Transcript from the Haverhill City Council Debate, hosted by Creative Haverhill
Moderator: Jenny Arndt, Creative Haverhill
Candidates: Bill Ryan, Katrina Hobbs Everett
Question: What is the value of the creative community in Haverhill and also can you name a place in Haverhill where you've had a significant arts and culture related experience.
Bill Ryan: My name is Bill Ryan, candidate for re-election to the City Council. I’ve served in Haverhill as a representative for a number of years and then left to take position in the 1980s. I think art is a very important part of a community. It speaks volumes on what kind of a community we are. As a community, we have promoted it in many ways. Recently, the photos of residents which are all over the city… I think it is a necessary ingredient… To make a city great, you must have good arts program.
Katrina Hobbs Everett: I think the arts are also extremely important I think that with significant cuts of school programming that cover, in my opinion, less than what I received when I was a student. Having a culture of arts within the city is extremely important. I'm excited to see the arts community more street-level. I know it for a while we've had this underground niche, but then when you find out you say, hey we have this really vibrant arts community that's going on. I am glad to see it surfacing and expanding with the creative crosswalks and the pictures of residents. I thought that was such a cool project to show the diversity of Haverhill, the age diversity and the culture diversity is very rich. As far as a cultural experiences, personally, my experience has been more through the churches. Exposure to culture through music and the Greek Church through the festival they have every year. I remember going very young and my friend’s father took me his last year, but I remember my first time I had baklava and Greek pastries and experienced the dancing, and I thought, wow this is so cool to be emerged in somebody else's culture. I think that the arts are something that brings us together and is definitely a core foundation of a thriving community.
Question: Nearly all of the significant cultural festivals and events and here are put on by nonprofit groups or volunteer groups. The few that come to mind, are larger festivals like River Ruckus, the Christmas Stroll, KidsFest -- our cities really become known for those festivals, but the city itself doesn't play very much of a role in putting those festivals on. What do you think you can do from a city council level to help encourage those groups to continue to put on these festivals? There seems to be more red tape around permitting and other fees associated with putting on these festivals. What can you do from the council level to help these groups put on these two major festivals?
BR: Whenever we can, we exempt nonprofit groups from paying any fees. If there's a profit motive in there, we will probably look at it a little differently. The City Council plays a role in promoting and always encouraging them to talk about what they're doing, let people know how they can be involved in the community. We do have lots of people… going to events. Many times people look around to see if this is a city councilor, a mayor, a school committee member, a principal, a superintendent of schools -- All figures with visibility in the community should be at the events.
KHE: I don't know the ordinances and what currently exists as far as the fees, except for having worked through my nonprofit to try to put on events. I think that's something that I would have an interest in, to have a councilor work with an organization as part of the planning process to put on an event and maybe have letters of support to apply for a grant. There's some great grants out there for cultural and arts programs and festivals, movies, the pavilion concert series. That's something that if the opportunity comes, I think councils can be involved from the beginning in looking at funding for the system.
BR: One problem is that a performance or program is funded by the city… Many people are reluctant to give money to city agencies. The library's a good example because people think they are government agency, so you’re not going to donate if you already paid taxes all year long. On the other hand sometimes it's just impossible to get the funding and support for your project.
Follow-up Question: Was there a city arts coordinator at City Hall? Do you think that’s useful to have in the future, to have someone to help promote and plan some of these events?
BR: You mentioned earlier about the red tape trying to get through the maze. Being able to go to a person and let that person be your advocate and take you through the process. A good example we were talking about is rebuilding the old Polish home, where a group wants to go in there and have some music and dance. I met the woman who was going to be leading this… they hit the stonewalling. With the building and zoning, things became financially impossible. That might be a good example of having a person to be the coordinator to walk them through it.
Jenny: I think that the communication needs to be worked on in terms of how to go about some of these great ideas and there are a lot of great ideas that maybe have not gotten off the ground because people don't know where to begin.
BR: If Katrina can get elected to the City Council and I get back on, you'll have two advocates.
KHE: I think what you're saying is not uncommon to the things that I'm hearing from talking to our constituents. Communication is something citywide that we need to look at and decide how we can do this better.
Question: You probably know that we have an official cultural district designation in the downtown now. It's something that's a great resume builder for the city. There is the opportunity to expand it all the way down to Harbor Place for this great development that is happening. There is a little bit of uneasiness amongst the business owners downtown, especially in the cultural district. They're concerned with some of the talk about raising parking fees, and the problem that as these new developers come in are the rents going to go up on the properties. How might we set creative small business owners’ and artists’ minds at ease about what's going on with some of the development downtown?
KHE: I know that there is a petition to try to prevent the increase for parking and that’s something that I did sign. I don't think that there should be an increase, because from what I'm hearing, not just the arts community, but also the doctor's offices and the people that serve our community are getting ticketed. There has to be some way of making it tractable for businesses and for the arts community to be able to come in to the state because our downtown certainly has the potential to be a jewel.
BR: I was mayor during the eighties, and one of my number one goals, at which I was very successful, is to take your district, Washington, Wingate, and Granite, and rethink space. We started to lease the upper floors of restaurants that came in, and we did the streetscapes sidewalks. A lot of resistance from the City Council, saying we should put all our money on Merrimack Street and not waste money up there, but they didn't have the vision obviously. I think one of the problems you have with the rising parking fees … people working and owning a small business in the downtown area they'll just keep feeding the meter. People have been after the mayor to name a committee to start the groundwork for a new parking facility. We should build another deck like we did on Railroad Square but it takes years to put this together so let's start now. You mention affordability you can't stop people from being priced out unless you want to subsidize their rents.
When I was younger I traveled throughout Europe in the youth hostel system and it was the greatest learning and adventure. I would love to see Haverhill have one of the buildings in your area as a hostel for students coming from all over the world to come to Haverhill on the train. They would come if we have two things: museums and beautiful parks like Winnekenni Castle. That would help the makeup by bringing in young people to walk around the streets and have fun.
Question: Are there any cities that you compare or contrast Haverhill to? We hear about Lowell or Newburyport or Lawrence when we're talking about a role we could play. Is there any city that we could model after, specifically, in terms of the creative community.
KHE: Lowell and Salem do a nice job with their arts, but I think Lowell especially does a really nice job with their festival every year, and I would love to see something like that downtown with different kinds of music and food for a full week. We do a lot of one-day events pretty well, but to have something, even restaurant week, it would be nice to see something on a large scale, that can really draw some attention to Haverhill.
BR: I agree that's a great way to promote the city. The city of Salem rakes in millions of dollars not just in the museums but also in the restaurants and parking garages and hotels. If we could find something and start small, you can get good people leading it.
Question: Why should the arts community vote for you and why should the small businesses in the arts community vote for you this election day?
KHE: I think that the reason why anyone should vote for me is because I'm coming with some fresh ideas. I'm very involved in the community and one of my passions is youth, so we’re opening a Youth Center on November 2nd. We are looking to welcome the arts community with open arms into that space. I think the arts are a wonderful way to hold our youth’s attention and give them an outlet to express themselves. I'm for the Arts.
BR: Katrina would be a terrific asset to our City Council. I think you look for people who are committed and believe in the arts and you look at their record and have they been encouraging development in funds to be used in the arts. City Council has everything from potholes to skyscrapers and everything in between, but it is an important part of the community and I will certainly continue to work to enhance our arts program in the city.