Scott Lennon'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?

My first real personal experience with the arts came in elementary school through my 5th and 6th grade teacher Emily Sullivan.  Mrs. Sullivan was an opera singer and she really got our class involved with understanding the beauty of opera and specifically Verdi’s Rigoletto.  She opened our eyes to a whole new world and our class got a real taste for opera but we wanted more!  We decided we wanted to see a live performance.  Our class started a store selling school supplies each morning before school.  We raised enough money to buy the tickets to see a live performance in Boston.  Mrs. Sullivan also arranged for the class to meet the performers back stage when the performance was over.  It is an experience that has remained so important to me to this day and why I value the arts so much in our schools and as a way to build community spirit.

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.

Having been raised in Nonantum, one of the most culturally close-knit villages of Newton, I have experienced many, many different cultures but especially the traditions of Italy as many generations that reside there are of Italian descent.  I’ve experienced firsthand the cuisine, carnivals, songs, religious festivals, and the strong emphasis on community service.  I have also been privileged to be a part of many ‘International Days’ at the Lincoln Eliot School as a Councilor but now also as a parent.  The number of cultures in our community is amazing and I treasure how much this adds to the fabric of our community.

As the one of the youngest-ever nominated Directors of the John M. Barry Boys and Girls Club of Newton, I was very active in expanding its programs in the visual and performing arts.  I am very proud to say that today this Boys & Girls Club, where I spent many years as both a member and an organization leader, now offers courses in Dance, Digital Arts, Film, Music, Painting, Performing Arts, Photography, Sculpture, Theater, and Visual Media.

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?

As Mayor, I would strongly advocate for the integration of the arts while planning smart growth and the development of livable communities by encouraging all potential developers to set aside a meaningful, dedicated community space within their proposed plans to assist in accommodating the arts in each village. These plans would also require input from the creative community.  I feel it would be my responsibility to perform this level of advocacy with potential developers.

I see art and creativity as vital venues for both self-expression of the individual and increased community awareness of different cultures.  Whether it’s a senior citizen revisiting his/her past or a child unable to thoroughly express his/her feelings except through the arts, or a specific ethnic group proudly demonstrating its heritage... all provide meaning and fulfillment to the lives of Newton’s residents.

As discussed in my interview with the ‘Create the Vote Newton’ team, having empty storefronts display art is a great way to address unoccupied space for a temporary period and draw more attention to a village center and/or a potential spot for lease/rent.  I was also very intrigued about the ideas presented on how we could integrate art within our public works improvements.

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?

As the parent of a daughter just entering first grade at the Lincoln-Eliot School, I would encourage multiple classroom demonstrations, interchanges with other Newton Schools, and enhanced city-wide programs of the many various cultures within our schools, enabling them to demonstrate their unique heritages through art, dance, cuisine, music, etc. This would certainly deepen not only my own daughter’s knowledge and appreciation of various cultures but also that of the entire city.

Furthermore, as both a parent and (potentially) an official member of the Newton School Committee, I certainly support the current emphasis on the STEAM curricula, including the arts in science, technology, engineering and math curricula.  I will certainly support DESE’s Initiatives as I believe art and music education in our schools has too long been seen as more of an option than a requirement, and also more vulnerable to budget cuts.  To me, the arts within our programming needs to be a strong part of all aspects of our school environment.

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? 

I would look closely within our overall budget on how to possibly incorporate more funding for the arts throughout our various departments.  I will work with the City Council to ensure we are requesting the possibility of dedicated spaces from developers, encourage both the business and the private sectors to invest more in the arts, tap whatever state funds remain for the promotion of the arts such as funds from the Mass Cultural Council, urge individual contributions from citizens on multiple venues such as the city census form and fostering public/private partnerships.   

How would you modify or expand the city’s current administrative structure to support the creative community? 

I would look to expand the Mayor’s Department of Cultural Affairs both with additional funding and personnel beyond just its two current positions of Director and Assistant Director.  While the current Director is to be highly commended for her herculean work in advancing and coordinating the arts in Newton for many years, along with her Assistant Director, they could certainly utilize additional staff to continue to support the creative and cultural community in Newton.

What are your highest arts and culture program priorities and how will you allocate resources for those priorities?

My highest arts and cultural program priorities would be those that most directly affect and benefit members of our community such as our children, our seniors and our immigrants. I will allocate resources first to the arts programs in our schools, and those community programs geared to them. Next, I would explore additional arts programs in our senior center and city-run programs for children. Finally, I would turn my attention to the vast numbers of our immigrant population to enable them to disseminate the arts that are important in their heritage.  I would then look for a way to ‘tie’ all this together and build a tremendous community spirit.

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?

One of my deepest concerns about our creative communities are their many segregated locations in various Newton churches, libraries, senior and community centers, parks, colleges, our high schools and even the back steps of City Hall.  Although the City Council appropriated funds from the Community Preservation Act for the renovation of the Nathaniel Allen House, a most worthy development, it unfortunately will support only small and medium-sized performances and cultural events.  Likewise, our new high school, Newton North, even with its 600-seat theater cannot nearly accommodate the theatrical needs of our thousands of high school students and theater-enthusiasts throughout our city.

Likewise, the Cultural Center in the Carr School had to vacate after 8 years because the School Department needed it as swing space.  So, after many necessary renovations, it moved into City Hall as the Newton Cultural Center, offering art classes, summer arts programs, conference rooms on weekends for art classes, and special-needs theater programs.  But I believe it is still a short-term solution to centralizing the arts in Newton, because of its limited size and facilities—we don’t have a centralized arts venue purposely designed to host art programs, exhibits, studio spaces, artistic works, symphonies and vocal groups, and constructed to accommodate large audiences. 

I will work collaboratively to see Newton has a center for the arts (classes and museum exhibitions) with a music center capable of encompassing both a full-sized stage and a full symphony orchestra and possibly an open- air amphitheater theater in a park that we can be proud of.          

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?      

I will meet with the staff of my Office of Community Affairs, representatives of various art alliances and programs, the Newton Schools art and music departments, and any other relevant cultural groups to form a committee to explore their concerns and financial needs and to elicit detailed proposals for advancing this critical dimension of Newton’s community and unity. 

Also, Newton, with its 40 different languages spoken in its schools, and with one in four of its residents born outside the United States, is already very multi-culturally rich.  I would utilize this diversity by including more varied cultural and artistic programs in City Hall functions, schools, and community events and strive to disseminate even more aggressively the educational, financial and personal values of such programs.

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