Editor’s note: The following speech was delivered by Jessica Gelter, executive director of Arts Alive!, as a welcome to Thursday night’s Ruth & James Ewing Arts Awards at the Redfern Arts Center at Keene State College. It was written to be spoken, not to be read, so some of the grammar and punctuation remain to reflect that, at Gelter’s urging.

Gelter:

This year marks five years of the Ewing Arts Awards and ten years of Arts Alive! For ten years Arts Alive! has worked to give back, as much as possible, to our arts community through business support, marketing,

research, educational workshops, connecting artists to new opportunities, and through advocacy.

For ten years we have worked to advance our mission — to enhance the quality of life by advancing arts and culture in the Monadnock Region. Defining quality of life in terms of a community’s economic health has been a measurement we’ve relied upon. At our founding, Arts Alive! with Americans for the Arts began a regular study of the impact of nonprofit arts & culture business activities in our region. It looked at audience spending and business spending.

Last time we did this study, in 2016, nonprofit arts and culture organizations contributed over $18.6 million to the local economy. We worked with the N.H. Division of Business & Economic Affairs, and learned that for—profit creative workers and businesses contribute another $80 million. From Hinsdale to Hillsborough, Marlow to Macon, that’s an almost $100 million impact — $100 million — and its being circulated in local salaries, taxes, shopping and more.

There it is. Arts are an economic engine. Quality of Life. Right? But when our mission says “quality of life,” are we only to look at economic impacts?

Because the value of the arts goes beyond what can be measured in economic terms.

My husband and I are theatre artists. When we create our work, we also need to create safe space for our collaborators, actors, designers to create their work. A place where emotions can be free flowing — allowing the actors to go from dark to joyous places in an evening’s rehearsal. A place where critical thinking is essential to understanding of our joint effort. We feel safe to discuss everything from Midsummer Night Dreams issues of consent to how the #metoo movement is reflected in a Victorian murder mystery. And because of the safety, respect and love showed in the process, and the cathartic experience of creating something together — something that will only live for one or two performance weekends — we build this love for each other. It is another family.

And what is that worth? Maybe we measure it in our holidays when we have dozens of people with us to celebrate. It is certainly not an economic measure, but it does reflect a quality of life.

Arts and culture bring us opportunities for expression, empathy, healing, learning, and joy, things we all need to flourish. And they connect us.

Which brings us to the last part of Arts Alive!’s vision, of what we have worked ten years to achieve — to create a “community that values arts and culture and provides community support to facilitate success.”

The Ewing Arts Awards and our partnership with The Keene Sentinel has been a vital part of that vision. For the past four years I have had the honor to speak at this event. I asked a lot of you over the years! I have asked you to open your eyes, to face the darkness, to look deeply for your truth, and to answer the call to create. I know, you will do all of that without my asking, and you will do more.

For 10 years, Arts Alive! has been empowering arts organizations, individuals and groups to bring greater value to our community. Tonight I ask you to consider — how do we as a greater community reciprocate? What does that look like?

It is the same as committing to buy local — put your money where your mouth is. Appreciate something that your neighbors or friends have created, by viewing it, by praising it, and by buying it, instead of buying something from Amazon or Walmart. Go see their shows and concerts. Can you commit to once a month, rather than paying for yet another TV subscription service? Donate to the nonprofits where you find community — a safe space, joy, connection.

What are those worth to you?

The artists, arts administrators value their time, value their dreams, value their creativity, and the relationship you have with them. Value our community by investing in each other — in the people who live here and make here and dream here.

I’m asking you to curate your life and your surroundings. Do it intentionally. Do this so that we may gather here every year — for five more years, ten more years, countless years — and never run short of artists and organizations to praise, to learn from, and to honor.

Thank you.