Mayoral Candidate Romeo Theken

Transcript of Candidate Romeo Theken's answers from the Gloucester Mayoral Debate on October 5 at Gloucester Stage Company

Opening statements:

I want to put public back in the arts. We have two wonderful cultural districts. We need to keep that up. We have a policy for the first time that I brought forward. We need public input. Art cannot be handed down and have no input.

We have wonderful artists, different kinds of culture, different kinds of artistry that we need to embrace that we need to bring forward. We need to do it together. With public input, starting the first policy. That’s going to happen.

The first presentation was given. People didn’t listen to the public input. People that were in the audience left. How are we going have public art if you’re not going to listen to the people who have something to say… I stayed and I learned from you. I learned how diverse art in the city is.

I grew up with art. I write poetry. What better place to put the public back in public art.

Question: What have you learned in your campaign work over the summer about arts and cultural industries that was the most surprising to you?

A lot of people don’t know about it. … They don’t realize the heart and the soul. I’m temperamental but I’m passionate. I learned that you’re not going be able to put this city under one. You can get one advocate to represent the diversity of the arts. Everyone is trying to make us one, including myself. We don’t want to be one under one arts. We need one director to advocate for all different kinds of arts.

There’s so much that needs to be brought out. We need art back in our schools. I find it amazing that even the Glocuester Stage – what they do with the public schools. I went to see Peter Pan and someone says, ‘what are you doing?’ I’m learning, listening, I’m loving the children that are actually giving their time and commitment. That’s what you bring, the confidence in what they’re doing.

I brought the boys to City Hall… and City Hall is for everyone. If that’s a museum, that’s what we have to make. Start with the children, the boys.

We should encourage the children; we shouldn’t take it away from them. We should have more of that. We should make it a museum so when people come in to buy their beach tickets, they look and they say, ‘amazing, who did this?’ and we can say, ‘our children.’ Start with the children. 

Should we bring it back into our schools; should we be able to put their artwork up. Who are we to judge which child is better than the other? We should encourage them, we should volunteer. And when we had it at city hall and someone made a request to take it down, no one stood with our children. When are we going to start with 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?

We are doing it in our schools. You’d be amazed… it’s been happening a long time. You have after school programs, the hive, that integrates children with buoys, with folk life, with Henry Allen. But in your schools… I’ve been working for schools for years, the art in the cart – poetry in the pocket. Anytime I was walking around the schools, kids would have a poem in their pocket… you’d say ‘can I have your poem’ and they’d read the poems. Every child was so excited for someone to listen to them to read their poetry, to show off their artwork, to watch them in their plays. This has been happening in our schools. Even when we took away the classrooms, the art teachers never gave up. Volunteers came in and embraced the children. Even the YMCAs are integrating art. We need to let them know they’re out there.

To me, art is not just something that you can learn; you have to feel it. And these children, they’re feeling it… They’re still naïve in life, there’s no negativity, but sometimes if a child is hurt, they bring it out in the art. 

We are advocating for art. We’re doing the best we can with the budget that we have. A classroom doesn’t make an artist. It’s who in it and who teaches it. And you have to have that passion. So art in the cart is just as good as a classroom. So if we don’t have the classrooms and we can afford it, I’m sure one day we’ll have an art center for everyone to enjoy. 

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?

We have this grant and the deadline. I said, ‘don’t give up, we will find the money. This is too important.’ We found someone to do the grant… it’s going to be part of the community, part of the administration.

I thought we should have everything under one roof, and I was wrong. I learned… you need a director, someone to advocate for that diversity and advocate for each ward. 

I’ve been in the city council for 13 years. We will learn to skim and save. Sustainability is to keep it up. We did that with the five year tourist plan. The fact is that we do need an advocate. You have an econ development director who actually educated all of us. 

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?

The cultural districts are needed in this community. It’s going to protect us from everyone coming in to change us. You need to sustain what we have: the beauty and the culture of Gloucester… to emphasize that we are a working waterfront. It has changed, but there are fisherman, there are lobsterman… bring that kind of tourism. Let them come in and explore that we have in Gloucester. Not just use the beaches, but to experience the art. But what we have to do also is sustain downtown. Harbortown is dwindling; we need to revitalize that. We need workforce houses so that they can live and build and paint, so you can see that kind of culture.

When you hear that there are two districts, you have that, but you also have the old port, the old heritage that hasn’t changed, it coexists, it innovates and works together. That’s what we need to keep. How do we do that? Yes, someone from the arts will be on as a director, will be on the commission. It’s very important that these cultures stay alive, because without them, we’d have no heritage.

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? 

I’m already working on it. What is workforce housing, affordable housing. Artists were looking into buying a space… but someone who has gone through selling their property knows that the permitting the process is a long process, and we need to help that. Downtown is supposed to be retail on the bottom floor and residential on the top. But if you’re a working artist, that is retail. You’re working on what you’re going to sell. We need to make sure that someone who wants to purchase property and work downtown that they should be able to. I’ve discussed what do we do with all the properties downtown, the abandoned properties and what do we get from that. I’m looking at properties that are now parking lots. Do we want to be able to say to affordable housing, ‘build that home’.

People want to see working artists right in the window. Let them walk in.

What’s hard is that you have places that want to embrace the community, but the community needs to embrace them. Ocean Alliance wants to open up that factory for artists, yet someone is putting a block on his fundraising.

We need to have public art just that, public. With that you’ll be able to go through the zoning together. It’s time that everyone that’s here today should go in front of zoning and see what you can come up with. You can’t depend on the mayor or city council doing it by themselves. Public input. 

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?

There’s such diversity in each ward… that each one enhances that part of that neighborhood. We have all of that… to bring it together under one director is to advocate for it, but you also need to work with other communities. You just can’t save it for Gloucester. We know it in Gloucester, and you have to let other communities know it. I’ve been working with other communities and municipalities… I did it with the Schooner race. That was part of your local arts because people came out… over 10 thousand people and we shared with other communities and had trollies going back and forth. How about having trollies going around in all the communities in Gloucester… we need coordination of what’s going on in the community. We have wonderful museums, and when we have the ferries coming in, no one was showing people where to go. We need to let other people know that what we have here is amazing. 

I like the different neighborhoods. When people go to Lanesville, they go for the fishing coves, they like that… What makes Gloucester is that we are diverse… that’s what Gloucester is all about but you need to bring people forward. People said we couldn’t do it, in two weeks we pulled off the block party… We had over 500 people in a block, just the West End, just to see the diversity. 

What’s the one place you want to take your long lost friend from out of town?

I would bring them to the heart of Gloucester, the mouth of Gloucester. Then we go around the whole island… You have to find beauty in everyone and everything here. 

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?

I was there at that public meeting. I found it disturbing that people were walking out. They stayed for the presentation, but then left when people were making their public opinion, public presentation. How are you going to learn if you don’t stay until the end. You have to understand that we are diverse. There’s five different wards, 10 different precincts, different nationalities. But you need to bring it out. Don’t be afraid to speak.

Please come out. If you don’t think you were heard by all, you were heard by some who care. Because even if I’m not mayor, your colleagues were there to listen. It starts with the children.

It brings confidence to a child when you watch them dance. How about the children all the way from 2 to 20 and the self-confidence these programs build. Build your neighborhood again.

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?

We have a beautiful mouth of Gloucester, and you need to integrate it. I couldn’t vote to support the hotel. I remember when we had St. Peter’s as a park, not a parking lot, to have a piazza. My goal is to one day have piazza there where you have artists, coffee tables and actually enjoying our waterfront… What I learned firsthand as a little girl is don’t speak to artist when they’re really in the mood because you talk too much…

When artists want to, they will embrace you, tell you their stories. The money we save from getting the hotels, why don’t we get someone to narrate about our beautiful community.

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?

You can start an art policy and not finish it. I plan on finishing that art policy. It took five years for that commission on tourism. You have something planned. We have the 2000 plan, and that’s long ago, but that’s how long it takes to diversify and move. We’re there. You have your live/work spaces. We’re working on that…

We have a committee of the arts. You need to come forward because the mayor can’t do anything in the first hundred days unless you come forward now… It doesn’t have to take five years because you have that plan already.

The director is up to the people who did the grants, not the city. The first 100 days is too far away, you need to start now. I’m working on that now. I look at the budget everyday when I see my employees, when I walk in the streets, and I see your fire dept. The budget is an ongoing thing. You have that money saved in case something comes up and we won’t have to take away from arts and culture.  

I have been looking at the budget. You’re voting for me to be a mayor of all things, not just the budget. What you need is a team. You need to encourage your team by setting a goal. The goal is to make this community one: sufficiently, efficiently and together. 


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