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Arts MV

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Speakers Monday spoke about the challenges and successes of the Island art scene.

David White, artistic and executive director of The Yard, moderated a discussion with Barr Foundation Senior program officer E. San San Wong and NEFA Executive Director Cathy Edwards. – Photos by Michael Cummo

Representatives of many of the Island’s arts organizations, as well as individual artists and members of the general public, gathered at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on Monday afternoon for the Arts Martha’s Vineyard annual meeting. An hour long presentation gave attendees the opportunity to see what the four-year-old organization has accomplished in the past year, and to hear about arts-based initiatives in Boston and around New England.

The speakers invited for this year’s event were Cathy Edwards, executive director of the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), and E. San San Wong, who is the arts and culture senior program officer for Boston’s privately funded Barr Foundation.

Arts Martha’s Vineyard was founded in 2011 to promote, foster, and increase awareness — both on- and off-Island — of the arts and culture on Martha’s Vineyard. Among the initiatives launched by Arts M.V. are the Fall for the Arts and Spring for the Arts annual events, and the establishment of a state-recognized Cultural District in Vineyard Haven.

Prior to introducing the speakers at the Monday gathering, Ann Smith, executive director of the Featherstone Center for the Arts, gave a short introduction. Among other things, she cited the statistic that the “creative economy” comprises 10 percent of Martha’s Vineyard’s economy. She said that the arts are the third largest Island industry, after tourism and the service industry.

Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, gave a rundown on some of Arts M.V.’s accomplishments for the past year. Citing feedback from local businesses and transportation providers, she noted that the four-year-old Fall for the Arts initiative has proven a successful draw for shoulder-season tourism. She also announced that the signage designating the Vineyard Haven Harbor Cultural District will be in place in the next couple of weeks.

David White, artistic and executive director of The Yard dance residency and performance center, moderated a panel talk by the two visiting speakers, Ms. Edwards and Ms. Wong. Each woman spoke at length about initiatives recently launched by their individual organizations. Ms. Wong, who serves on the steering committee for the City of Boston’s cultural planning process, also spoke about how the current Boston administration has proven very supportive of the arts.

Ms. Smith added to the conversation by announcing that Arts Martha’s Vineyard will be hosting a talk at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse with Matt Wilson of MASS Creative as part of the Spring for the Arts initiative. Mr. Wilson will address the issue of grassroots organizing around the arts, on a date to be determined.

Both Ms. Edwards and Ms. Wong stressed that they had seen arts entities in Boston and New England have success by collaborating with fellow artists and sharing work and information, both personally and digitally.

A post-talk Q & A drew not so much questions for the two speakers as commentary on some local collaborative initiatives. Sue Dawson, co-owner of the Alison Shaw Gallery in Oak Bluffs, spoke about the former Oak Bluffs Arts District, which, in her words, “imploded” after some of the anchor businesses pulled out of the Dukes County Avenue neighborhood. Peter Simon of the Simon Gallery described his plan for hosting a weekly gallery stroll/salon along Main Street, Vineyard Haven. He said that a brief experiment last fall did not prove very successful, but that he hopes to reintroduce the idea in the summer. Artist Washington Ledesma encouraged other artists to set up collaborative businesses, as he and nine other local artists have done in establishing the Night Heron gallery in Vineyard Haven. He talked about the advantages of pooling resources, and drew a laugh when, in his heavy Uruguayan accent, he said of the gallery, “It’s eight women and two men, the perfect marriage.”


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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.”