who contributed nine million unpaid hours of assistance.

The report has received extensive press coverage throughout the region, and has been used for advocacy purposes by both politicians and arts professionals.

The study was produced with support from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, the Maine Arts Commission, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, the Rhode Island Foundation, and the Vermont Arts Council. Staff support was provided by the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. Data collection and processing were conducted by NEFA's Connections Fund, under the direction of Dr. Douglas DeNatale.