Sunday, July 25, 2010

Meet the Neighbors!

It's true. In the winter I'm a bit of a hermit. I like to curl up with a good book by the woodstove and keep warm. Nighttime events require a certain motivation to attend. But in the bustling summertime season it's a different story! I want to take advantage of every  daylight -- and evening -- hour, and even then it seems there's just never enough time to do all the things I'd like to do. Along with swimming, gardening, porch sitting, farmers markets, festivals, long walks and having lunch with friends, my evening calendar is filled with wonderful theatre performances, gorgeous live music, and interesting programs and lectures. The list is endless. Check out our ArtsNorth e-calendar and see for yourself the variety of opportunities that are available.

Summertime is also when we realize what a wealth of creative energy has been generated by our neighbors who've also been holed up during the long winter months. With that in mind, I want to direct your attention to several events the Arts Alliance is presenting next month, all featuring North Country neighbors sharing their creative passions. I'm excited about these programs and the opportunity to share them with you because these are people I know and admire -- or would like to know more about. I hope you'll save the dates on your calendar and attend one or more of the events.

What do you do if you retire from an academic career and can choose where to live and how to spend your time? In the case of Don Wharton, former president of Plymouth State University, you live in the beautiful town of Landaff, and observe -- and write about -- the world around you. We're pleased to inaugurate our new "Meet Your Neighbors: A Salon Series"at 7 pm on Tuesday, August 3, when we partner with the Forest Society to host a reading and discussion with Don. He'll share some of the prose sketches from his growing collection of "Landaff Days," observations on friends, neighbors, wildlife, the woods and New Hampshire seasons. The reading will take place in the Program Center at The Rocks, Route 302, just off I-93 in Bethlehem. There is no charge; donations to support the series are appreciated, as are suggestions for future presenters (send an email to or call 323-7302).

Dancer Katherine Ferrier of Littleton is relatively new to the area, but she has a long list of dance credits around the country. She recently conceived the idea of bringing together a group of outstanding dancers to present a full day of dance, beginning with a series of  workshops (for everyone from young dance students to educators to professional dancers) and culminating in an evening presentation of both old and new works. "Cultivate" (presented in partnership with the Arts Alliance's "Extending the Dance Map" program) takes place on Saturday, August 14, at the White Mountain School in Bethlehem. Financial assistance is available for those who can't afford the modest workshop fees; no one will be turned away because of an inability to pay. Call 323-7302 or email us for additional details, and to preregister for the workshops and to reserve tickets for the evening performance.

Artists and arts supporters of all ages are invited to our next BYOP on Thursday, August 19, at Alumni Hall, 75 Court Street in Haverhill. The Bring Your Own Poetry, Performance, Painting, Presentation and Potluck is the third in our quarterly series this year. We had a great turnout at our first two - in Sugar Hill in February and Berlin in May -- and hope many more of you will join us at the August BYOP. It's a wonderful way to meet your artist neighbors -- both professional and amateur -- and learn what they are doing. We met painters, poets, photographers, dancers, multi-media artists, craftspeople, a comic book artist, a sculptor, musicians and a puppeteer at the previous BYOPs, where the artists presented and discussed their work. The evening begins at 6 pm with an informal potluck, followed by the presentations at 7. Children are welcome to attend, and to present. We'll supply the cold drinks. Emcees for the evening are writer Leah Carey and fiddler Patrick Ross (see below for more on each of them). The evening is free, with donations welcome. Preregistration by presenters is appreciated; email or call 323-7302.

Patrick Ross is a 5th generation fiddler who was raised in Canaan, Vermont, traveled the world, and now makes his home in Groveton. He has recently been interviewing and recording traditional fiddlers in their 80s all around the North Country, to make sure that their musical legacy is not lost. He's also always on the lookout for other young talent, and eager to share his discoveries with his friends and neighbors. Patrick returns to the Lancaster Town Hall stage on Sunday, August 22, at 7 pm, with the Bow Thayer Band, based in our neighbor state of Vermont. Ticket price of $10 includes a free CD.

If you know of other North Country neighbors -- including our summer residents -- who are artists engaged in interesting, creative or surprising work, please let us know. Send an email to or call 323-7302.

P.S. Our neighbors at The Morrison nursing home and assisted living facility in Whitefield will present a reading of their stories -- and a picture of their lives -- at 2 pm on Wednesday, July 28. Residents, family and staff participated in four weekly workshops under the direction of writer Leah Carey of Littleton as part of the Arts & Health partnership between the Arts Alliance and The Morrison. The program is open to the public and there is no charge. Call or email me at 837-2275 or if you need additional information.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A new chapter -- for me and the Arts Alliance

With this posting you'll notice a new title. I'll no longer be working as the full-time Assistant Director of the Arts Alliance, but am happy that I'll be staying connected with the Alliance - and with you - as Special Projects Coordinator.

Working as the Arts Alliance Assistant Director has been a wonderful experience for me, but I've reached a time in my life where I want to have more free time for myself. During the past year, I've met many of you in person, and have corresponded with many more of you via email. In fact, meeting and working with so many wonderful artists has stoked my own artistic imagination and caused me to rethink my life: I've come to realize that I want more time to practice my own mosaic art, and I can't do that while working full-time. I'm also planning to spend more time with my grandchildren (my third granddaughter, and fifth grandchild, was born a couple of weeks ago), and, this summer, I want to spend more time in the garden and at the lake.

In my new contract position with the Arts Alliance, I'll be focusing on - you guessed it! - special projects. First and foremost is the Arts & Health partnership that I wrote about in my last post. I'll also continue writing these eblasts on a regular basis, and tackle other projects as they come along. You can still reach me at or at 837-2275, and I hope you'll stay in touch and let me know what kinds of programs and services you'd like to see more of.

I won't be involved with the day-to-day operations of the Arts Alliance, but I will continue to take a keen interest in all of the wonderful programs the Alliance develops, coordinates and partners on - from hands-on, participatory programs and concerts at schools and community sites to workshops for teachers, artists and organizations, as well as regional initiatives (some exciting new ones are being planned for the coming year!). One of the things I like most about the Alliance is how we make possible, through partnerships with individuals, schools, businesses and organizations, an outstanding variety of opportunities for people all around our region - both locals and visitors - to participate in arts and cultural experiences.

As I move from one position to another I wanted to give you a quick review of several of the areas of the organization in which I've been most involved.

Programming is the most visible aspect of the Arts Alliance, and I've been privileged to work with many fine artists who have presented numerous workshops and performances in schools, town halls, churches, nursing homes and senior centers, as well as with the wonderful staff at these facilities who helped me schedule the presentations. Your response to our public performances and exhibits has been overwhelmingly positive, and we intend to continue bringing you the diversity of artistic and cultural opportunities that you've requested.
We know that some of you like to get your news the old-fashioned way, while others rely on your computers, and we've been working hard to improve communications across the spectrum - through regular press releases, timely updates to our website, e-blasts like this one, our ArtsNorth e-calendar, and postings on social media sites - check us out on Facebook,  and the Connections and Opportunities link on our website.

Volunteers are vitally important to any nonprofit organization, and our goal is to develop a cadre of volunteers to supplement the Arts Alliance staff. We have a hard-working board of directors who donate their time attending regular board meetings and serving on committees to help the Arts Alliance run smoothly. Many of you also donate time to hang posters, meet and greet guests at public performances, clip newspaper articles, and deliver brochures and other printed materials. Many businesses donate lodging, space for performances, and other in-kind services like electronic equipment. There are numerous volunteer opportunities available; if you'd like to help, we can find a job for you. Send an email to if you're interested in learning more.

The Arts Alliance is a membership organization. Check our website for a list of the organizational and artist members who support our mission: to promote, support and sustain culture, heritage and the arts in northern New Hampshire. You don't have to be a member to enjoy the performances we sponsor or the workshops we coordinate - but your support does ensure the continuation of the quality programming and the other services we provide. Our website has all the information you need to join.

I can't wait to meet our new Assistant Director. It's a wonderful job just waiting for the right person! Our search committee is taking applications through July 31 for the position. If you're interested - or know of someone who might be - take a look at the job description that's posted on our homepage and send in your resume, or pass the information along to someone you think might be a good fit. It's hard work, but it's truly satisfying to see the results of our efforts in the faces of our partners and audiences, from preschoolers at our Arts in Early Learning programs to the elders at The Morrison.

Stay cool!

Eileen Alexander

Friday, July 2, 2010

Arts & Health Partnership at The Morrison Now Under Way

Last fall, I had the good fortune to witness dancer Jeanne Limmer conduct a movement workshop with a group of elderly ladies at a local nursing home. The 15 women were seated in a circle, most in wheelchairs. Many were suffering from dementia and some seemed unresponsive to what was going on around them.

Jeanne used simple movement exercises to engage these ladies in a wonderful hour of camaraderie, sharing, and a unique form of dancing. She began by throwing her arms in the air and saying, "My name is Jeanne. Tell me what your name looks like." Patiently, she went around the circle and asked that question: "Tell me what your name looks like."

One by one, each lady said her name and moved her body. Some made grand gestures, others made teeny, tiny movements with their hands or arms, and all but one of them participated.

Now that the ice had been broken, Jeanne asked them to tell a story with her. "Tell me about an important event in your life," she said. One woman said it was when she had married, and she clasped her hands over her heart. Jeanne had everyone mimic that movement. Another woman said that it was the birth of her child, and rocked an imaginary baby in her arms. Again, Jeanne had everyone mimic the movement. A third woman coyly batted her eyelashes and shrugged her shoulders in a gesture reminiscent of a teenage girl with her first boyfriend. "It was my first beau," she said. This movement was a little more difficult for everyone to pull off, but they moved their bodies and their faces in their versions of "first love."

By now, Jeanne had enough movements to construct a flowing story dance. Together, the women - seated in wheelchairs and chairs - moved their arms, hands, torsos and faces in a lovely dance depicting the special moments of love, marriage and birth that most had experienced many years before.

By the time the workshop finished, the women were smiling, giggling, reaching out to touch Jeanne and ask questions - and very much more lively than when they had entered the room. It was a unique and uplifting experience for all involved.

These kinds of moments - where arts and health intersect in a positive and even transformative way - are what the Arts Alliance wants to create on an ongoing basis at nursing homes and senior centers around the North Country.

Our early successes, like the one just described - as well as a growing body of research around the country - confirm our conviction that in-depth arts programming could have a beneficial effect on both our region's elders and their care providers. The Morrison nursing home and assisted living facility in Whitefield was eager to partner with us to develop an Arts & Health program for their facility, beginning with four multi-day residencies this summer and early fall. We applied for and received a grant for partial funding for the project from the Arts in Health Care program of the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Irish harper, singer and dancer Regina Delaney of Exeter was the first of the artists in residence at The Morrison. She spent three days in June working with elders and staff in individual and group workshops. She'll return in August for another two days of training workshops, performances and visits with residents, demonstrating how easy and powerful it is to incorporate music in individual care plans - and to use it in public spaces.

On Wednesday, writer Leah Carey of Littleton held the first in a series of  writing and storytelling workshops for residents, staff and family members; she'll be back July 7, 14, and 21. The stories that are being told paint a picture of life at The Morrison and will be woven into a performance piece that will be presented in a public reading at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, July 28. Staff from other facilities, along with family, friends and community members, are invited to attend.

On August 17-20, The Morrison will welcome Saori weaver Bobbi Herron of Penacook. She'll bring both standing looms and lap looms, and staff and residents will be invited to take a turn at the Saori-style of improvisational weaving that requires no predetermined patterns and allows even people with severe limitations to participate and feel a sense of accomplishment and community. A woven banner will be created as a permanent installation; it will be unveiled in a public ceremony on Friday, August 20.

September brings back dancer and educator Jeanne Limmer of North Conway, who will.lead simple movement exercises with residents and also provide daily movement and relaxation sessions for staff as well as reflection times when they can discuss integrating movement exercises into daily care routines.

Watch this space and area newspapers for information about community participation opportunities during the residencies. Family and community members, along with local artists, are invited to become involved as observers and volunteers.. Artists who might be interested in working with the elderly are invited to take advantage of mentoring opportunities with the visiting artists. Both The Morrison and Arts Alliance want to expand their volunteer programs and the artist series is a wonderful way to receive specific training in incorporating the arts in work with the elderly.

Staff development and training workshops will also be held for staff from other nursing homes, from senior centers, assisted living facilities, hospice and adult day-care programs, so that they can learn easy-to-incorporate tools and techniques for developing and sustaining arts-based programs that will have a positive impact on their elders' intellectual, emotional, social and creative development.

Anyone who would like additional information about the Arts & Health program or who might want to participate in one or more workshops or attend a performance can contact me at 837-2275 or We'll be posting our Arts & Health for Seniors at The Morrison informational brochure on the web next week.

Wishing you a wonderful holiday weekend of festivals, parades, barbecues, fireworks, family and friends!

Photo: Irish harper Jeanne Limmer is accompanied by Morrison resident Esther Webb on the bodhran.