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Vivian Beer, winner of Ellen’s Design Challenge. Courtesy photo.




Creative scene
Looking at arts and culture in 2016

12/29/16
By Kelly Sennott ksennott@hippopress.com



 New Hampshire State Council on the Arts Director Ginnie Lupi saw two major themes in New Hampshire’s 2016 creative scene. One was community-centric art.

“A lot of what occurred this year really focused on community. Several makerspaces opened up,” Lupi said via phone, mentioning the Manchester Makerspace and Claremont MakerSpace. “A few towns celebrated their 250th anniversary and had community projects to create murals or mosaics — and these projects also involved a great deal of community participation.”
She also noticed many artists and organizations utilized art to tackle social or political issues, from the opioid crisis and climate change to immigration and discrimination, which were played out in many of the 2016 art scene’s defining moments. Here are some highlights.
 
New leadership
The New Hampshire arts community mourned the loss of New Hampshire Department of Cultural Resources Commissioner Van McLeod, who died this summer. State Librarian Michael York stepped in to serve as acting commissioner.
“There’s been a lot of incredible outpouring of love and admiration — he was one in a million, for sure,” Lupi said.
Currier Museum of Art Director Susan Strickler stepped down after 20 years, and Alan Chong took her place this fall. Symphony New Hampshire’s Executive Director Eric Valliere also stepped down and was replaced by Marc Thayer, and so did Red River Theatres Executive Director Shelly Hudson, who will be replaced by Angie Lane.
 
Political and social issues
The election scene made its way into many art shows.
One was artist Joseph Wardwell’s “Soon I Will Be President” at Southern New Hampshire University’s McIninch Art Gallery, and another was the Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s play 45 Plays for 45 Presidents by Andy Bayiates, Sean Benjamin, Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, Chloe Johnston and Karen Weinberg. The Milford Area Players presented the play Frost/Nixon, about Richard Nixon’s interview with David Frost, and in Portsmouth, Catherine Stewart wrote and directed a play at the West End Studio Theatre called She Will Lead: Women in Politics. This fall, the New Hampshire Master Chorale held a program celebrating women, “Eve, Absinthe, Alice,” in part to commemorate how far women have come this year in politics.
Many social issues were also explored in art this year. 
One was trans rights, which was played out in an art show organized by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and Rights & Democracy, “This is What Trans Feels Like.” It was at Studio 550 this summer and visits the Wrong Brain Art Collective in Dover this winter. McGowan Fine Art hosted “Trans Pose,” featuring artwork by trans artist and NHIA grad Catherine Graffam, and Andy’s Summer Playhouse hosted professional artists Alex Gino and Jess M. Barbagallo, who adapted Gino’s book about a transgender fourth-grader, George, to the stage.
Another was immigration, evident in Currier Museum of Art’s “Our City: Manchester through Children’s Eyes,” featuring portraits and profiles of new Americans from Manchester’s Inti Academy.
 
Moves and expansions
The year 2016 saw lots of shuffling around for many arts organizations. 
Earlier this year, the Majestic Theatre purchased the Ted Herbert Music School, and this winter it moves from the Bell building to a new location at 880 Page St. in Manchester. The artists in Nashua’s Picker Building moved to a new home at 3 Pine St., Nashua, and the Seacoast Artist Association took up residence at 130 Water St., Exeter. Farther north, the Place Studio and Gallery moved to the Concord Community Arts Center.
Some venues underwent major expansions in terms of space or offerings; the Andres Institute of Art in Brookline acquired the Big Bear Lodge at 106 Route 13, Brookline, and Nashua-based Positive Street Art opened a new pop-up gallery at 175 Main St., Nashua.
The Seacoast Repertory Theatre found some stability at 125 Bow St., entering a long-term renewable lease with the Bow Street Theatre Trust, and the New Hampshire Theatre Project became the sole tenant of the West End Studio Theatre in Portsmouth. 
In Concord, the New Hampshire Film and Television Office became a “full-blown” division in the New Hampshire Department of Cultural Resources, “Which speaks to the recognition of the importance of that industry in New Hampshire,” Lupi said.
 
New organizations & big events
Start-ups in 2016 include the Hatbox Theatre in Concord; the Scriven Arts Colony in Gilmanton; and the Manchester Makerspace and D.M. Penny Press, a makerspace and open printmaking studio, respectively, in the Queen City.
The state’s literary community went Shakespeare-crazy this spring, with many Shakespeare-related events to honor the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Highlights included the Currier Museum of Art’s display of Shakespeare’s First Folio and the Seven Stages Shakespeare Company’s marathon reading of the bard’s history plays at Throwback Brewery. 
Symphony New Hampshire Music Director Jonathan McPhee pulled off the enormous feat of editing and conducting an abridged version of Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” in two concerts made up of musicians from Symphony New Hampshire and the Lexington Symphony. 
 
Public art
Local towns have caught on to the public art craze; both Nashua and Manchester saw pianos installed outside in their respective downtowns for public use, and both saw new visual art added to downtown landscapes.
In Manchester, James Chase created a mural at the Manchester Makerspace, and many other artists decorated traffic signal boxes as part of the city’s “Outside the Box” program. In Nashua, the city’s annual sculpture symposium brought new art to downtown, as did Totem Poems, a downtown display of poetry by local middle-schoolers, and Positive Street Art, whose latest mural contains images from Hollywood screen favorites like It’s a Wonderful Life, The Blob and The Three Stooges. In Concord, the biggest public art addition was a mural painted by local high schoolers honoring Haley Rae Martin, who died of an overdose in 2012.
 
Birthdays and important moments
The Riverbend Youth Company presented its 100th production in November, West Side Story, at the Amato Center for the Performing Arts in Milford, and both the Manchester Artist Association and Exeter Fine Crafts turned 50 in 2016.
Many New Hampshire artists saw big moments in 2016. One was Hollis teen Caroline Burns, a finalist on The Voice who earned the role of Brooklyn in the national tour of Brooklyn: The Musical. Manchester furniture maker Vivian Beer won Ellen’s Design Challenge, a furniture-designing competition headed by TV personality Ellen DeGeneres, and Peterborough author Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus was a finalist for the National Book Award. 





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