Katie Collins (LNH 2007) Director of Development at Capitol Center for the Arts
LNH Board of Trustees, Alumni Committee and Marketing Committee Chair
The speakers for the day included Byron Champlin, (LNH alum and trustee) , of Lincoln Financial, and a key player in Concord’s creative economy efforts, Rebecca Lavoie from NH Public Radio, and Debbie Watrous, (my friend and carpool buddy also an LNH alum and trustee), Executive Director of the NH Humanities Council. Byron started the day off strong by asking for a show of hands from the associates as to who had heard of the creative economy and quoting from Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class about how young people and entrepreneurs from the creative class live in places that reinforce that sense of creativity . Byron then moved on to recount how my late boss and friend, M. T. Mennino, then executive director of the Capitol Center for the Arts, insisted that the arts have a seat at the table when the city addressed economic activity and development. I flashed back to the summer of 2005 when M.T. came back to the office after a meeting about whether Red River Independent Cinemas would be built on the site of the old Sears block. “It’s a no brainer!” I remember her shouting with her usual exuberance. I wondered how she would feel today seeing the rich array of offerings at Red River and the energy it sparked in the redevelopment of the south end of Concord, a story reinforced by Byron who described the creative energy that went into developing the Smile and Love thy Neighbor buildings on south Main Street which now house the League of NH Craftsmen, the Concord Chamber of Commerce, Gibson’s Independent Bookstore, True Brew Baristas, and the NH Furniture Masters, as well as a CATCH housing development (named Mennino Place in M.T.’s memory) that has dedicated housing for artists. The role of the creative economy has been expanded in Concord to include a standing committee of the Chamber of Commerce, as a way to fully integrate the arts into economic development and planning. Byron was, as always, an impassioned advocate for the importance and power of the arts to a community from an economic stand point (fun fact: out of town arts attendees spend 80% more than local attendees in a community when attending an arts performance) but a philosophical stand point as well.
There was a brief break in between speakers so I snuck across the hall to watch the performance by the Ivers and was swept up by the spirit of the kids in attendance, just as I am when the Capitol Center plays host to hundreds of young ones for a School Series performance. There is something about watching young people engage in the shared experience of watching live performance that can’t be put into words.
Following the break Rebecca Lavoie presented an insightful and engaging update on the state of public radio and media, focusing in particular how the internet and “news “ sites such as Buzzfeed (of which I am an abashed fan, I mean who hasn’t taken a random Buzzfeed quiz and thought ‘huh I AM Jane Eyre/Australia/the color Turquoise/Clair Underwood”? Just me? Ok. Moving on) are changing the face of news outlets including NHPR. Over the last 15 years the news staff at NHPR has been halved as more and more get their news from social media and the internet. As Rebecca noticed the incredible power of Facebook a shout went up from the audience across the hall as if to echo her sentiment. Rebecca detailed NHPR’s shift to incorporating more digital content of which she is the editor, focusing on environment, politics and arts and culture. As someone who works regularly with NHPR on promotion of Capitol Center shows I was particularly fascinated to learn of this part of their work of which I wasn’t very knowledgeable.
My dear friend and former co-worker Debbie Watrous was up next on behalf of the NH Humanities Council and asked the class the question “how are the humanities a part of your life?” The answers varied and there was a slightly frustrating side track to address the issue of humanities departments in colleges and universities coming under fire and fewer young people undertaking the study of the humanities. While this may , in fact be true, neither of these points have much to do with what the Humanities Council does- offer free public programs that create opportunities for the exchange of ideas and civil discussion around larger issues of human meaning. At times I found myself sitting on the edge of my chair wanting to burst out and ask why this seemed such a tough concept for many to grasp. When one associate commented about humanities majors being fine job candidates and said “why doesn’t the business world get it?” I wanted to interject ‘why don’t you guys get it?” Then I remembered I worked at the Humanities Council for seven years and phrases like “civil exchange of ideas” were familiar and comfortable to me like a favorite sweater, and I would feel just as lost sitting in a conversation about FDIC regulations or the intricacies of the American Bar. Debbie did a great job bringing the conversation back to the kinds of ways the associates could incorporate the humanities into their lives and I think sparked some new ways of thinking. As Debbie’s presentation drew to a close a found myself thinking how “New Hampshire” the day had been in that I have partnered with Byron to obtain critical support for the arts organizations I represented for over 20 years now, he’s a friend, a colleague, a former board chair and an ongoing source of advice and support. Debbie and I have known each other for over 20 years as well, as co workers, colleagues, friends and now co-trustees. Rebecca and her husband have been strong supporters of the arts, and I’ve worked with her and her colleagues at NHPR to promote arts and culture programs for years. Only in New Hampshire’s small, tough and supportive arts community would I know so well all three featured speakers on a session day.
After lunch and some great conversation I got to hear what arts opportunities members of the class had attended as well as what media they consumed on a regular basis. The answers were as varied as the individuals in the class and I found myself nodding along, laughing, and being impressed with their diverse experiences. I was unable to stay for the afternoon site visits as I had to head back down the now dry 89 to prepare to greet our audiences at that evening’s performance of “Memphis” at the Capitol Center. It was a day well spent, a day that energized me around my work in this often underappreciated, chronically underfunded field and a day that as usual, made me very,very proud to be a part of Leadership NH.