Editorial: Lebanon Arts and Culture Task Force Is a Great Idea

  • The fountain at Lebanon's Glenwood Cemetery on Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017, at Glenwood Cemetery in Lebanon, N.H. The group hoping to restore the fountain says they are thousands of dollars short of the goal. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Charles Hatcher

Published: 4/5/2018 10:10:00 PM
Modified: 4/5/2018 10:10:08 PM

Public art is often characterized, or caricatured, as “murals, monuments, memorials and mimes.” While we are officially agnostic on the subject of mimes, we believe strongly that murals, monuments and other forms of public art have the power to move us as individuals, inspire us as members of a community and unite us as citizens of our country.

They also can be good for business.

For those reasons and more, the Lebanon City Council’s recent decision to form a Task Force on Arts and Culture is a terrific one. As staff writer Tim Camerato reported on Monday, the nine-member panel will include city officials and representatives from Lebanon’s many arts and cultural organizations who will spend the next six months coming up with a plan to foster the creation, display and promotion of public art in the city.

“There’s an opportunity for Lebanon here to take the lead and we have incredible resources,” Mayor Sue Prentiss told Camerato. “We have gems within our own community that are just doing tremendous work.”

Representatives from some of those gems — the AVA Gallery and Art Center, Lebanon Opera House, the Upper Valley Music Center — had already been discussing ways to enhance the art scene around Colburn Park, but they knew they’d need the city’s help. After discussing the idea with members of the city’s arts community, seeing what other communities have done and conducting some research into the economic benefits of a vibrant arts scene, Prentiss introduced the idea of an arts task force to her fellow councilors.

Their unanimous vote in favor of the proposal wasn’t all that surprising, of course, since the arts and culture industry — the creative economy — lately has been recognized as a significant economic engine. According to Americans for the Arts, a Washington-based nonprofit organization, there are 3,170 arts-related businesses in New Hampshire that employ 16,587 people. (Vermont boasts 2,021 arts businesses with 6,874 employees.) In 2015, arts and culture generated $166 billion in economic activity nationally. Those are hard numbers to ignore, and if the task force is successful, it can help Lebanon get its fair share of that.

Fortunately, this isn’t the city’s first civic arts rodeo. Volunteers and members of Lebanon’s business community have been working for more than two decades to restore the public water features that long ago gave Lebanon its nickname, City of Fountains. And in 2005, the city formed a committee to look at ways to support civic art, an effort that helped lay the groundwork for the Community Design and Civic Art section found in Lebanon’s Master Plan.

But those earlier efforts also introduce a note of caution. The 2005 committee wanted to commit 1 to 2 percent of Lebanon’s capital improvement budget to the civic art effort, an idea that failed to garner support. And the Fountain Working Group, after successfully restoring six of the city’s fountains, has been having difficulty raising money to complete the restoration of the fountain at Glenwood Cemetery, where some of the city’s Civil War veterans and prominent residents and business leaders dating back to the 1880s are buried.

In light of that, once Lebanon’s task force gets itself organized, it might want to consider trying to establish creative partnerships with its neighbors. Hanover, for example, boasts all the cultural resources of Dartmouth College, and in Hartford, the village of White River Junction is continuing its arts-based renaissance. While each municipality is rightly protective of its identity and competitive standing, working together to promote the whole region’s cultural offerings — and that includes music and theatrical performances, museums, galleries and studios, as well as civic art displays — would spread the cost as well as broaden the appeal.

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