Ruthanne Fuller's Response to the Arts & Culture Questionnaire

Your Personal Connection

The experience of art is a central, defining human activity. What personal experience with arts, culture, or creativity has had an impact on your life and your view of community?

Growing up in Detroit, arts were central to our family life. Motown was in its heyday and was the soundtrack of my childhood. In addition, my parents were on the Boards of Directors of both the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Institute of Art. They surrounded me and my brothers with music and the art of the masters. My husband, Joe, and I and our three sons derive enormous pleasure from beautiful symphonic performances and works of visual art. We’ve enjoyed collecting art as a family. 

But it was only after the seminal event of my life -- the Detroit riots of 1967 -- that I learned the much deeper role art plays in society.

I was ten at the time. In their aftermath, amidst the finger-pointing and recriminations over who was to blame, my father acted, not to deepen the wounds but to heal them. As a member of the Orchestra and Institute Boards, he reached out with the arts to bridge the enormous chasms separated the many Detroit communities.

To this day, when the Mayor of Detroit gives out the annual Detroit Community Service award, it is the Alan E. Schwartz Award, in honor of my father. I thank my father for teaching me that art is more than something to be enjoyed. It is something to bring people together.

It is a lesson I’ve kept with me all my life. It is a lesson that I promise I will put to good use as Mayor. I hope my father would be proud.

Arts and Culture in the City

Newton is blessed with a rich mix of arts and cultural organizations. Please share two places where you have had personally significant arts and/or cultural experiences.

Art and culture have been a part of the fabric of my life here in Newton. For example, even as a young mother, I stopped in on the many artists during Open Studios week-ends, and I enrolled my boys in the All Newton Music School. In addition to admiring the magnificently crafted art work, and in addition to playing the proud parent as my boys’ proficiency on their instruments grew (somewhat), I realized something else was going on.

Through casual interactions, I was forming bonds with the artists and other proud parents, the kind of bonds which turn strangers into acquaintances, and acquaintances into friends as we shared a common interest and experience.

As Mayor, I will ensure that events and institutions like these are an important part of our Comprehensive Cultural Plan. 

Addressing City-wide Issues

Can you provide examples of how you would integrate the arts, culture, and creative community in solving social problems such as planning for smart growth and development of livable communities in Newton? How do you see art and creativity providing meaning and fulfillment in the lives of Newton residents?

The New Administration’s Role in the Creative Community

With the current national administration hoping to dismantle the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for Humanities, and our own State Legislature choosing not to increase investment in the Mass Cultural Council, we need local leadership on financial and policy support for arts and culture here in Newton. How will you address funding concerns in the following areas:

  • What revenue sources will you create or use to increase the city’s financial investment in the creative community? 
  • How would you modify or expand the city’s current administrative structure to support the creative community? 
  • What are your highest arts and culture program priorities and how will you allocate resources for those priorities?

An Arts Destination

While Newton is in constant growth and change, the city has yet to fully leverage the strength of our arts, culture, and creative communities as a means for branding and attracting residents, employers, and visitors. How would you utilize the arts and creative community to make Newton a place where people want to live, work, play, and visit?

As Mayor, I envision a Newton which supports all forms of cultural expression and artistic endeavors; a Newton where organizations engaged in the arts are empowered to nurture creativity; a Newton where artists creating the art are encouraged to express that creativity, and a Newton where people working, living and learning have their lives enriched by experiencing that creativity.

To accomplish this, the status of culture and the arts must be elevated in Newtons city government. As Mayor, I will propose transforming the Mayors Office of Cultural Affairs into a new department of Cultural Development, housed at City Hall, headed by a Director, with a mission to develop and implement a Comprehensive Cultural Plan, preserving and building on the important work that has already gone on, taking the long-term view for the arts in Newton, and examining the possibility of having an appropriate location in Newton certified as a Cultural District. The Director would also have the role of working with DPW, Parks and Recreation, the Library, Senior Services, Newton Community Education, Planning and others to help support their cultural programs and enhance a vibrant arts and cultural community here in Newton.

The Comprehensive Cultural Plan will be a blueprint to incorporate art into the everyday lives of all Newton residents, visitors and workers, a Plan that seeks to empower every artist and every artistic group to realize their full creative potential. It will be a Plan that also deals with the nitty-gritty of artistic creation, such as getting the artists to their art and their art to the public.

The Comprehensive Cultural Plan, like all good plans, must be created by the arts and cultural community within Newton with staffing and help from City Hall. This should not be a plan created by outside consultants or staff at 1000 Commonwealth Avenue but rather be developed with the artists, the arts organizations and the art and cultural consumers.

It’s hard for artists to create in Newton if they can’t afford to live in Newton. So the Comprehensive Cultural Plan must examine how we fashion affordable housing proposals that are responsive to the needs of artists. And it’s hard for artists to create in Newton if they don’t have worker space in Newton. So the Comprehensive Cultural Plan must address that as well.

We must also promote walkability so that our vital village centers can become hubs for the arts, and I hope that at least one will have their sidewalks become an avenue for the arts. The Washington Street corridor, in particular, holds promise. I will work with all municipal departments and concerned community groups in an effort to earn an appropriate Newton location the designation as a Massachusetts Cultural District. Lets proactively plan and attract people to Newton with the arts.

The Comprehensive Cultural Plan must also recognize that the built environment is an untapped resource just waiting to be linked up with the arts. Our many parks and fields can become sculpture parks and warm-weather stages for the performing arts, theatres for movies, and dancehalls for the swingers, bobbysoxers, and rockers. We’ve done great things at the Hyde, Pellegrini Park and the Newton Center Green. I envision a plan that will stimulate local activists and artists to do even more. Integrating art into our public spaces and berms, our sidewalks, our curbs, our benches, our signage and our bike racks will be an exciting step forward.

The most inspiring art in the world will inspire no one, if no one experiences it. Transportation and parking must be an integral part of the Comprehensive Cultural Plan, as well.

We also have the ability to make the arts a much more integral part of everyday life if only we plan for it. The Washington Square development includes space for the New Arts Center, because we planned ahead for it. As Mayor, I will work to see that other proposed developments (e.g., Riverside, Northland) plan for art and artists also. Integrating art into everyday life also means continuing to encourage porchfests (one is planned for Auburndale this spring!) and festivals, concerts and temporary public art, street performers and music at our farmers markets. 

I will work with members of the performing arts community to see if there is some way to provide performance space. The city has already lost too many of its performing arts groups for want of an appropriate facility. There may be opportunities when we are renovating schools or permitting major developments to include a performing arts space. I also regret that we didnt look more closely at the Mishkan Tefila opportunity for performing arts, educational, after school and open space possibilities.

Many artistic groups are really small businesses in disguise. The permitting process has to be made more user-friendly to them. As Mayor, even before the development of the Plan, I will ensure that City officials use their expertise to help these groups overcome bureaucratic obstacles, rather than to place those obstacles in their way.

The Comprehensive Cultural Plan must also address whether additional public investment is needed in our arts and cultural activities. Its clear that funding for cultural affairs leads directly to economic activity. As Mayor, I am committed to finding additional funding if it is needed.

I also intend to use this plan and this new department to further unlock the potential which the arts have to draw us closer together as a community.

By displaying the diversity of cultural traditions and artistic expressions which are part of the fabric of the Newton, we say “welcome” to all our different heritages and we broaden the perspective of all Newtonians who experience those displays. We cross boundaries of age and neighborhood. And we build community.

And I must emphasize the important role that working together with other people plays in strengthening the bonds of community. When we think of all the forces in modern life that tend to isolate us – many of us don’t have to leave our homes to go to work anymore, or interact with other people to shop or be entertained - the direct human contact which goes into supporting the arts, organizing artistic events and enjoying them is the stuff that builds community. To be a truly all age friendly city, one that is enjoyable for toddlers to seniors, the arts are essential.

Reaching our full potential in support of the arts, by building on what’s been done before, will ensure that Newton will never be a city of strangers but always a community of friends. 

Arts Education and Programs for our Youth

The MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has pledged to update the Commonwealth’s arts education curriculum as well as report on access and participation in arts education in schools and districts. What will you do as Mayor to support arts education in the city’s schools and in our community?

My experience in early childhood instilled in me a passion for the arts which has lasted a lifetime. As Mayor, I will use that passion to build bridges with art.

As Mayor, I will make sure the city is financially sustainable so we can provide the funding that the Newton Public Schools need and which our children deserve. I want to make sure that budget pressures do not lead to further cuts in chorus and the arts; rather, lets restore them and expand them. Dance, drama, music, the visual arts and media promote creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, skills, and persistence.

As Mayor, I will also work to include our arts and cultural organizations as well as other fine institutions who serve children in part with arts programs (e.g., the Suzuki School of Newton, the New Art Center, the Boston Ballet School, the All Newton Music School, the West Suburban YMCA and the John M. Barry Boys and Girls Club) in after school opportunities for our students. Lets work together to see if we can find solutions to the transportation and funding issues so all our children have access to quality after school programs.

Lets partner across the generations and between schools and the rest of Newton. For example, the Williams School’s students build bridges to our senior community by performing for the residents of Lasell Village and our students celebrate their diverse heritages at our cultural festivals.

As Mayor, I will work with the School Committee to build more of those bridges and support arts in our schools so that we may extend those bridges to the entire community and instill in our youth a passion for the arts that will be with them for a lifetime. 

Your Priorities

The start of a Mayor’s tenure often sets the Administration’s tone and priorities. When elected, what actions will you take in your first 100 days to provide support and resources to the creative community?

In my first 100 days as Mayor, I will do three things which will demonstrate my administration’s commitment to further elevating the arts in Newton.

    1. I will establish a Mayor’s Commission to develop the Comprehensive Cultural Plan.
    2. I will propose the creation of the Department of Cultural Development in the FY2019 budget, to take effect July 1, 2018.
    3. I will fight for the restoration of the funding for the arts which President Trump has proposed cutting. 
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