Creative Haverhill Debate, Part 1

Transcript from the Creative Haverhill City Council Debate

Moderator: Jenny Arndt, Creative Haverhill
Candidates: Bill Macek, Melinda Barrett, Andy Vargas


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. 


Andy Vargas: I was raised here Haverhill. I attended public schools graduate from Haverhill High and Boston University for me I personally just love and appreciate arts myself attending events and appreciate the work that artists do, but the big selling point for me and I think that this goes across the board for folks who do support and appreciate art and those who are also interested in economic development is that consistently we've seen that for every dollar that we invest in the creative economy in arts and culture we're getting at least and in many times more twice the return on that investment and that's been seen only here in Massachusetts but across the country. Some places that I've experienced significant cultural experiences... one is obviously Buttonwoods Museum what an incredible place and treasure not only for Haverhill, but for the state of Massachusetts. I learned some incredible things and they have some really neat artifacts their number two is all the other the four other hidden treasures that we have specifically Winnekenni Castle because I have so many fond memories as a kid growing up there whenever I want to show off able to folks are taking not only downtown but the castle and I do also want to highlight that I think our neighborhoods are a cultural treasure of this city as well I  feel fortunate to have been raised here and my experiences in each of our diverse neighborhoods have certainly shaped me into who I am.


Melinda Barrett: I’m a business owner in downtown here for a small business I've been there twenty years emerged trustee of the buttonwood museum shows when back two years ago we went pretty consistently at the museum and I was the person in charge of that usually now we do artists like Sunil and is having an actual shortly well with a lot of children's arts I was heavily involved in the inside out project that people might have noticed downtown not only was my picture there but I helped install I helped Linda Germane in kind of getting through that process of permitting and which wasn't that hard it was more scary than hard. City Council really at that the clerk's office really takes care of people there but you know i've been involved in in Arden many different ways I appreciate art my mother was in into antique she did art projects here and there she sowed. you know I do food I think that its creative and some respects to so it's always been part of my life and I definitely appreciate that he got and they do have an economic abd a community building purpose you know if everyone gets together diverse groups of people like the Inside out project also at the people we're installing there were only forty people they're all different people young old you know it was just a it's always a nice nice experience. I hear from a lot of people and most people it was amazing I got it you know let's bring the inside out and you know when you have people that don't like it and there were fewer but on the whole I thought it was a very positive experience.  


Bill Macek: On city council looking for re-election again I loved serving on the City Council because we get this through so many different things in to help our city continuously to grow and prosper in and I really want to thank you for what you already accomplished with Creative Haverhill you have really made some great strides in a short period of time and I can only imagine you know we're going to be a year from now so congratulations on your accomplishments. I think there are I was a musician, I've been involved with live entertainment in many ways, I've done a little bit of local acting in my past so that's the kind of art that I think about too. I've never been a real brushstroke artist or anything like that doing murals, but I have of course I think the most one of the most amazing things it stop and take a look at really spent some time on Essex Street at that large piece of artwork which is on the side of the building I think that's fantastic. So I think a role in and I'm a big supporter of arts and entertainment and will continue to be in and help you grow creative Haverhill and blossom which I think we really haven't I think hit a stride as a community but we need to and I'm happy to be doing this and and sharing some ideas and hopefully starting to get that catalyst going. I'm looking forward to also having the group that's interested in the CogsWell School put that piece together because that's going to be huge for Haverhill and in representing the arts community. so well I don't think we're doing what we should be doing or could be doing I think that we can get there and I'll be glad to be part of working it to get it there.


Question: Should we fix the city permitting processes and ordinances or keep things the same?

BM: I can’t remember saying no to too many requests we usually work them out we might need to adjust timing a little bit or something but most of the time we can just approve somebody makes a request so it

would not tough just let them although they were easy we like to work with everybody that once to help prosper downtown, because as far as I'm concern the downtown needs that kind of vibrancy it needs to have those kind of attractions and whatever we can do to accommodate, be it authorizing sidewalk sales, closing down Street areas as long as we root properly, and we have done in the past, so there's no reason why we can't get to do it.


MB: On that you know the reason there is permitting is we need to know what's going on and we need to keep people safe and we also need to maintain access people live down there too. You know when they close Washington Square the people in Phoenix Row essentially either unable to get back to their homes are unable to leave homes on those days. So there's a reason for the process and it's not there to be prohibitive but it's there just so everyone is aware and aware of the problems involved in the issues involved with a street closing which is pretty big about it, also so the police can keep people safe and we have the appropriate bathrooms and you know so you need some kind of procedure.


AV: I think that certainly makes sense to have systems in place but I think what we can do is make it easier to apply for these permits because we're seeing right now is that it's very difficult to navigate the bureaucracy and who you are going through what paperwork to fill out and that's something that extends beyond just the cultural events of hearing it also from other communities looking to put on events or open a business in Haverhill. We need to make sure that we're streamlining the process making the paperwork not very difficult because we can have a willing council to support the creative economy but we need to make sure that it's easy for them to come forward and say hey this is what we need. That the process is streamlined for them to fill out all the people working permitting that they need to do.


BM:  That's true and I agree that we need to keep it as streamlined as possible but one of the things on some of the forms depending on what the event is there, multiple people have to sign off, it could be the Board of Health, Inspectional Services, the police department, the fire department, so depending on the event in the scope of the event, there were there are a number of people that have to sign off before it comes to us. We have never designed the form but we've always encouraged them to make them as simple and easy as possible.


MB:  I looked it Providence, Waterfire, and I looked at their their city application for events and very similarly, they did have a time window. There's a reason and it’s not just to put this out there and make it more difficult... there has to be some input on what's going on from other people.


Follow-up question: Would you say that sometimes it may be excessive, the amount of signatures you have to get to sign off on a permit? I know that personally with Creative Haverhill, we put on the outdoor movie series this summer and I had to have the city engineer sign off on it and the fire department and the city electrician I'm not exactly sure but I remember thinking that the city engineer need to sign off on this permit for movies that are going on in a parking lot?

MB:   I can see the electrician I can see the fire department, I can see the police, I can see health services.


AV: My question is for that did you have to go around and physically you know ask for their signatures or was this all electronic?


Jenny: the City Clerk sends it around to parties but I did find that there was a lot of miscommunication between them. Many of them thought they were you know it was miscommunicated where my event was taking place and so I'm wondering if maybe the issue really just comes down to communication within city hall and then also from City Hall to the department that entered the people that are applying.


BM: That's where part of your question initially was whether or not would be willing to look at it. I certainly would be willing to look at what we have and try to build a better mousetrap.


MB: There are plenty of good ideas out there we don't have to really create them, we can just obtain somebody else's.


Question: Often being compared to other cities, I hear all the time we're getting compared to Lawrence, Lowell, and a lot of times Newburyport when we're thinking of where our study could end up in the future. Are there any other studies that are doing the arts well that you look to as a model that we could use for Haverhill?


AV: I certainly think Lowell is a place we should be looking at. They've made a significant investment in the arts community and are attracting artists from across the world frankly. They have the largest I think the largest on the East Coast which is the Western Avenue Studio and it's an impressive building; it's big and it's beautiful. And I think we also need to look at New Bedford with their AHA! Program. I think they have done some incredible things there because they have been aggressive with looking for grant monies looking towards the private sector to also come in and help the creative economy. I think New Bedford and Lowell are two cities are we should look at because they have certainly done a good job.


BM: I would like to also throw in Rockport, one of my favorites over many years, and also if you go up the coast you can find Portland, Maine has a great downtown area and other parts along the Sea coast where we could probably pick one here or there to add. I think that we need to develop our own style we're not going to be Newburyport. We don't want to try to mimic that; what we want to try to do is create our own

unique draw and to create Haverhill as a destination community. One thing that I've been saying for a long time that I really hope we can strive to accomplish is to make Haverhill a model community, not just in arts and entertainment but in many other ways so that we do it right and other people will look to us to see how we're doing it and they can model us someplace else in New England.


MB: The reason I picked Providence because they have the river and we're turning towards the river and there’s a lot of opportunity with that you know in the next five years. We can do something else, like laser shows.


BM: We’re moving forward with the boardwalk and I know I know the mayor I can't speak for him but I'll say I have a feeling he is determined to make sure that that full boardwalk is completed and we're investing more. We're getting grants and it's going to be fantastic to have that type of a unique boardwalk around both sides of the river. The river is coming into play. Harbor Place is going to add an additional facet to our downtown... So we are still progressing and we don't have it done but I think, little by little, adding additional pieces to the puzzle and we're going to get it done.


AV: One of the things I wanted to address specifically with New Bedford because I do think that what we can do some really great unique things if they're great things are working elsewhere and we can find comparisons, there's no reason to reinvent the wheel first tried and proven in other cities. For example  New Bedford set up a great partnership with UMass and now UMass has their college of visual and performing arts in their downtown. As we know at Harbor Place we're getting UMass Lowell... it would be worth looking into the arts programs that they have as well, and see how that plays into our riverfront cultural districts as they are going to be in our downtown. I think that Councillor Macek or Councillor Barrett mentioned, there are a lot of great things happening in Haverhill and there are a lot of great organizations that are moving projects like this, like creative Haverhill… I just think that the city needs to take a more active role in facilitating faster and in engaged growth within those two organizations in the arts community.


Question: Right now there is no events coordinator or anyone that’s communicating events are going on in the city through City Hall.  How do you see City Council supporting the cultural district and the events that are going on?


BM: That would actually be new territory for the city and I think that what we would want to do is probably look to the mayor because the mayor is the only one that can allocate money. We can request but we don't always receive but I'm sure the mayor will support these type of endeavors, and I think that we would want to ask that he appoint an ad hoc committee to look at how we can go and grow, look for grants to allow for more development. Make a better a presence for a website, better communications, and we announced at the council meetings things that are coming and we invite whoever is holding it to come to the microphone during our meeting and let people know what's going on.  We can be the town crier in a lot of ways to get the word out so I think we want to continue that and grow upon that type of effort to really establish that continuity. The movies downtown was a great idea because they were consistent and they were they over a period of weeks instead of a one-time and gone event.  I am pretty confident that Team Haverhill would also assist in helping the arts community grow and really thrive in the community and they would probably work with you hand-in-hand.


MB:  You can look to the state delegation to if we're going to expand, it's going to have to come from the state to be in that area. Senator O'Connor Ives was very involved in that original district and we have the Chairman Dempsey and Linda Dean Campbell and the Mayor will have to work to increase if we are going to increase that area. UMASS Lowell will still be a player… Who knows what they can bring to the table as far as technology and support staff.


BM: Where there's a will there's a way. It’s nice to know that you have the thoughts and the energy to facilitate.


AV:  There are three things I think the city can do. Number one is respect and support our artists by as we mentioned by publicizing the events that are going on in the great work that's happening. Supporting them also makes the statement and using the channels that we have online where we can significantly can reach the most people. The mayor has a great following on Facebook, for example. Number two as we mentioned we can use our state delegation to be more aggressive with applying for grants. I was fortunate enough to work under Chairman Brian Dempsey, and it’s something that he's certainly invested in as well. The third point is obviously partner with the private sector, which we have begun to see a little bit downtown as well with, especially the beautiful creative crosswalks that are being installed.  I put out a neighborhood association plan… one of the reasons why I put it out because I think that these groups can be catalysts for supporting the arts in their neighborhoods because we've seen that a piece of artwork in your community is going to improve your perception on quality of life and how you talk about your community. So if we can expand that to beyond the downtown that would be fantastic. I think that neighborhood groups are a great way to support that and hopefully make it financially sustainable as well.


Question: Share why arts matter to you and why the arts community should vote for you in the coming election.


BM: I'm running for re-election to the Haverhill City Council. Arts matter to me because I believe they’re an important part. You can't cut out arts. Otherwise the community has no soul. it it's important to have arts and the entertainment within your community and to give people a fun and happy time to enjoy their life in our city. The quality of life issue was there if you don't have arts and entertainment. I am a big supporter and always have been, and it's nice now to see a movement actually happening with Creative Haverhill finally getting its sea legs.

Then Cogswell School I think is going to happen. That is a very seasoned panel of participants agree that they can make it happen and they will. They know how to reach for the grant money and I think they're going to do well. I will just continue to assist whenever possible. I may not be a true leader of the charge, but I'll be there in the pack with you.


MB: My name’s Melinda Barrett and I’m running for City Council.  I have been a big supporter of the arts and an active participant as far as putting on shows. I can appreciate art and I appreciate artists. Consider some artists some very good friends of mine and it’s nice to be exposed to different art. You know I don't always get some of them, but I support their efforts and I will always support their efforts.


AV: My name is Andy Vargas. I am excited to work with the creative community here because I not only appreciate and support their work they're doing, but there's just so much good that comes out of art and theater for a community. It has been consistently shown time and time again in each study that the investment is worth it and I think that we're in a really good place right now in that the community in Haverhill and the organizations here are really leading the charge in this, working very hard to bring more of a creative economy and culture to Haverhill. I think it's time for the city to now join those organizations and take an active role in helping them out and I hope to be able to be their voice and their partner for the creative community here.


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