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Arts Jubilee — Not your average arts organization, Part 1


Community involvement meant everything



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Maureen DeBaggis, along with her husband, Reggie, greeted the audience and sold Arts Jubilee balloons at many Arts Jubilee concerts. (Photo courtesy Arts Jubilee). (click for larger version)
October 14, 2010
In looking over the history of Arts Jubilee, one major thought keeps returning: the success of this organization rests solely on the fact that a diverse group of enthusiastic supporters with no training or background in organizing a non-profit cultural arts organization were able to make an enormous impact on the quality of life in the Valley simply because "they believed they could."

THE PRESENCE OF THE Volvo Tennis Tournament in the Valley was what prompted the beginning of Arts Jubilee.

In 1982, Cranmore Mountain was hosting the Volvo International Tennis Tournament, which was observing its 10th year in the Mt. Washington Valley. Mike Hickey, executive director of the MWV Chamber of Commerce at the time, and Bob Murphy, president of the Chamber's board of directors, agreed to work with Jim Westhall, tournament director, and other tournament organizers to host a gala birthday party. The MWV Arts Association also agreed to help. The result was the first-ever Symphony Pops Concert and fireworks, presented in Schouler Park in North Conway Village.

Schouler Park was filled with a combination of awestruck residents and excited visitors, all there to hear a memorable concert by the Portland Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Bruce Hangen. The excitement generated by the great success of this one-time event caused residents to flood the Chamber office with letters and phone calls asking for a repeat of the concert each summer.

The Chamber was not able to take on the administration of such an event and, as a result, the idea germinated and ended up creating a separate organization whose mission would be to present major cultural events in the Valley. Spearheaded by Bob Murphy, letters were written to area corporations to secure financial backing for the presentation of live concerts here in the Valley.

That was in 1983. Twenty-eight years later, Arts Jubilee is still fulfilling its mission of bringing unique performances, usually found only in metropolitan areas, to our 'little' part of northern New Hampshire.

ARTS JUBILEE WAS BORN in 1983, supported by 12 founding businesses, each of which made an initial contribution of $2,500 to help with initial funding. Along with a grant from the N.H. State Council on the Arts, submitted by the MWV Arts Association, Arts Jubilee had a financial foundation for its beginning in January 1983.

The first official gathering of organizers was held at the former Scottish Lion Inn, now Moat Mountain Smoke House. Of those original businesses, many are now either entirely missing from the area or have changed names. Do you remember North Conway Bank, Hamel Realtors, Inc., Carroll Reed Ski Shops, White Mountain Realtors, Ellis River Village, First NH/White Mountain National Bank, New Hampshire Profiles Magazine, Jackson Resort Association, and Indian Head Bank? Still on the scene are founders Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce, Horsefeathers Restaurant, Volvo of America Corporation, and some of the original businesses now operating under a different title.

Even more fun is reading the list of people, many of whom represented the founding businesses just named, who formed the original board of directors and officers of Arts Jubilee: Frank J. Connolly, Jr., President; Francis Deasy, Vice-President; Robert J. Murphy, Secretary/Treasurer; and Directors: Dick Badger, Gerry Hamel, Joseph Nicolato, Colin Davidson, Mike Hickey, Ed O'Halloran, Sally Everett, Tom Hiniker, Kim Packard, Gerry Fagan, Mike Kirk, David Wilson, Chuck Selmi, representing the MWV Arts Association; Ann Backus, representing the N.H. Commission on the Arts, and Cindy Russell, Arts Administrator.

The Board of Directors is no longer chosen based on corporate support, but is a group of citizens of the area who are dedicated to expanding the cultural atmosphere of Northern New Hampshire. Corporate sponsorship, however, has been a dominant factor in Arts Jubilee's history since its inception in 1983. Nearly 50 individual companies — representing funding of over 50 percent of the annual budget — have been maintained each year and while in recent years the corporate contributions have been reduced, the support from our area businesses is a source of great pride.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME memories from Arts Jubilee's early years, ranging from great financial times to the first economic slump of Arts Jubilee's history in 1990.

Arts Jubilee celebrated its real beginning in June 1983. First, at the Governor's Mansion in Concord in May, and then with Governor John Sununu cutting the ribbon at our first dinner dance at Eagle Mountain House.

Frank Connolly, Jr., the first president of the board, was chosen because he had experience in beginning major activities in the Valley, such as the Volvo Tennis Tournament.

Our eagerness to impact the area that first year is illustrated by the fact that more than 20 performances were presented, sometimes three a week, in various sites all over the Mt. Washington Valley, from outdoors at the Mud Bowl to a performance of the Hartford Ballet indoors at Mt. Cranmore Racquet Club with 600 or more people in attendance.

In 1984, our season kicked off with the Dinner Dance at Black Mountain. We had to call an emergency meeting of the directors to help dig trenches around the tent so the flooding from the torrential rain could be diverted out of the tent only hours before the event was to begin. Just in time, the sun came out, and a sawdust "floor" was installed in the tent to soak up the water so everyone stayed dry.

The Arts Jubilee stage was built by volunteers in 1984, with contributions from the building industry, spearheaded by Glen Builders and L. A. Drew. The stage lasted until 2000, when it was replaced with funding through generous grants from the Goldberg and Ham Charitable Foundations.

1985 began with much-needed support from Coca-Cola. Beginning as the sole Presenting Sponsor, Coca-Cola of Northern New England remained in that role until 1989, when the Presenting Sponsorship was shared with Nynex Yellow Pages. Coca-Cola began sharing the spotlight with American Airlines from 1991 through 2007 when, as a Season Sponsor, it partnered with long-time supporter, White Mountain Oil. Coca-Cola has continued its contribution through 2010 to become Arts Jubilee's most generous overall funding source, totaling well over a quarter of a million dollars in cash contributions in our 28-year history. Every sponsorship dollar is valuable, and we are grateful to continue to have the support of scores of Valley businesses.

Also in 1985, Bob Murphy became our new President. Our kick-off fundraising Dinner Dance was presented by the Jackson Resort Association in Jackson Park. Our summer events were finally all under one "roof," a rented tent pitched in the beautiful setting of the north slope of Mt. Cranmore. More than 20 years later, history would repeat itself, with Cranmore once again becoming the home of Arts Jubilee's summer concerts. We hosted our first presentation of "Up With People," housing 125 international students, to a sell-out crowd of nearly 1,200 people.

With the exception of the symphony pops concert, all events required the purchase of tickets. In 1985 we began a connection with the UNH Division of Continuing Education permitting us to hire UNH Student Interns to assist with additional summertime duties. Karen Young became the office assistant and Ben Wilcox served as Ticket Office Manager. In later years, Miles Waltz took on the Ticket Office management, with Kristen Russell as office assistant.

IN 1986 WE MOVED our rented tent to a new location at the Grand Manor in Glen. Special guest, Gov. John Sununu, narrated "Peter and the Wolf," performed by the New Hampshire Symphony Orchestra, at the first event in July.

The Hartford Ballet returned for a second performance at Grand Manor in spite of the rainiest summer we could remember. Bruce Hangen performed his final concert for Arts Jubilee with the Portland Symphony Orchestra. We also presented our first winter event, "The Nutcracker," in two performances by the Atlantic Ballet, to sell-out audiences in the Mt. Cranmore Racquet Club.

In 1987, with the assistance of 15 supporting sponsors, each of whom contributed $1,000, we purchased our own tent. Under board President Gerry Hamel, we hosted performances of the Philadelphia Boys Choir, New Hampshire Symphony and honored Maureen and Reggie DeBaggis as devoted Arts Jubilee volunteers.

In 1988 we introduced The Little German Band & Dancers to summer audiences, along with another mini-flood requiring volunteer trench digging reminiscent of 1984!

The board worked on some creative financing and saw the "birth" of the New England Symphony, formed especially for Arts Jubilee to present the annual Symphony Pops Concert more affordably.

A mini-series was inaugurated in the spring to bring artists in residence to the Valley schools to encourage children to be supporters of live performances — "our audience of the future."

The Guarantors' Fund was created — often called the "Rainy Day Fund" — to rescue Arts Jubilee in a deficit situation, a great example of proactive and visionary thinking. Six guarantors contributed a total of $72,000 over two years. Both rain and a variety of economic conditions have made the board eternally grateful to: Carroll Reed, First NH Banks - White Mountain Bank, Hamel Services Group, Indian Head Bank, North Conway Bank, and Reading China and Glass.

1989 was a good year! Under the leadership of our new president, David Wilson, we brought back the Hartford Ballet, the Little German Band & Dancers, and Up With People, as well as Queen Ida's Cajun Band and the Chinese Golden Dragon Acrobats and Magicians to sell-out audiences.

In the fall, Arts Jubilee committed to serving our audiences better by upgrading the site of our tent with raised seating and a more central location. We gratefully accepted Settlers' Green's invitation to move our offices and tent to a new home: the old airplane hangar building located to the left of the entrance.

In 1990, we reached what we believed to be our pinnacle as a successful non-profit performing arts organization in the Mt. Washington Valley: quality summer performances, enthusiastic audiences and enhancing the schools with a community artists-in-residence series.

BUT, ALAS, WE HAD to face financial facts. In the fall of 1990, when the board looked back and critiqued Arts Jubilee's health, it was obvious that the "economic slump" of the early '90s had come to North Conway. How to survive?

Little did we know that we would ask that same question again and again in the future. Each time, the answer from the board confirmed the belief that live music performances were becoming increasingly rare and it was a priority to continue to present this cultural enhancement to our area. This belief continues to be the mantra for Arts Jubilee's survival, with plans now in progress for our 29th Summer Concert season in 2011.

. . .To be continued!

Editor's note: Cindy Russell has worked with Arts Jubilee since its beginning in 1982. Today, she is the event's director and works year-round to find and secure entertainment acts for summer months and is in the front line for financing each season's shows. The Mountain Ear will present the second in this three-part series of articles on the history of Arts Jubilee in next week's issue.

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