Amy Mah Sangiolo'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?

Based on my 19 years experience as a Newton Public Schools parent, as a City Councilor I have consistently opposed cuts to music and art programs. I know how important a well-rounded education is for our kids and how much comfort and joy the arts and music can bring to our overly programmed, heavily tested, children.

I grew up as an only child and one of a handful of Asian Americans in my community. My mother enrolled me in a local dance school for socialization, where I took ballet, tap, jazz and baton twirling, voice, and piano lessons. At one recital, I was “discovered” by an agent and was swept into the world of auditions. I was in several commercials, on television, and had a role in a documentary - all before I turned 10. By the age of 12, I had to choose between ballet and piano. I chose piano, and that changed my life dramatically. The 4 - 6 hours of practicing per day gave me purpose and a safe place -- something to turn to when I felt alone. I learned to channel my emotions through the music I was playing. Bach was conflict (but always had a resolution), Chopin was comfort. Eventually, I auditioned for the pre-college division of the Juilliard School of Music and was accepted.

When my kids were in the Newton Public Schools, they were lucky to have had a much richer arts and music experience than what is offered today. They had instrument lessons with no fees or very small imposed fees imposed. They were able to participate in the elementary school’s orchestra, band, and chorus and also the all-city chorus, which did not require a large fee. Outside of the public school program, they were able to take lessons in violin, piano, and french horn.

For art, my oldest had a good sense of color, and we enrolled him and his siblings in a program in a local artist’s home in West Newton. This is why I, as Mayor, want to include those artists who are contributing to our community on a smaller scale - as well as those who are affiliated with larger organizations.

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.

I served on the Board of the All Newton Music School many years ago, and I’ve worked the Suzuki School of Music of Newton to find permanent home. I’ve attended concerts by the New Phil (I have good friends in the orchestra!) and have enjoyed musical performances at the Turtle Lane Playhouse (which I hope will be revived soon). I’ve also supported the Newton Historic and funded one of their exhibits several years ago. I’ve had the most direct connection, however, with the New Arts Center and the Greater Boston Chinese Cultural Association. When my children were young, they and I were enrolled in classes at the New Arts Center. My oldest loved the cartooning classes, and my two youngest and I loved the family pottery classes on the weekends. I proudly display their pottery pieces (as well as my own - an oddly shaped vase) on our mantel. The early exposure to the arts that they received had had a tremendous impact on them, and- given them the ability to think creatively and not be pigeon-holed in their thought process or their means of expression.

To give my children exposure to their cultural heritage, I enrolled them in language classes at the Greater Boston Chinese Cultural Association, in West Newton. The school provides excellent language instruction for children and adults, and it also provides enrichment classes. My children have learned Chinese calligraphy and brush painting, they took Chinese dulcimer lessons, and they were exposed to Chinese traditions. My sons took up Kung Fu and competed in numerous events. I took up Kung Fu as well! I have also supported the Happy Elders Club - a group of senior members of the organization who gather on Tuesdays for community lunches and talks. I have been a regular supplier of the Thanksgiving meal, preparing a home-cooked turkey for the group.

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?

Last night, at a meet-and-greet, I was struck by one person’s observation. She is a 48-year resident, feeling very lost last November’s election and looking around at the community and not feeling any connection. She observed that the City seems to have lost its soul. She asked me what I could do? I responded that I feel the same way. That’s why I am running. I feel compelled to run. There’s not much I can do on the federal level - but there is so much I can do on the local level. By harnessing my skills, experience, passion, and commitment for this City-- and more importantly, harnessing the skills, experience, passion, and commitment from our residents -- we can bring everyone together and make positive change here on a local level. I believe it starts with community building. My proudest accomplishment while on the Board/City Council has been ensuring that Newton’s branch libraries remained an integral part of the community and not sold off. When the 2008 override failed, I went to the local community groups in Auburndale and Waban and asked if they had the same feeling about the importance of the branch libraries to our community. I shared with them my own personal connection to my local library growing up: It was a safe place for me, a place where I could go and just absorb myself in so many books. I shared my vision for libraries - to be that same safe place for children, teens, adults, and seniors - a special place where our community can gather, talk, meet, and get connected. And look at how well they are thriving!

That’s what we can do with arts here in Newton: Bring people together. We already see it with the Festival of the Arts and with the programs funded by Newton Community Pride and our community business partners for concerts in Newton Center, and in our parks and playgrounds. If you have attended any, you’ll understand what I mean. There’s nothing like music to bring people together. I wheeled my 92-year-old mother, who has dementia, to the Sunday concerts on Newton Centre green, and she had a blast. She watched children and adults dancing to the music and clapped her hands to the beat. It was the highlight of her week.

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a commitment from the City since then to invest in the arts, and that’s what I will do as Mayor: Invest. I’ve already suggested that we need more community space in the City. I would love to see a cultural center here in Newton. I would love to see more open space. Can you imagine partnering with our businesses in the village centers and having them showcase our local artists or partnering with them to open their branches at night to host local performances? But it’s not just about providing space; it’s also about providing support.

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 Mayor, I will be an active member of the School Committee and continue to do what I have been doing for the past 20 years as your City Councilor : Oppose cuts to art and music programs and oppose fees for chorus and instrument lessons that serve as barriers to participation. My children were lucky to have the opportunity for instrumental instruction in their elementary school. My oldest son and daughter took up the violin and later the viola and were able to participate in the small orchestra and stringed instrument groups at Williams Elementary School, and they participated in the chorus. They carried that with them through middle school, participating in the orchestra and the All-City Choral Group, the Troubadors. My youngest took up the trumpet at Williams and then moved on to the French Horn and is participating in the band and wind ensemble programs at Newton South. Now the school department imposes fees - $150/year for 4th and 5th grade - All City Music; $150/year for 4th grade instrument lessons (not including rental); $150/year for 5th grade music ensemble; $60/year (not including drama) or $100/year (including drama) for middle school activity fees; $150/play or $450/year for high school drama fees. We cannot say that we as a community support the arts and art and music education and then turn around and slap our children and families with fees that prevent many from participation. Although one can ask for a waiver, it’s not easy for someone to ask. We need cultural equity. That means providing opportunities to have access to arts education for everyone. As Mayor, I will ensure funding is available to support our arts and music educational program and to reduce or eliminate these fees.

In addition, there are many educational programs throughout the City provided by local music and art schools and nonprofits. The City should partner with these entities, make it easier for them to have performance and display space, and provide opportunities to showcase their talent.

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? 

Revenue Sources for the Arts - The City needs to invest in the arts and support cultural organizations throughout the City. To date, the City provides limited resources and has only two staff positions in the Parks and Recreation Department: the Director of Cultural Affairs and her very able assistant. As Mayor, I will establish a task force to identify revenue sources and develop a funding plan, and I will make staff available to go after those resources. In addition to funding that staff position, I will provide seed money from the City’s General Fund and establish a Commission that will provide grants to arts organizations and individual artists throughout the City.

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

Currently, the City does not have an administrative structure to adequately support the creative community. As Mayor, I will separate our Cultural Affairs Office from the Parks and Recreation

Department and provide an additional staff person to advocate for and assist our existing arts community, expanding our reach to the smaller organizations and individual artists throughout the City.

I will work with all City Departments and the School Department to streamline our permitting and licensing process to make it easier and less costly to rent space in our municipal buildings. I will also go to our community partners -- both businesses and non-profits -- to seek out similar arrangements.

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

As Mayor, I will create an Arts and Cultural Commission and provide staff support. I will re-establish a separate Office/Department of Art and Cultural Affairs with sufficient staff support to assist our artists and art and cultural community with space and funding needs.

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 will ensure that Newton will be a destination for all to enjoy our rich arts and cultural community. We will create an infrastructure to provide support and resources. I will collaborate with our City Council, the Economic Development Commission, the Arts and Cultural Commission that I will create, and the Newton Needham Chamber of Commerce to move forward and build a network of businesses, non-profits, and arts organizations and seek ways to highlight our art and cultural community throughout the City.

As Mayor, I will lead zoning reform and collaborate with the City Council to ensure that zoning for arts and cultural organizations are included in all zoning districts and that we incentivize and encourage re-use or development of artist space throughout the City and streamline the permitting process.

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 the first 100 days of my administration, I will do the following:

    • Create an Arts and Cultural task force to help identify revenue sources and develop a funding plan and have staff available to pursue those resources and grant funding.
    • Re-establish a Department or Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs - removing it from the Parks and Recreation umbrella - and provide additional staff and resources.
    • Create a Commission on Arts and Cultural Affairs to provide support and assistance to artists and art organizations throughout the City - ensuring cultural equity - so that we take care of newer artists and organizations as well as our more established ones.
    • Provide seed money in order to grant financial support to artists and organizations.
    • Streamline the permitting process and reduce the fees to use municipal buildings.
    • Partner with businesses and non-profits to showcase our artists.
    • Collaborate with the Newton Needham Chamber of Commerce to brand Newton as an arts and cultural destination to attract visitors and businesses to locate here in Newton.

I am grounded in this community, I care about our city, and I care about our future. My promise to all of you is that I will harness my skills, experience, passion, and demonstrated commitment to the arts and cultural organization throughout the City and make Newton a leader in the arts. 

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