ACA: 'a PLACE for our community’s creative kids to call home'

The following statement by Linda Shoemaker, executive director of the Arlington Center for the Arts, was presented to the School Committee on Thursday, Oct. 8, at Town Hall: (Photo was taken at ACA in January 2014, when she was introduced as the new director.)

Linda Shoemaker welcomed, Jan. 30, 2014.

Twenty-seven years ago when the Gibbs building went offline, the town made a deliberate and strategic decision to allocate space to develop into an arts center.

The town believed that investment in the arts would pay off in economic development, new business, rising property values and a cultural vibrancy that would make people want to live here. Since that time, the Arlington Center for the Arts has been both a foundation and a catalyst for the cultural life and creative economy in Arlington.

Last time we met [Sept. 24], I spoke about the thousands of creative kids and families ACA serves, with youth-development arts programs that are life-changing, sometimes even life-saving.

I know you care about these programs, that some of you have children who participate in these programs, and I don’t envy the terrible bind that puts you in. It has been suggested that perhaps the schools could provide space to relocate and save some of those programs. We are open and grateful for any creative space-sharing solutions. But I need to convey, that that Arts Center isn’t simply a program that could be run inside a school building off-hours.

The Arts Center is, in fact, nearly a 24/7 kind of place, and having a dedicated space is critical.

· ACA’s artist studios provide 16 working artists with their livelihoods -- these are full-time painters, photographers, musicians.

· ACA’s galleries provide 200 local artists with an opportunity show and sell their work each year.

· ACA’s classrooms provide opportunities for hundreds of people to learn and to teach.

· ACA’s theater provides a place for our community’s musicians and performers last year more 150 concerts, plays and workshops.

· ACA is a PLACE for our community’s creative kids to call home.

This is the manifestation of the vision of Arlington’s community planners 30 years ago -- a cultural institution that provides opportunities to experience the joys of creativity AND be a spark to the local creative economy.

I’ve had a lot of people say to me don’t worry ... there’s got to be another place ... we’ll figure it out .... But I am worried. I know we all WANT to believe that we could find another way to recreate the Arlington Center for the Arts somewhere else.

But I look around ...there is no remotely comparable space in Arlington recreate the ACA theater, galleries, artist studios and all the rest.

I think about Belmont -- they had a wonderful community arts center, the Kendall Center for the Arts -- a retired school building, studio artists, classes, gallery. It burned down in 1999. They were housed somewhere temporarily, the town wanted to figure it out. But 16 years later, it’s just gone.

We all have a lot to lose.

This is an important moment for Arlington. Our town is committed to providing a top notch education for our kids. Our town is also committed to having an active cultural life for those kids and their families. I believe that in the case of both goals, the best solution is to leave the ACA in the 87-year-old Gibbs building, and continue to look for a better, newer, more educationally sound solution for the education of our kids.

Thank you.

This viewpoint was published Sunday, Oct. 11, 2015.