Opportunities aplenty for M.V. as an artistic center

Opportunities aplenty for M.V. as an artistic center

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Ann Markusen discussed art and economy at Arts M.V.’s annual meeting.

Ann Markusen brought her expertise on the relationship between art and economy to the Arts M.V. annual meeting on Monday. — Photo by Kelsey Perrett

The annual meeting of Arts Martha’s Vineyard at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on Monday, March 31, featured keynote speaker Ann Markusen, a researcher who studies how art and economy drive one another.

Ms. Markusen, the director of the Arts Economy Initiative at the University of Minnesota and the president of Markusen Economic Research Services, discussed her findings in studies such as “Creative Placemaking,” and “Artists’ Centers,” which focus on geographic areas where the economy has been revitalized due to a connection with the artistic community. Ms. Markusen said creative placemaking is all about creating partnerships, and giving regions a physical and social character “with arts and culture activities at the core.”

Members of the Arts Martha’s Vineyard board were quick to point out that the Vineyard already has many of these characteristics, but there is room for growth.

One way Arts Martha’s Vineyard hopes to further the Island’s artistic character is by having Vineyard Haven designated a cultural district by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. According to Nancy Gardella of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, “a walkable, geographic area of about one mile” would enhance the focus on the galleries and other artistic venues in the Vineyard Haven Harbor area. Her colleague Christine Flynn affirmed, “what’s good for one town is good for the Island.”

After Ms. Markusen’s talk, which outlined the emergence of arts districts in locales from inner-city Detroit to rural villages across the country, the floor was opened for a Q&A session.

Artist Renee Balter brought up the two deserted theaters in Oak Bluffs, noting that if Oak Bluffs was to undergo any future renovations, these buildings “seem like the perfect place to start.” Ms. Markusen replied that one solution for keeping these theaters thriving might be to offer them up for occasions other than movies, such as lower-profile performances and charity events. She also emphasized that to make such drastic changes, “you need a core of devoted people.” Ms. Flynn reassured the audience that a master plan for the Oak Bluffs streetscape was in the works, and “the town is excited about taking the next step.”

Ann Smith, of Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs, questioned how the arts scene could better engage the Island’s aging population, or as she called it, “the silver tsunami.” Ms. Markusen suggested that art could be used as a form of healing. “Our health care providers are relatively rich,” Ms. Markusen said, noting that providers could “overcome the distance between audiences and creators” by buying art and putting on performances, like dances, for the elderly population.

Other Islanders, like Phyllis Vecchia, raised the question of affordability for artists seeking Island housing or studio space. Ms. Markusen affirmed that “artists have different needs for spaces” than other professionals, and that it was important to look into renovation opportunities.

Most importantly, said Ms. Markusen, “It’s about building support for the arts in the community and the government.”


  1. A lovely thought, but the core issue is affordability. Think of the typical gentrified neighborhood. Artists move in to a bad neighborhood braving violence and a culture of despair. A few adventurous art enthusiasts brave the journey and discover the artist. They tell their friends over cocktails about the adventure, and more follow.

    At this time mostly young urban professionals seeking some feeling of life outside the corporate machine start buying up large spaces at a song and renovating them into hipster lofts. This gathers momentum, and soon the original inhabitants are forced out of the neighborhood if they rent, or are too tempted by the money to stay if they are owners.

    Farm to Table restaurants and ironic watering holes pop up. Then Starbucks opens a store. Whole Foods next.

    Well, the Vineyard sure does have the poverty. And a lot of derelict buildings. But the real estate prices are already out of the reach of most struggling artists. And the cost of living is quite high.

    There is a very nice arts scene here. You don’t have to be poor to be good. And you can scrape by even with the high costs if you are willing to work a lot.

    Now, if some wealthy benefactors would make a retreat available to artists here, you might have a plan. A year on the island to work on your art. Travel and living expenses covered. Materials as well.

    But pulling the old lets take a bunch of run down buildings and create a vibrant art scene? That isn’t how it works.