'The Gibbs organizations are not merely tenants'

Linda Shoemaker, executive director of the Arlington Center for the Arts, presented the following statement supporting the nonprofit at Town Hall on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (Photo was taken at ACA in January 2014, when she was introduced as the new director.)

Linda Shoemaker welcomed, Jan. 30, 2014.

My name is Linda Shoemaker. I am the Executive Director of the Arlington Center for the Arts.

The Gibbs Building has been home to the Arlington Center for the Arts, the Lesley Ellis School, the Learn to Grow preschool, and the Kelliher Center for adults with disabilities for 27 years. On behalf of all of us, we thank you for the opportunity to address the School Committee in October. But I didn’t want to let this evening pass without speaking up about the major loss to our town if we lose these community organizations and services.

The Gibbs organizations are not merely “tenants.” Over the course of nearly 30 years, we have become part of the fabric of this town. I will speak particularly about the Arlington Center for the Arts: since 1988, ACA has served and enriched the lives of tens of thousands of people – and has become an integral part of our community, an essential resource for kids, teens, adults, seniors, artists, and all of us who want a vibrant, creative community life.

ACA shares the School Committee’s focus on the well-being of Arlington’s children. At the core of our mission is a commitment to Arts Education and Youth Development through the Arts:

* This year, over 1000 campers attended February, April and Summer Arts Camps at ACA

* 100’s more participated in arts classes, exhibits, plays and performances.

* Right now, 80 Arlington students have artwork on display at the Massachusetts State House as part of ACA’s “Images of Arlington” partnership with the Arlington Public Schools.

* For teenagers, ACA provides leadership development in a Counselor in Training Program, which for many Arlington teens, leads to their first job as a Camp Counselor at ACA.

* Hundreds more teens take part in art classes, a Friday night teen clubhouse, and a brand-new LGBTQ program launched this spring. Each year ACA’s teen art show includes up to 100 students from Ottoson and AHS.

* ACA is also home to the Arlington Children’s Theater and the LARP Afterschool program, both beloved community youth organizations serving hundreds more Arlington kids and teens.

All of these students have found a home at ACA – a place where it is normal – even celebrated – to be creative, to do art, to sing, to dance, to be different. I know we all agree how important is for our creative kids to feel like they have a place where they belong.
And the Arlington Center for the Arts is not just for kids. ACA is part of what makes Arlington an attractive place to live: events like Arlington Open Studios, Shakespeare in the Park, gallery exhibits, an active studio artist community, concerts and performances, arts opportunities for kids and adults – these are the things that people WANT in a community. These are some of the reasons families are moving here.
Our town would most certainly be diminished, and the opportunities we offer our kids and families would be diminished, without the Arlington Center for the Arts.

We recognize the challenges you face meeting the needs of our growing student population. But we ask, as you deliberate, that you seek a solution that will accommodate increasing enrollment, and still preserve the Arlington Center for the Arts and our fellow organizations that call the Gibbs Building home and serve so many Arlington families.

This viewpoint was published Monday, Sept. 28, 2015.