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Arts & Artists  

gaaward2005 Governors Arts Awards

Community Spirit Award Recipient
City of Portsmouth

In 1999, Mayor Evelyn Sirrell enacted a Blue Ribbon Committee on the Arts and Culture to develop a cultural plan for the City of Portsmouth. The Committee was chaired by a city Councilor, Joanne Grasso, and led to the finalized plan entitled Community Life and the Arts of Portsmouth. The plan identifies goals in six areas; preservation, space, youth, business, marketing, and creation of a cultural agency. The Portsmouth city Council approved the plan in December 2001. The announcement of the finalized plan was shared throughout the community.

The City implemented one of the master plan recommendations by establishing a Cultural Commission, that came to be known as “Art-Speak.” The City appointed the Art-Speak board and through some annual funding from Portsmouth’s Economic Development Commission, they acquired office space and hired a part-time coordinator. Art-Speak’s formal purpose is “to promote appreciation, awareness, participation, and dialogue in the support of arts and culture. The City Cultural Commission and/or Arts-Speak shall perform these services for the citizens of the City of Portsmouth, its City Council and all artists and art/cultural-related organizations in the Seacoast community.”

Since its beginning, Art-Speak has represented the City on issues related to cultural activities, artist marketing and public art programs. The City also recently formed a trust fund for arts and culture. The City provides space for some cultural organizations and, through Art-Speak, is becoming active in seeking cultural workforce housing solutions, including studio space for artists in various disciplines. The City provides space at no cost to the Children’s Museum of Portsmouth, the Player’s Ring Theatre, and Ballet New England. The City provided loans for the development of the new W.E.S.T. Theatre space that now houses Pontine Movement Theatre and the New Hampshire Theatre Project.

Also, the City broke ground for a new public library in 2005. The building is designed as an environmental model for future development by using “green,” or environmentally sensitive building materials and techniques. Through Art-Speak, the City has also submitted a proposal for the study of the Islington Street corridor and the West End as an Arts District – the area now includes the Button Factory artist studios, W.E.S.T. Theatre, and property under consideration as a live/work artist studio space.

“Portsmouth faces a challenge in figuring out the optimal municipal role in supporting cultural vitality. Portsmouth’s blend of arts, history, and culture evolved over centuries. Poets, painters, craftspeople, and preservationists have shaped local history largely independent of city government until more recent years. Current local leaders understand that government doesn’t create the type of cultural buzz that attracts people to Portsmouth, but they also recognize that government can be an important partner in creating the conditions that make it possible for culture to thrive” Beth Shepard-Rabadam, first Coordinator of Art-Speak.

‘The City’s ‘community spirit’ for art not only supports, but also fosters the cultural community, creating initiatives to ensure that it remains an integral part of our city. The annual influx of tourists to this area is a very visible acknowledgement of the success of the efforts, but more importantly, I believe, is the quieter, ongoing support and enjoyment by the residents of this City.” Robin McIntosh, Chair, Portsmouth Citywide Neighborhood Committee.

“Whether it’s working on affordable housing for artists, sponsoring art exhibits, encouraging and supporting artistic events, or being perhaps New Hampshire’s only city with its own Poet Laureate Program, Portsmouth has embraced the arts and woven them into its future.” John Tabor, publisher of Seacoast Newspapers and Co-Chair of Portsmouth Listens.



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