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Michael Kline: 0:00:00.0 Today is May twelfth. We're in the boardroom of the Concord Free Public Library. It's another gorgeous spring day outside. Birds and blooms. And in the tradition of Thoreau, I'm trying to give the natural setting, you see, so that a hundred years from now somebody could compare it with—
Jerry Wedge: It's still nice weather. (laughs)
Carrie Kline: Yes.
MK: And my name is Michael Kline and I'm here with Carrie Kline. And would you please introduce—say, my name is—
Jerry Wedge: My name is Jerry Wedge.
MK: And your date of birth, please.
JW: Oh geez—my date of birth is October 20, 1958.
MK: Well, maybe we could just start off—if you don't mind—tell us about your people and where you were raised.
JW: My people. I was raised in central New York. My father was in industry. He was a human relations specialist—before they were called human relations, he was in personnel—and we traveled. I grew up in a small town called Norwich, New York, through the beginning of high school. Then we moved to a suburb of Syracuse, where I went to high school and then ended up going to architecture school at Syracuse University. I've got a brother and a sister. I mentioned my father, so my mother was a musician. She had church choirs most of the time I was growing up. She had a degree at Westminster Choir College. So I had the business influence from my father and the arts influence from my mother. More people?
Carrie Kline: Yes.
JW: I have a brother and a sister—that's about it.
CK: And their names?
MK: 0:01:57.7 Maybe—maybe you could say more about these—the particular ways in which these two influences worked together for you.
JW: Well, I went Syracuse at the School of Architecture and I always look at architecture as a balance of business and art, technology and art. And so when I think of my parents, I kind of look at those two forces impacting me growing up. You know I grew up in that era where the father was the breadwinner and the mother stayed home—but being around the art during the day—and my father was always very interested in things like woodworking and building things and that sort of thing. So I just look at what they both brought to the table and kind of—created my interests in a field that kind of combines it all.
MK: What were your parents' names?
JW: My father is Jack Wedge and he lives out in Worcester. My mother was Shirley Wedge. Interestingly my mother's maiden name was Sanborn. We moved to Concord in 1993. All of a sudden this name Franklin B, Sanborn kept popping up and I wondered what the—if there was a relationship between my mother's family and Frank B. Sanborn. I spent about a year doing our genealogy and realized that Frank and my mother's side go back to the original Sanborn brother that came to the United States in the 1640s and further realized that I'm fifth cousin five times removed from Frank Sanborn (laughs). So that's my connection to Concord. I also pursued the genealogy on my father's side which found that the Wedge clan came over in about 1640 as well and they settled in Sudbury. There are documents of the Wedges in the Selectmen meeting notes which is interesting to go through. So while I grew up in central New York—
MK: What do some of those notes say?
JW: Well, it describes land sales with Native Americans to my ancestors. It describes when—I'm going to forget his name, the original ancestor that came over, Michael Wedge or something like that—when he died, it talked about how the town would take care of the widow—the widow Wedge. It is all very interesting stuff. I haven't been able to find the exact parcel or property that he bought , but I haven't researched that for a while. He does not show up in any of the local cemeteries in Sudbury.
CK: I'm not actually familiar with Frank B. Sanborn.
JW: He was a transcendentalist and I haven't done as much research as I should on him. He was a great writer. He was teacher.
MK: Contemporary of—
JW: Of Thoreau and Emerson and all of them. He was also an abolitionist, I believe.
MK: Sounds like he had a lot going. (laughs)
JW: (laughs) It's just, you know, people move to Concord and say, I feel like I was drawn here. And we kind of felt the same way. We were living in the south end of Boston, we had a two-year-old, and we were thinking we're probably not going to raise her in Boston public schools and decided to come to Concord.
0:05:49.1 I had done a couple of architecture projects out here and we were looking to purchase a home in Jamaica Plain—we had planned to do that—and at the time my mother-in-law was a realtor in New Jersey, so we brought her up to look at the property. She scratched her head and said, Are you sure? We said, Well, we might live here for a couple of years until our daughter is five and then we'd move to the suburbs to get her a suburban education. And she convinced us—my mother-in-law convinced us—that maybe we should make that move sooner rather than later because years go by very quickly. At that, we said what suburb would be interested in and decided on Concord pretty quickly. And I go back—I've talked to several people and when you'd say Why are you in Concord? They'd say, I felt drawn to Concord. And whether it was the projects that I'd worked on, commuting out here, or we used to come out and go canoeing on the river or come out to Walden Pond, it just felt like the right place. So then going back into the genealogy, it seemed like maybe there was a draw.
MK: Was the built landscape beginning to change at the time that you were doing these projects? Were these private projects you were doing? Or were they—
JW: I worked on one—I worked on two projects, I think—one for the town and one for private residence. The landscape hadn't changed much. This was in 1993 that we moved out here. We bought what our realtor says was the least expensive house in Concord. We bought a two bedroom ranch in one of these post-war neighborhoods where there were capes and ranches. And things hadn't started changing, they hadn't started turning over into, you know, the kind of mini-mansions that started maybe in the later '90s, early 2000s.
Our neighborhood has changed since. Some houses have been torn down and rebuilt as larger homes. We added onto our house, so it's kind of been that same category although I don't think anybody would call it a McMansion. It's—we had—we took the roof off our ranch and added a second floor when our second daughter was born. The house across the street from us, the new owners bought it, they looked at plans for how to add onto it. It was a little cape and they decided that it was probably more cost effective to rebuild it. So instead of tearing it down, we asked them if we could have the house for a dollar, which they sold it to us. We moved it across the street and connected it to our house, so our house is larger than it was when we bought it. (laughs)
MK: That's interesting though that even though it's larger, it's still got authentic ingredients so to speak.
JW: And what was really important to us was to maintain the scale of the neighborhood, so we haven't increased the height of anything. While there is more mass of a house on the property, it's—there's still a couple of capes around us—so there is still a relationship of the ridgelines and that sort of thing. The scale we've tried to maintain and it still feels somewhat like the original neighborhood. I think what we've found around town—and I assume this is the landscape question you are talking about.
JW: Some neighborhoods have changed from being the cape, you know, the small cape and ranch neighborhoods. There was a period how when they started doing this that there would be a neighborhood of capes and ranches and all the sudden this big huge house and it just looked odd. And what's happened is that so many capes have been converted to these big, larger homes that the character of the neighborhood—while it's changed—it's now more consistent than it was because they're all now the larger homes. The scale is at least uniform, although much larger.
MK: Cape is—we're reminded—rhymes with scrape. (laughs)
JW, CK (both laughing)
MK: 0:10:20.0 As in scraper. People talk about—I've heard that term here in New England and people talking about it—
JW: Yeah. Well, there's still a lot of good use out of the capes. Our cape—our neighbor's cape—we opened it up, you know, for modern living and so we have one of these kitchens that opens up to a larger room. They are difficult to transform some ways because there is a stair right in the center of the house, so it kind of interrupts everything. As we connected it to our house, we moved the stair out of it so we could open it up. And while we didn't scrape it to the ground, we scraped just about every wall surface and floor surface in it.
MK: Did this move—in this move to Concord, did you envision pursing your art here?
JW: No, I didn't. I was practicing architecture. I was working for a firm in Back Bay. My wife is also an architect and she was working in the financial district. We moved out here from the South End. We had one little car. We had a daughter that had childcare in Concord, so my wife would get up early. She would take the train into Boston. I would drive our daughter to childcare and then drive into South End where we still had a parking permit. Then—it was pre-cell phone—so I'd have to get to the office and remember first thing to call my wife and tell her where the car was and she would take the train to the car, drive home to pick up my daughter, and I would take the train home that night.
That wasn't sustainable for very long. I eventually ended up taking a job out here in West Acton, so I could be closer to childcare and that sort of thing. And I was there for five years and after that decided to—we had a second child in that time—and decided to move my practice into the home so we could have more of a parental presence, raising children. I did that and at that point I submitted an application to The Umbrella for a studio space and there's a considerable wait list at The Umbrella so I—
MK: The Umbrella?
JW: The Umbrella Community Arts Center in Concord. It's next to the library. It's—I can talk more about it later as we discuss this.
JW: I submitted an application for a studio and within two years, I think, I was granted a studio—so that was terrific! I was intending on moving my architectural practice into that space. I tried it and I tried it and there were all these artists around me. And I just felt like I was doing more work on my kitchen table than I was in the studio, so I eventually started using the studio for art.
And, you know, I'd taken art classes in high school and I was around a very artistic family. Art wasn't foreign to me, but I hadn't done it as an adult so there was a point that I just said, Well, let me start working on this. I started painting and kind of picked it up on my own and then I became an artist. So I was an architect and an artist in a studio space at The Umbrella and I felt very much engaged in the arts.
MK: Can you talk a little bit about the structure of The Umbrella when you arrived there?
The Umbrella is an arts organization in Concord—one of the primary arts organizations in Concord. It's about thirty-three years old. Let me start by talking about the building first. The building was built in 1929 as the high school for Concord—it was called the Emerson School. It was a three-story classroom structure with a multipurpose room behind it. When the new high school was built in the '50s, up on the hill, The Umbrella—the Emerson School—was converted to a junior high school. They added on a stage in the back. They converted the multipurpose room to an auditorium. They did some modifications and it became a junior high school until the new middle schools were built. And then the building was abandoned and it didn't have any use, really.
JW: 0:15:00.5 The town considered turning it into town offices—I think they even built some of it out as town offices, so they took some of the classrooms and divided them up into smaller spaces. And I don't understand exactly what happened, but that project was abandoned and the building was left without a purpose. The town was considering whether they should sell it or tear it down or what to do with it. The land was deeded as educational use. It needed to maintain some sort of educational purpose.
As the town was questioning what do, this band of artists got together and I hear the story and kind of imagine this group of artists breaking into a back door of The Umbrella and searching around at night, (laughs) kind of prowling to see what they could do with it. They came up with this ingenious idea that they would turn it into an art center and so they went about doing that. They got a 501(c)(3) classification so they could be a nonprofit. They worked with the town to set up a lease—so they could make improvements to the building—and then they went about finding artists to fill the studios. A lot of the studios are in those old offices—in the offices that the town kind of started to set up. They're not huge classrooms, but they're smaller and subdivided. They did a lot of restoration to the building. They created programs in the building, they built a gas kiln, they renovated the theater, and they did just a tremendous amount of work.
This was in the early '80s—this was 1983—and I think you'll find, if you look around the country, a lot of old schools were converted. If they weren't converted to elderly housing, they were converted to art centers. I've seen several around the country that are kind of in the same situation that we are, but it's just—I mean—it was visionary back then. It's gone through its ups and downs, but I think we're at another point where it's becoming visionary of what the arts can do for the community. We are kind of working toward making all that happen.
MK: Can you go into that vision in more detail? That's very intriguing.
JW: Let's see—I got a studio in the building in 2005 and I was hired as their executive director in 2012. The board I think in 2012 realized that it would be difficult for the building to just go on the way it was, that it served a wonderful community of artists; but, in order for it to sustain itself, it needed to get bigger in terms of get more people in the building, get more people using the building and interested in the building. So their vision—our vision—is just to reach out to the community and offer arts programs and get people thinking more about the arts and how it stimulates creative thinking and all the benefits of creative thinking, which isn't any different than a lot of educators are talking about—integrating 21st century skills into their education. The goal is to increase children's programming, get more adults involved, create more offerings in the arts to different people. I kind of say that The Umbrella is all things to all people which it obviously can't be, but it's a lot of things to a lot of people.
We have five different programs in the arts. We have the original studio artists where we have fifty-five artists practicing in the building—working artists—and they are there every day. Some of them, it's their sole livelihood, others are there when they can to practice and polish their skills in watercolor or sculpture or oils or whatever.
We have an education program in which we have about 1200 students—kids to adults. We have a vibrant summer camp program where kids can engage in the arts. A part of that program is we collaborate with the rec department, so we call it Arts and Rec, so kids can spend their summer day in the rec department in the morning and come to The Umbrella in the afternoon for arts. It's become very popular. One of the visionary things that we are working on is to start connecting the arts to other activities. And if we can get kids who are typically on the soccer field all day to come over and take an art course, we think there are benefits to the whole child in that scenario. That's an important aspect of our education program.
We have an arts and environment program. And if you're from Concord, you'll appreciate the Earth Day that goes on every year—this is the 26th year that we've been doing it—and throughout the year we engage with students and adults and families to make big puppets and create costumes, then on a weekend close to the actual Earth Day, we march down Main Street. We typically have a ceremony at the river to acknowledge Earth Day and all that that means. We have a parade down Main Street with all these puppets—the community comes out and it's a great kind of festival. And then we end up with a celebration at The Umbrella on the front lawn. We have a lot of vendors and people talking about how we're going to save the world and save the earth, good natural food, and all that kind of stuff—that's our arts and environment program.
0:20:57.9 We also provide classes and workshops throughout the year. One of the main intentions of that program is just to get people outside, get them off their devices, get them away from the television, get them out of the air conditioning and just go outside and appreciate the Earth—and the arts—through the year.
MK: Do you have a little booth where they can park their phones and stuff when they come in or—
JW: We have phone baskets—
MK: Phone baskets? (laughs)
JW: Phone baskets—drop your phone!(laughs) A lot of that initiative is led by our teens. They've self-named themselves. Our arts and environment program is called Musketaquid—it's an Indian term for where the water meets the land or the marsh—and so our director of that program has put together a youth group and they've named themselves the Musketakids as a part of Musketaquid. (laughs)
JW: And they've taken a lot of the initiatives to get off your screen, you know, ride your bike, do all this kind of stuff. They've done things like parked bikes around town with messages on them. They've done storefront windows about getting exercise and getting outside. It's been popular. It's a great way to connect the arts to other issues that people are concerned about.
We have a fourth program—our gallery program. We have a gallery where we exhibit nine or ten exhibitions a year, some visiting artists. Many of the exhibits are based on the artists in the building and shows in the building. We collaborate with the school—with the rivers program at the school. They're putting up an exhibit right now, as a matter of fact. It is a space where the artists in the building can gather, can appreciate work, and kind of feel like a center. All the five programs, they all kind of come together at the gallery. That's where everybody can kind of appreciate all the programs at once, so that's interesting.
And then our final program is performing arts which is about three years old. And—um—how do I start with this one?
JW: It's a new program—it's performing arts. We started with the premise of what's our point of view because we started as basically a community theater—there are a lot of community theaters around—and we wanted to differentiate ourselves, so people would come to The Umbrella to see a certain kind of show. And we decided that we wanted to produce work that mattered to people. We looked at content that had a message or dealt with particular issues, whether it was AIDS or—let me think of—now my mind is going blank, so let me—
MK: Issues like homelessness or—
JW: Well, looking for—mental illness has been a topic that several of our shows have addressed. We worked on Angels in America in our first and second seasons. We've done—we just finished with—Hair, feeling that it was appropriate to kind of bring those questions back to the community from 40 years ago.
CK: 0:24:38.7 What questions?
JW: About hair and war and kind of the questioning authority and all that kind of thing—and we've gotten a great response from the community which is terrific. We typically try to balance our shows with a couple of musicals and a couple of plays. We've set up two venues. We have our main auditorium which seats three hundred fifty people in the main stage and we usually put the larger musicals on there. And then for the smaller plays, we turn the stage into a black box and build seats on risers and the sets on the stage and so we can get a hundred people seeing the play—it's a much more intimate environment. So for plays like we just did—Oleanna, which is kind of about sexual harassment—seeing it in a black box format is just a very intimate way to experience theater. Those are our five programs.
At this point, we're in a building that is 85 years old and a lot of the systems are failing. The bathrooms are original. The elevator is from the 1970s. You know you just constantly run into issues in a building that old and our programs are kind of bursting at the seams. The board has developed a master plan to expand the building and we are in the midst of a capital campaign. We're probably about halfway through our capital campaign on May 12, 2016, which is encouraging because the master plan was done in 2013. We felt like there was a lot of work to do before we could really enter a capital campaign—we've done that work—and a lot of that work is in building up the programs and making a place for ourselves in the community, a strong place for ourselves in the community. Now we've recently just hired an architect to start making the final plans for construction. And that's exciting because I think the community is really looking for a place in the center of Concord that's a real cultural hub.
There are several wonderful cultural organizations in town. I feel like at The Umbrella, people can connect to it because it's not one specific area. You can come to a concert and appreciate great music or you can come to a class and appreciate the kind of the individual attention that you would get from that, and everything in between. And so offering Concord this kind of cultural center, I think, is really important. When you look at Concord, it's a wonderful community that has the vision to maintain and build what's important to them. The library has been renovated. The schools have been rebuilt. We've put aside a lot of money for conservation land to preserve the natural environment. We've built recreation fields. We've just taken care of a lot of things in Concord. We haven't spent a lot of money on cultural institutions and it feels like once we do that then the community has kind of done it all and wrapped it up. I am very encouraged by our fundraising and the plans that we have that—once this is done—Concord is going to have an amazing cultural facility right in the center of town.
MK: Stunning—both in its scope and in how you described it. Very, very beautiful.
JW: I can't wait until it's done.
MK: But you're making amazing progress it sounds like.
JW: We're making good progress. There are people that have been involved for a long time. I've been involved for four years. Some people may wonder why they hired an architect as their executive director four years ago. I find the work as an executive director very similar to the work of an architect. You know, you're building consensus with people, you're kind of visioning projects, you're project managing, you're dealing with budgets—the work is very similar. It's just I work with a lot more people.
MK: But it's a fairly like-minded group?
JW: It's a very diverse group.
MK: 0:29:56.6 Very diverse group.
JW: The like-mindedness comes back to art. I don't know—what is a like-minded group? Are lawyers like-minded? I don't know. Doctors might be like-minded. Artists are all over the place. The herding cats comment comes up a lot. (laughs) But they're also well intended. I think that the reason I got interested in even applying for the job here was that as an architect, most of my work was with schools or nonprofits. I had a real affinity to mission-driven organization. And I actually found that I was spending most of my time volunteering as opposed to working and that didn't do a lot for the family budget. (laughs) I was enjoying my work and I finally said, Well, maybe I should pay attention to what's going on. This opportunity came up at The Umbrella where I'd been for eight years or so and just threw my hat in the ring, went through the interview process and they took that bold step of hiring somebody outside the box. It's been working so far—so it's exciting.
MK: That's spectacular. I'm curious about your painting. I wish we had a bunch of them to look at. Can you talk about your development as a painter? What kinds of things you like to paint? How it reflects the environment or builds community here?
JW: I like to say that I paint like an architect. It's all abstract. It's basically color and collage, but collage in a very strict sense—I paint on Masonite panels and then I put them together, so they are all very square or orthogonal and that sort of thing. I think that I reference back to the mid-century modernists—Rothkos, not really Pollock—but a lot of just kind of minimalist painters. What I like to think is that I start with that image, but then I try to add a story to it and just tell a story through markings and layers and scrapings and that sort of thing. Well, a Rothko painting, which is also built up of layers, ends up fairly pristine at the end.
My paintings end up kind of not "damaged" but they have history. They've got markings and stories. They've got things beyond just the pristine finish of them. I like to say if you stand at the end of the room and look at it, it looks like a beautiful piece of color. As you get closer to it, you start to understand that, you know, there is more depth to it and more markings and stories and that sort of thing.
MK: And have you hung in the exhibits there?
JW: I have I think one—
MK: Do they feature one artist at the exhibits or do they—
JW: We have two exhibits a year that we invite the entire—all the studio artists to participate in. We have an open studio once a year in April and we have what we call a winter market in December. And at those, we show the work of any artist in the building that's interested in it. We then have opportunities for either single shows or a small group of artists in the building to show once or twice a year. We have—let's see—we have an exhibit around Earth Month where it's open to anyone who wants to exhibit and sometimes The Umbrella artists participate in that. And then we have times where outside artists to show. So I've shown in the group shows—I usually put a piece or two in. I actually had an exhibit in the library here, maybe four or five years ago. I don't spend a lot of time painting anymore and I don't spend any time marketing my work or—(fire engine siren outside)
CK: Hold on just a minute (fire engine siren outside)—this is your break. (laughs) (audio stop/start)
CK: Your exhibits?
JW: 0:34:44.6 So, yeah, I don't spend any time marketing my work. I really just—I do it for pleasure. I like what I make. Some people buy it—not a lot of people—but I have some very supportive patrons that come back for more and more. My goal hasn't really ever been to make a living at it. Maybe that's something I'll think about in retirement. (laughs)
MK: Can you talk about the—maybe even in a general way—about the impact of arts on young children. You know where we live in West Virginia just about all the arts money has been cut out of the budgets. I suppose that's true in lots of places. When you cut an arts budget, what are you doing?
JW: Well, where we are today—we have the Kardashians, right? Maybe that should be edited out. (laughs) No, our kids are sitting in front of the television all the time. Let me go back—I shouldn't have gone down that path. Um—when you cut out arts which we did a generation ago, I think you disconnect all other subject matter. And I say this because my kids came home countless times and said, Dad, why do I have to learn this? I don't get it. Why am I taking this class? And it doesn't take much to connect these things. The arts is the natural way to do it, right? So you can bring arts into a class and connect math and science or math and literature or history and science. I mean there are just countless ways to do it through the arts.
We're working the public schools now with their Metco Program which is—I don't know if you're familiar, you're probably not familiar with Metco, from West Virginia. Metco is a program that's been going on for 30 years, probably more, where Boston students have an opportunity to come out to the suburbs and get their education. There are incredibly dedicated families and students that get on the bus at five or six o'clock in the morning and trek out to Concord every day, but they also fall into the category of the achievement gap. We're working with the public schools now and we're bringing the Metco kindergarteners to The Umbrella once a week, on Tuesday afternoons where there is half-day Tuesday for kindergarten, and they spend their afternoons at The Umbrella. We've set up an art curriculum that responds to their kindergarten curriculum and we just provide that enrichment and the schools are seeing progress in that area. That's hugely important to us—it's fulfilling to us. It also tells us that, well, it's not rocket science, it's just kind of what people have known for a long time. And for some reason when we decided that we had to focus on STEM—science, technology, engineering, math—we left out the arts and I think as a society we've suffered from it. We work hard to integrate the arts back into that STEM program and we're huge advocates of STEAM—science, technology, engineering, arts, math.
MK: STEM and STEAM.
JW: STEM to STEAM is what they say.
MK: STEM to STEAM.
JW: And our goal is to keep talking about it until the rest of the community is talking about it and the community understands that the arts are incredibly important to their lives.
CK: I'd love to hear more about how that happens, possibly with the kindergarteners—some more examples of how these connections are made at The Umbrella.
JW: Well, I believe, this year we expanded from kindergarten to first graders. There's a big shift in public school education between kindergarten and first grade. Our first grade program wasn't exactly the same as our kindergarten program, but we've learned lessons from both. And I think as we continue, we hope to expand it to the second and third grades, as well. So I am trying to think of connections now—
CK: 0:39:32.6 From what they even knew, the classes—
JW: Oh, there are projects. The teacher will put up historic pictures like whether it's—I've got an image in my head and I've blanked on the name—but it could be anybody. It could be van Gogh or it could be Monet or it could be any picture. The class will sit around and talk about what they see in the picture, what the picture means whatever that, and then it's written up—the teacher writes in all up. It's really interesting what a kid's perspective is of that picture because sometimes it makes you see the picture in a different way. Right? And sometimes it's talking about nature—I see a bird there, the bird is blue, or maybe it's not really a bird, maybe it's something else. It just sparks discussions, you know, in that way. And then they do other projects—tactile projects where they're making things, whether it's volcanoes or whatever.
MK: In different medium? Clay and—
JW: They either work in clay or they'll do historic—here's another example that goes beyond the Metco. We're working with a group in Malden called the South Sudanese Enrichment for Families. We've brought them out to The Umbrella for a free family day on a Saturday. The activity was making cows which goes back to their culture where there is a tradition of making these sacred cows out of clay. We had, I don't know, close to a hundred people participating in that and they all went home with their little cows. (laughs) We're bringing them back for an African festival in June and we're also mixing them with a group from Worcester who does drumming and dancing. The Crocodile River Music will be coming in June and so we'll be teaching kids how to drum—African drumming. We'll be doing activities with the cows—making cows. We'll be doing beading. Bringing in African food from Boston. We're creating a whole African festival. It's really just kind of a cultural awareness day—which I think communities like Concord want and need—and we're trying to provide that.
CK: I don't know if you can imagine how inspiring this is.
JW: I talk about it every day (laughs).
CK: What's that?
JW: (laughs) I talk about it every day or think about it every day. I hope it's inspiring. I think our whole goal is to inspire the community and get them to participate more and more.
CK: Are you crossing class with this?
JW: If I understand your question—yes.
CK: You say you're trying to bring in people from the community and I'm wondering if that brings in surprising people—very wealthy or very poor or unexpected people.
0:43:00.8 Yeah, well, we're in the middle of a capital campaign. First of all—all classes need art. You know all classes can understand the world better through art and so we don't discriminate. (laughs) But we also try to develop touchpoints where people can connect. We apply for a grant so we can provide free family events once a month, which we did for two years and we're kind of changing that now. We'd have eighty people at a free family event. We have kind of the average citizen who wants to take a class and will spend two to four hundred dollars for a ten-week class and participate that way. And then we have other events—more benefit events where we reach out to get a range of participants and so we have a concert series that's a benefit concert, a benefit series for our capital campaign. At that event, we'll sell patron-level tickets at five hundred dollars. We'll also offer general admission for less than that. We are trying to create touchpoints with all classes—that's not a word I use at random but, there's— (laughs)
CK: I'm sorry, that was kind of a harsh—it was a harsh intervention there. (laughs)
JW: We create these touchpoints where we can attract as many people and diverse people as possible.
CK: It just seems that outreach is always so challenging. I mean, how do you bring people out of the huge houses? And how do you bring people who are struggling with two and three jobs? How do you exert the presence of art in people's lives, unless there is a kid who's just desperate for it—or an adult?
JW: We do provide a minimal amount of tuition assistance and we're working to make that more and more. We also, I mean there are—some programs are more available to families in those situations than others. In our Earth Day parade, anybody can participate who wants and we look forward to that. The gallery program—the gallery is open all the time and people can come and appreciate art. We have—one of our board members is an art teacher at The Fenn School which is a local private school for boys and he'll typically bring over a busload of young boys just to walk through the halls and see the art on the walls and talk about it. It is just amazing that someone will reach out like that. It's not a museum, but there's a lot of quality art on the walls and—
MK: Find the value in it.
JW: Find the value in it, yeah, and it's just free and open to the public all the time.
CK: Maybe to answer my own question, it sounds like you're really inviting art into people's lives, especially through what you do out of doors. It's where people can just bump into art and then feel welcome.
JW: There's not a single definition of art, so art to me might be something different than it is to you. And that's why we try to create so many different avenues to get to it.
MK: And your—the state art council must adore you, right? They must be writing you checks every day, feverishly.
JW: Probably a lot like West Virginia, right? (laughs)
JW: 0:46:53.9 We're in the horrible budgeting cycle with the state. I think the funding for the arts used to be at thirty million, then about—I'll get all these dates wrong—but maybe it was twelve years ago, it dropped to twenty thousand—
MK: Twenty million—
JW: Twenty million, sorry—and then it just took a nosedive to about ten and that was in like 2003. So we've been trying to build it back up ever since. And for the last three or four years, we've been making incremental progress. So it was at fourteen—this year, it was at fourteen point-something that the state would put into the Mass Cultural Council, and then the Mass Cultural Council divvies it up around to arts organizations and it's just formula-based. And so we've seen a little bit of an increase in that every year in the—
MK: Well, that's good.
JW: Hundreds, maybe thousand dollars to that funding. Every budget cycle, one of the three groups—whether it is the governor, the house, or the senate—proposes a drastic cut to the arts and then all of the organizations have to scramble around and sign petitions and call their representatives to get it back up. And in the past few years, it's made it back up and a little bit more. This year, the governor proposed level funding, the house proposed a two million dollar cut to back down to twelve. So now we're in this scramble of having to get in touch with the senators who'll go into conference and hopefully increase funding to the arts once more. But we're a long way from the state supporting the arts at the level that would really help us integrate the arts into people's lives —fully integrate the arts into people's lives.
MK: But you're in a very supportive community.
JW: Concord has been very supportive, yeah, and there can always be more.
MK: What have we in our ignorance left out in terms of asking the right questions or what else would you like to talk about?
JW: It feels like you've touched on a lot.
MK: Feels like we have.
JW: Yes, I think we have. I should say hello to my wife and two daughters: Hi Carole! Hi Morgan and Aynsley! (laughs)
MK: Nobody's done that before. (laughs) That's nice.
JW: For posterity. (laughs)
MK: That's very nice. (laughs)
CK: 0:49:29.1 Will you talk about each of them a little bit?
JW: Oh, they'd be too embarrassed. (laughs)
CK: Earlier we left off with your wife working in the financial district in Boston.
JW: Well, she's an architect that works in that area and she's still an architect working down there. She's been with her firm close to 30 years—maybe it's 30 years. Yeah, she has an interesting story. She was—I met her when she was visiting Boston to interview at an architecture college and start a job and that was in 1986. We got married in 1988. She had started working at a firm called Shepley Bulfinch in Boston, which is the oldest architectural firm in the country, and she started in the copy room. She was like the office person making prints for people. Ten years ago, she was appointed as president of the firm—the first woman president—and that's what she's doing today. She's doing a lot of travel. She does a lot of work with institutional clients like Smith College and Princeton University and that sort of thing—she's fully employed.
MK: Very successful.
MK: And the girls—how are they?
JW: And the girls—we have a 25-year-old who's a graduate of a college; she went to High Point University. She's working and living in Boston. She had the goal when she graduated to get a job, live at home for a year, and move out—she met it to the T. (laughs) About a year after she'd moved home, she'd found an apartment, she'd saved her money, and she's moved out—so she's happy in Boston. We have another daughter who did a year of college and decided to take a gap year. She wasn't really enjoying the field that she'd chosen and so she took a gap year. She's been working as an intern for a couple of different organizations and found her passion—
MK: Which is?
JW: Occupational therapy.
JW: And so she's been accepted to BU and a couple of other colleges—I shouldn't say what she's going to do—but I think she knows what she's going to do and she's got a path for herself, so that's great.
It sure is! Well, thank you for making time for this.
JW: Thank you! I love the project—I love the oral history. I dread listening back on this, but— (laughs)
MK: 0:52:02.9 Oh, you won't be disappointed about this.
CK: Why do you love the project?
JW: I love documenting people's stories—the idea of documenting people's stories so future generations can look back and see what was Concord like in 2016.
CK: Is that—is this an art? (laughs)
JW: It is! The art of storytelling is an art. We talk a lot about it with our artists—storytelling. In fact, we had our fundraising gala last weekend and the theme was the art of storytelling. And so all of the artists that submitted artwork for the silent auction also included a paragraph or two about—
JW: The profile of the piece of art, what it's about and what the story is behind it. And our program was Storytellers—we had three people telling stories to the audience which was wonderful.
CK: Thank you.
0:53:10.0 (end of audio)