Transcript of Candidate McGeary's answers from the Gloucester Mayoral Debate on October 5 at Gloucester Stage Company
The average community theater lasts two years. The fact that [Gloucester Stage] has lasted 36 years is a tribute to how important they are to you and the community in Gloucester.
I have supported arts consistently and played a role in the Rocky Neck cultural district, and as a CPA have contributed enormously to cultural institutions. You have a friend and you will have a friend in the mayor’s office.
Question: What have you learned in your campaign work over the summer about arts and cultural industries that was the most surprising to you?
The thing about Gloucester is that people care so deeply about this city. And in the arts community in particular, people care profoundly. The problem is that sometimes people care in completely different ways. That’s okay, that’s part of the tapestry, part of the diversity of this city, and we need to be open to that… to the kinds of art and the needs of artists.
In the plan in 2000 there was a section on the arts… this was the kinds of artists… [lists array of disciplines] this is an extraordinary list of artists and disciplines in our city of 30,000 all at land’s end. The challenge is to funnel that energy. We need to create an environment where you as artists can prosper and grow and make a living as an artist. That’s going to be the challenge.
We’ve made a very good beginning at the west parish school. In this new school there will be a dedicated arts and music space and I think that is something that has been lost in our schools in recent years. The Gloucester high school now has a music teacher and a dramatic coach, something that has been put in in recent years. To foster the arts in the school
We talk a lot about STEM in our [local school]. I would like to see that become STEAM, science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. So that in our public schools, we are creating whole human beings. People who are understanding biology and Beethoven, systems and Shakespeare. That’s the goal of the public school system. That’s what we should be fostering in all of our children.
What will you do to better engage youth and adults in cultural activities and do you have specific things that you would engage the School Committee around arts education?
I would like to see the kinds of things happening in the O’Maley school moving down into the fourth and fifth grade so that there is more of an arts and technology focus. Technology is important to the arts. You can’t go to a museum without seeing a digital installation. The tools of an artist are digital as well as paints and pottery. In the schools themselves, I would advocate as a member of the school committee, because the mayor is a member of the school committee. I will advocate strongly for an arts and music program in all of our schools, especially the elementary schools. If you capture kids when they’re young, when they’re malleable, when they’re open, that’s when you can get them. If you wait until the middle and high schools, the window has closed. That’s true in the sciences… young girls especially who often check out of the sciences by the time they’re in eighth grade, you have to catch them early. The same is true in the arts. You need fully formed human beings.
Even though I was working as a technologist, I took the time to go in the evening to the Harvard extension school to study Greek pottery. Something that had nothing to do with my job, but I felt, informed me as a person. Broadened my horizons. That’s the kind of thing that we need to encourage in our schools.
I'd like to get away from Art in the Cart – we were strapped for space and we did what we had to. But there is an opportunity that is going to arise… where enrollment is going down and it could free up some space. If we find additional space, those classrooms should be rededicated to the arts and to music. That’s something that I would really advocate for on the school committee.
How do you see the new office of arts and culture playing a role in your administration? How will you sustain that in your administration and help maintain and create a sustainable funding stream for the arts?
I commend Rocky Neck, Arts Gloucester and SeArts and all the people who worked together on that Adam Arts grant. It’s a $45K grant over two years. It does require a match on the city’s part. I will make it my highest priority to find that match wherever it is.
In the end, having a cultural committee and a director for that committee is so important. Somebody’s has to keep their eye on the ball. Arts can be a part of tourism, community development. They have lots to do; their time is precious. The key will be sustainability.
Not only do you have to have a plan, you’ve got to have a budget. I spend 6 years on the budget and finance committee. And I understand that what we do as a city, we have to have money, and it’s crucial that you understand where the budget comes.
I’ve advocated for zero-based budgeting – helps us identify places where money can be found and can be placed. $16K is a modest investment in the arts and it will pay back handsomely. Studies have shown that for every dollar you invest in the arts, you get $7 in economic activity. And the key will be to find and sustain the funding, and I am committed to that.
There is money required, not just in-kind cash. $21K over two years.Making that kind of dollar investment. If you’re going to make a piece of public art, make sure you have the budget to sustain that art. You don’t build it and walk away. We have some very difficult budget years ahead of us… but we must find a way. It’s too crucial to not just the economic future of Gloucester, but the spiritual future. It is a place of the arts. I said, it’s a place where the beauty of the earth and the beauty of the soul come together. We must sustain that.
In what ways will you ensure these two cultural districts will be protected assets for Gloucester and how do you envision them serving the entire city?
I take great pride in that I helped shepherd in the first of the districts, the rocky neck. The cultural districts themselves right now get a small stipend from the city, but my hope is that as the cultural commission and the director take on their role, that their will be someone looking to opportunities that the cultural districts afford us. To make it available to the public at large and also the people in town, that’s going to be an important part of what the cultural director does. Cultural districts help foster cultural tourism and tourism is an important part of what we do in this city.
There’s a synergy there between tourism and our cultural assets. Arts bring tourists to town and tourists help artists make their living, because we need those dollars to help these cultural institutions and these artists do what they do best and what they love to do best.
I’m fascinated that people find it entertaining to come and see people work. Its true of the fishing industry and its also true of the arts. They give you a central place where this thing can happen. As tourism helps the creative economy, its important that not only tourists come but they spend and they see. The arts need to dare and dare greatly, and sometimes that means breaking the mold. But that’s an important aspect of what the cultural districts will do as well.
Would you as mayor be in favor of converting underutilized buildings to studio space for artists? What other ideas to you have to address this serious problem?
To address the housing issue… I would favor changing our zoning to allow for live/work space. It’s tricky because work/live space could mean having a kiln or oil paints that have to be regulated, but it can be done. Incubator spaces, maybe places that are a rent by the hour/by the month, places where young struggling artists can survive. Boston has done a lot with that, with buildings that have various levels of size and cost where established artists are mixed together with younger artists who need that mentorship. Create that venue for people. Ann-Margaret Ferrante has proposed legislation that would establish tax credits for people who want to invest in housing, for artist housing.
We’re not developers, nor should we be, but what we can do and must do is create an environment in which development can happen. What does that mean? What can we do as a city to make it attractive for people to come and invert existing stock or build new stock, to create affordable options for artists with their special needs.
I believe in public input… We scheduled meetings that were cancelled because of the blizzards, and the mayor intervened to create a public arts policy. To create those changes, whether it’s zoning or coming up with the money – that’s where the cultural commission and director are going to be so important… the healthy Gloucester collaborative created the umbrella group that brought them all together, and that’s what I hope the cultural commission will do.
The arts & cultural community is a great tool to create a more unified city. What would you do to encourage use of arts & culture to address citywide problems?
Gloucester has so many quirky little communities, with their own peculiar identities. Annisquam is very different from East Gloucester, East Gloucester is very different from Lanesville, Lanesville is very different from Magnolia. They each have an identity and we want to preserve that. That’s part of what we are. At the same time, we are an island, and we should have a shared identity… Something that says ‘Yes I live in Lanesville, but I’m also part of Gloucester.” I think of the Folk Life festival… in the late 80’s… it created a sense of Gloucester, an understanding of each other. People from all over the city came even with miserable weather… and you saw what people in the city were doing. You saw the creative forces at work. It shows a common identity, a shared identity, something that I hope the cultural commission and the director will do is find that commonality while at the same time protecting the special nature of Gloucester’s neighborhoods.
What’s the one place you want to take your long lost friend from out of town?
I would pick the Cape Ann Museum first. It embodies our history, artistic history, cultural history… It goes back to before Champlain arrived. And I’d take them to see the Fitz Henry Lane and I’d take them to see Marsden Hartley and then we’d get in the car and go to Dogtown, because it is that combination of natural beauty and the beauty of the soul. We’d take a walk through Dogtown after going to the Museum, you start to get a sense of the place. You start to understand what I saw that one day in 1974 when I came up for an afternoon and effectively never left. It grabs you by the throat and it never lets you go. The nice thing about living in Gloucester is that you never want for relatives in the summertime.
Are there questions you want to ask of the broader community, and what their role should be in stepping up to the city and making commitments to the vibrancy and vitality of our community?
When you’re a working artist, your time is pretty full. Most of you have five part-time jobs and you’re trying to make a living as an artist as well. But there is a shared vision. Something that keeps us all here. And to the extent that you can be part of the cultural commission, be part of that public input, which is going to be a part of that public art policy, we’re going to need to have your input. I studied art. So I need to have from you, as your mayor, and the city government needs to have your input, your hopes, your dreams, but also as artists your thoughts about it and your criticisms about it. Now understand that the public art policy may not result in unanimity. What you hope to build is consensus, that there is a broad agreement that this public art being proposed to the community is a good thing. There will be people who hate it… you can strive to build a spirit of cooperation and appreciation, that this isn’t my kind of art, but I understand that it is art. That’s an important role that all of you can play as public art policy unveils. It will be important that you have a skin in the game. You can’t complain if you don’t participate. It’s that simple.
Do you have vision about how to connect the visitors center to the new hotel and how we’ll use the arts to compliment this new construction, and with that, are there other new projects that you would like to see being built in Gloucester?
I supported the hotel and the zoning change that permitted the hotel because I think its an important part of our infrastructure. Yes it will help tourism, but it’s a way of spurring economic growth. The kinds of businesses that we will want to bring into this city, the sort of blue economy businesses, they require meeting places and first class hotels. That’s what that hotels, it brings people in. They’ll move on, but one or two of them will come and they’ll be like me, they’ll say there’s something special here about this place. And part of that specialness will be when they walk along the Harbor Walk, walk to the Fitz Henry house and go to Maritime Gloucester and up to the Cape Ann Museum, that is a jumping off point. Its important to our future prosperity. As to linking the future visitor center with the hotel, I think we can do a better job with trolleys as the programmatic offerings of the hotel are fleshed out. There will be a synergy between people coming in.
In your first 100 days as mayor here, what are one or two things that you will make happen to support arts and culture in Gloucester, what would those be?
The first thing a mayor does is put the budget together. It will be crucial, because we’re going to have snow debt hanging over this year, it will be crucial to try to find the money to fund this initiative, the cultural commission and the director. Our initial investment is small, but we need to build towards a sustainable and executable program. That will be part of the portfolio of the commission and the director. Developing that five year plan will not be done in 100 days, but it has to be done quickly. At the end of the day, if we can’t find money for the cultural commission and the director, then it’s just a flash in the pan. That will be a high priority for me in the first 100 days in terms of what I want to put a focus on in terms of arts and culture in my administration.
You need to distinguish between originating the budget and managing the budget. You’ve got to be ready to act on the spot. You have to have that knowledge of the money we have how it’s allocated, is it running light or heavy. It’s important to know that you’re starting with a good plan, and that it meets the needs of the city. There are many good things to do and not enough money to do them all, and that’s what you pay for in a mayor: that judgment, that understanding of what is key to the future of the city, where to put the resources – your tax money. How do we allocate it, where do we put it? To make those kinds of difficult decisions and to set the priorities that you want to set… that’s what I will do as your mayor.