Newton Cultural Development working to help fund art projects in city

In an effort to connect its residents, support local businesses, and help the artistic community recover from the pandemic’s financial impact, Newton Cultural Development is working with local nonprofits, organizations and individuals to fund and organize art projects in the city, including artist-painted doors and live-streamed concerts.

Paula Gannon, the director of Newton Cultural Development, said art plays a part in helping residents cope with the pandemic.

“Art initiatives during this time have such a positive impact on our community,” Gannon said. “It is how we connect. It is what takes us out of the moment of anxiety, stress and pain, and can transport us somewhere else.”

Gloria Gavris, chair of directors of Newton Community Pride, a nonprofit that helps fund and organize art, cultural, and community events in the city, said the pandemic has had a severe impact on local arts and culture. While some businesses and organizations managed to adapt, she said, others struggled.

“Some were much more adept at learning and educating themselves in terms of taking their audience and their organization to pivot to an online format, and others not so much,” Gavris said. “That’s why you see some nonprofits struggling in the community as well as small businesses and others thriving because they have been able to pivot successfully.”

As the pandemic hit Newton last year, many of its art and culture offices and organizations had to temporarily shut down and reinvent themselves, turning to outdoors and online events instead.

At Newton Theatre Company, student registrations have gone down by about 75 percent in the pandemic, said Melissa Bernstein, the company’s artistic director. Most of the students left will graduate from the program soon, so Bernstein said she anticipates more challenges in the future.

“It will be like almost starting from scratch again in the Fall if we can get a place to be in person with the kids, so I think that will be our biggest struggle and the biggest effect for us,” Bernstein said.

Despite the impacts of the pandemic, Bernstein said the company continued with live online plays, which have grown a national audience, allowing them to keep a lot of their actors.

Gena Hooper performing in a virtual play, "It's A Wonderful Life," in December, 2020.
Gena Hooper performing in a virtual play, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” in December, 2020.Photo courtesy of Melissa Bernstein

Due to the pandemic, arts and culture nonprofits around the country have lost an estimated $15.03 billion as of Jan. 25, according to data from Americans for the Arts. At the individual level, 63 percent of artists have become unemployed, and 95 percent have reported a loss in income.

Newton’s Cultural Council received a record of 69 grant applications for the creation of art in the city this year in comparison to 55 from last year, said Christopher Pitts, the council’s co-chair.

Pitts said it is important to fund local artists because they don’t have as much access to governmental support.

“The problem with artists is that many of them are not on any kind of payroll,” he said.

For 2021, Newton Cultural Development plans to pair up with local nonprofits, organizations and individuals to revive arts and culture around the city. Gavris and Gannon said upcoming projects this year include window art in the village center’s vacant storefronts, a parlor performance series, connecting private landowners with mural artists and painting jersey barriers, picnic tables and bringing plants to outdoor dining areas.

In partnership with Newton Community Pride, the city also is hosting a Newton “Out Doors” competition, in which local artists are submitting door painting designs that will be judged and selected to become part of a temporary, outdoor installation around the city that will consist of 20 recycled, painted wooden doors.

Hooked on Newton, a yarn bombing project, is planning a return this Spring. Participants will meet in weekly Zoom sessions to create “fiber art pieces” and then install those urban sweaters around the city while following governmental health social gathering guidelines.

Gavris said projects in 2021 are meant to support and reach the local community.

“Because performance space is no longer available or social gatherings are no longer available, we wanted to bring art to where people are in the Village Centers,” Gavris said. “We want to be supportive — financially supportive and artistically supportive — this year as the city comes alive again in the Spring.”

Isabela Rocha can be reached at [email protected].

Angelia S. Rico

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