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News & Calendar  

August 2018
New Hampshire’s Artistic Legacy

contra dance

New Hampshire’s landscape has long been a source of attraction and inspiration.  For hundreds of years, visitors have flocked to our state to enjoy our mountains, lakes and rivers, beaches and towns steeped in New England heritage.  Artists, too, were drawn to our state; many stayed and built the foundation of our vibrant statewide arts community.

Since 1965, New Hampshire State Council on the Arts has worked to promote and support their work, furthering the impact of the arts on all New Hampshire residents and communities. Our artists have gifted us with an extraordinary legacy; by providing funding and a range of support, the State Arts Council nurtures that legacy for future generations and for the benefit of all.  

Not everyone knows about New Hampshire’s role as the origin for arts and crafts in our country, and yet many artistic movements began right here.  In the 1850’s, the White Mountain School of Art launched a new generation of plein air artists; their work solidified New Hampshire’s reputation as a place of great beauty, leading to a boom of grand hotels and an era when people arrived by the thousands to enjoy our iconic landscape.   

In the 19th and into the 20th centuries, New Hampshire art colonies in Cornish, Peterborough and Dublin attracted influential painters, authors, poets and musicians.  Forming vibrant creative communities, they came together to share their ideas about art and the American identity.  The colonies thrived, as did the emerging body of American artwork – formative works that now grace museum walls and performance halls worldwide, and capture the spirit of our nation.

New Hampshire is also home to the first fine crafts organization in the country.  This August, the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen will host its 85th Annual Craftsmen’s Fair featuring the work of more than 300 juried craftsmen.  The event expects to welcome 25,000 visitors from NH and across the U.S. and Canada. 

The Barnstormer’s Theatre in Tamworth and Peterborough’s Peterborough Players, two of the nation’s oldest professional summer theatres, established a strong foothold to enable the emergence of both summer and year-round theatre in towns and cities across New Hampshire.  Robert Frost, a poet known and loved by Americans for a century, helped to establish the Granite State’s reputation as an inspiration and home for poets and writers of all genres. 

New Hampshire has a long tradition of social dancing that continues today in the weekly convening of contra dances in local town halls and churches.  These are true multigenerational gatherings, where children and adults aged one to 100 dance side-by-side and arm-in-arm in joyful celebration of movement and community. 

Of course, any account of our artistic heritage would be incomplete without recognizing New Hampshire’s Native American communities:  the Abenaki people who lived and flourished here long before European settlers arrived.  Their own significant legacy – crafts, music, dance and more – is vibrantly presented and shared at the Mount Kearsarge Indian Museum, ensuring that their ancient culture and traditions are preserved as a formative part of our New Hampshire identity. 

We are, in truth, the product of our artistic heritage – this fabric of expression and experience that, over countless generations, has become so interwoven into our increasingly diverse community ecosystem that we don’t necessarily notice its impact on our daily lives.  Yet it’s undeniable:  the arts are a pervasive presence in our communities today.

Right here in our own cities and small towns, photographers, painters, musicians, dancers, theatre professionals, writers, poets, media artists, traditional and Native American artists and craftsmen continue to practice and sell their art.  They are our neighbors, friends and family.  Some work in quiet pursuit of their craft, while others mobilize and lead our communities – yet all contribute significantly to the quality of life every one of us enjoys here in New Hampshire.  As artists and arts businesses, they are the backbone of our creative economy, the heartbeat of our communities today and the curators of our creative legacy for the future.

We invite you to join our email list and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about New Hampshire State Council on the Arts and our work to support the arts and the creative economy in the Granite State.


Photos (top to bottom):

  • Contra dance - Photo by Amanda Bastoni
  • Berlin Community Mural Project
  • Historic photo from The Barnstormers Theatre
  • Demonstration at American Independence Festival, Exeter
  • Performance at Prescott Park, Portsmouth
WREN mural
historic Barnstormers
blacksmith at festival
Prescott Park show


Last updated: August 6, 2018


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