Arts & Creativity in Laconia, NH
When they opened a theater in Laconia in 2004, Leslie Pankhurst, husband Neil, brother Bryan Halperin and his wife, Johanna, took "a leap of faith," Pankhurst says, wondering if the local community would support a new arts venture.
Turns out, they needn't have worried. Today, the Winnipesaukee Playhouse is an area gem with a national reputation and a new $3 million home.
Arts Are Part of Life
In the Lakes Region, creativity is part of the fabric of life. And while others see economic development in terms of technology firms or light industry, this community hopes to attract and nurture artists, musicians, artisans and creative entrepreneurs.
"Our No. 1 challenge is attracting young people to the area," says Carmen Lorentz, executive director of the Belknap Economic Development Council. "Having a strong creative sector is very important in making this area attractive to people in their 30s and 40s."
Lakes Creative Economy Initiative
Her organization has teamed with the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce and the Lakes Region Tourism Association in the Lakes Creative Economy initiative to help foster "a vibrant creative arts community that is valued and supported by residents and visitors.”
So far the partnership has hosted quarterly networking events for the creative community, launched an online arts calendar and is putting together a directory to help local artists connect.
Lorentz says the number of creative sector jobs, as reported by larger arts organizations, increased by several hundred between 2000 and 2010 and "a large number of people are doing artistic work that we don’t have numbers on but that we hear about anecdotally." Lorentz points to the Winnipesaukee Playhouse as an example of “a group of young people who came here and are making something happen.”
The Playhouse began by staging one-night shows with magicians, actors, musicians and cabaret performers, through word of mouth building an audience that regularly filled its 80-seat storefront theater. Today it presents a professional summer season, community theater, youth theater, classes and workshops.
In spring 2013 it moved to a new 200-seat theater on an 11-acre campus that also includes an amphitheater, workshop, paint shop, furniture storage, and education building and even housing for out-of-town actors and crew.
"It's what we hoped it would be when we started here," says Pankhurst. "There is certainly a much more significant amount of artistic activity here now -- jazz concerts, other theater companies, music places, some galleries. It proves that there was a want out there."
Canterbury Shaker Village is also satisfying that desire. The national historic landmark attracts visitors with its beautiful 694-acre forested grounds, 30 historic buildings, two restaurants and a robust program of classes and workshops devoted to traditional arts, crafts and other aspects of Shaker life.
“There’s a certain natural beauty in our area, and people who are creative look for that pureness of spirit and heart that’s here,” says executive director Funi Burdick of the area’s arts-friendly environment. “Artists work from their hearts and minds. They are drawn to an area that welcomes the creative spirit, and New Hampshire does it well.”
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