The arts help fuel Martha’s Vineyard’s economic engine

The arts help fuel Martha’s Vineyard’s economic engine

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Summer concerts on the lawn at Featherstone are one of the Island's many cultural and artistic attractions. — File photo by Meg Higgins

Media representatives from across the Island and WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR station, gathered at the Harbor View Hotel Tuesday for a panel discussion about presenting and promoting local arts and culture. The event was the fourth in the “Creative Economy Brown Bag Lunch Speaker Series” held Tuesdays in October. It was sponsored by Arts Martha’s Vineyard, a collaboration of members of the Vineyard’s arts, culture, and business communities, including the Martha’s Vineyard Times, to promote and support the arts on the Vineyard.

The collaboration has been sponsoring Fall for the Arts, a month-long celebration with a packed calendar of events, including the Tuesday speaker series. Fall for the Arts culminates this weekend with an “Art*Island” festival at the Harbor View featuring arts presentations, social events, and a Sunday afternoon of children’s activities.

Patrick Phillips, publisher of Martha’s Vineyard Arts and Ideas magazine, introduced the creative economy theme. Not only fine and performing arts, the term encompasses many varieties of creative endeavor and related activities. Mr. Phillips said that creative activity here involves more than 647 businesses, which contribute 10.2 percent, or some $52 million, to the overall Island economy.

Ann Smith, director of Featherstone Center for the Arts and chairman of Arts Martha’s Vineyard, facilitated the 90-minute discussion.

Speakers included Peter Oberfest, co-publisher of the Martha’s Vineyard Times; Greg Orcutt, general manager of WMVY; Steve Warriner, executive director for MVTV; Rob Myers representing WVVY; Mathea Morais, editor of Martha’s Vineyard Patch, an online newspaper; Bill Eville, The Vineyard Gazette’s art and features editor; and Mindy Todd, managing director of editorial at WCAI.

Asked about bringing arts and culture news to the public, panelists pointed to their events listings and announcements, whether in calendar listings or public service announcements (PSAs). They encourage arts and cultural groups to contribute information for publication.

All the media representatives said that community participation and input is crucial to their ability to do a good job and make more complete information available to the public. Some, like WVVY, the Island’s community radio station, and MVTV, welcome local residents to the studio to create their own programming. Martha’s Vineyard Patch relies heavily on community contributions from calendar listings to stories, photos, and blogs. Newspaper editors also welcome story ideas and tips, and Ms. Todd said WCAI is always on the lookout for suggestions.

Mr. Oberfest said that despite the vast amount going on here, the Times works hard to be attentive to and encompass as many different interests and activities as possible. Arts and creative endeavors are extremely important to the Island in many ways, he said, and crucial to a healthy community, “because of how they influence the way the rest of us see things and interpret them.” Many Vineyarders work in the arts, he said, and many residents and visitors are passionate about them. Arts activities often benefit philanthropic causes, they contribute to the economy, and they enhance the Island as a destination, he added.

When publicizing the arts, Mr. Oberfest said the priority is to present clear basic information, and then provide context and illuminate the information with short items and stories. Mr. Oberfest stressed the importance of community input.

“The more the participants in the creative economy help us do our job the better we can do it,” he said.

Along with broadcasting PSAs and emphasizing local music and musicians in its programming, Greg Orcutt said that WMVY’s staff reach out to the community in other ways. Several volunteer with students, introducing them to the workings of radio.

He also noted that besides broadcasting via radio to the Cape, Islands, and surrounding area, WMVY has a 24-hour a day online presence, greatly increasing its listenership. He said that this enables the station to promote local musical talent and the Island itself to a much wider audience.

Stephen Warriner, executive director of MVTV, listed several shows that often feature interviews with creative Vineyarders. He said MVTV offers educational opportunities, enabling residents to learn various aspects of television production, and conducted a summer video camp in cooperation with Featherstone. Islanders may create their own PSAs or shows in the studio.

“Our greater purpose is to give voice to members of the community that might not get that opportunity,” said Rob Myers, a musician with his own show on WVVY. He said because the community radio station established in 2006 is entirely volunteer-run it is not profit-driven and “can be that voice the mainstream media does not necessarily speak for.”

Mr. Myers said WVVY can be “glue for the community,” bringing together diverse interests and subjects.

As editor of Martha’s Vineyard Patch, Mathea Morais works on her own, writing articles and managing an events calendar, blogs, and stories from contributors.

“I know how it is to be an artist and support yourself in the arts,” said Ms. Morais, a writer whose husband is a painter. “I cover as much about creative economy and creative people on the Island as I can.”

Ms. Morais writes a weekly “Artist in Residence” feature spotlighting talented Vineyarders.

With cooperation from poet William Waterway, she runs a “Sunday Afternoon Poem,” giving local poets the chance to publish their work.

“I have a really wonderful job, to cover the arts, but it’s a really difficult job because we just can’t cover everything,” said Bill Eville. He pointed to the Vineyard Gazette’s calendar listings, short subjects, and feature stories as ways the newspaper publicizes arts and culture. He said the paper’s newly launched website holds great potential for arts coverage.

There is a summer deluge of off-Island talent and events, Mr. Eville said. “But it’s great when September comes to really focus on the community.”

Fresh from the ferry after airing her daily show, “The Point,” Mindy Todd said WCAI’s programming frequently focuses on the arts. “We have a lot of creative people on the Cape and Islands,” she said. Their stories are heard on both “The Point,” and the “Creative Life” series which is aired on alternate Fridays. Local artists are often heard in mini-interviews too.

Ms. Todd said the station will soon improve its signal and is developing a partnership with Richard Paradise of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society that may lead to producing some programs on the Island, using the new theater as a studio.

A lively discussion followed on several topics, including what makes a good press release, the elements of a compelling story, the knotty question of how to know if promotional information is reaching the desired audience, and the value of collaboration rather than competition among artists.

“When the water rises, it floats all boats,” said Ms. Todd.