A local nonprofit strives to support the arts

Jessica Gelter, Executive Director of Arts Alive, compared the organization to an arc for the arts.

“It’s supposed to keep them above water and bring them to other people,” Gelter said.

For over ten years, Arts Alive has been working to promote an accessible and successful arts community within the Monadnock region. The nonprofit is based in Keene. 

“Our mission, the core of it, is to help better the community by making sure that the arts are well supported and visible and doing well,” Gelter said.

This mission is carried out through arts advocacy, offering opportunities to local artists, providing grants and organizing assistance programs for artists. 

Arts Alive is doing this, in part, through its Arts Ambassadors program. Engagement Coordinator Han Hamel said the program is designed to promote awareness and engagement with the arts opportunities in the community.

“We really want to engage people in the community who are passionate about the arts,” Hamel said. “We work together to share resources, to advocate on behalf of the arts; we share data, we share social media posts [and] newsletters.”

The Arts Ambassadors program has been in place since August 2021. Since then, the program has grown to around 20 arts ambassadors. 

COVID-19 was not a hurdle for Arts Alive, Gelter said. Through the early days of the pandemic, Arts Alive continued to offer digital programs and artist support. 

“When the pandemic hit, there was actually a lot of work for us to do,” Gelter said. “It never kind of quieted down for us, which was really exciting to know that our organization is still valuable to folks, even in crazy times.”

As part of its goal to increase arts accessibility, Arts Alive and its Arts Ambassadors have recently been focusing on barriers to arts access. Part of this was a survey through Antioch University about how engagement in the arts can impact feelings of loneliness. 

“The study asked people in the community to fill out questionnaires about access to the arts,” Hamel said. “Some of the things that showed up were people maybe weren’t accessing because they physically couldn’t make it, maybe they didn’t feel welcome, there was a cost-prohibitive barrier, or social anxiety [or] mental health.”

Hamel said this information is essential to breaking down barriers for access to the arts. “You can’t really address something unless you know what it is,” Hamel said. “So with the advocacy and with sharing that information, hopefully we can decrease the barriers and increase accessibility.”

Right before the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020, Arts Alive was part of a project to construct an arts corridor in downtown Keene. This included space for arts markets, general public art space and additional outdoor performance venues. 

While the project was delayed due to the pandemic, Gelter said the work is beginning to pick up again. “We’ve got a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and Housing Assistance Council, and that’s going to help us bring in a design team from Washington, DC that works in communities all across the country on building arts spaces,” Gelter said.

This process will begin in March 2022. 

After moving to Keene last year, Hamel said they were drawn to Arts Alive because of its specific focus on opportunities for artists.

“There’s all these opportunities to help artists get ahead and make connections. Because it’s kind of hard to do that as an artist, but especially in rural New Hampshire, it’s pretty hard. So it was nice to see how they are really serving the artistic community,” Hamel said.

Similarly, Gelter said the ability to support local artists drew her to Arts Alive. “It’s just such an inspiring place to work and I love getting to interact with different artists and seeing how different people translate the world into their work,” Gelter said.

For the future of Arts Alive, Hamel said they are hoping for more involvement. “I think a rural community is perceived as not very artistic and very hip and stuff. But it really is. And there’s a lot of artists in this community. So I would like to see them benefit from that a little bit more,” Hamel said.

Gelter shared similar thoughts about the future of Arts Alive, “My hope for this organization is that through these uncertain times that we’re still in, that we can really motivate and mobilize people to join in, because this work is so much fun. It gives you something to look forward to, something beautiful, something hopeful.”

 

Caitlin Howard can be contacted at

choward@kscequinox.com

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