Let’s talk about facilities! Newton has a great number of arts and culture groups but many of these are being forced to relocate – temporarily or permanently – because of facilities. As was pointed out in the comments here, this scenario is a huge hurdle and a great loss for the community.
Here’s a quick rundown of recent (last 5 years or so) facility losses:
- Newton Cultural Center – closed in June 2013, being renovated back into a public school
- Turtle Lane theater – closed in December 2012, I believe it’s up for sale now and have consistently heard rumors of folks who want to revitalize
- Our Lady of Help (Nonantum) – this gorgeous sanctuary served as a stage for many large orchestral and choral groups. However, it’s been many years since groups were able to book far enough in advance to plan their seasons to take advantage of this space.
- Aquinas/Rashi – I’m not very knowledgeable here but from my understanding this space is not being utilized either as much or any more. Maybe someone has a clearer idea?
Here’s a quick listing of some currently used facilities:
- First Baptist Church (Newton Centre) – FBC has turned into a very active venue, featuring performances by New Philharmonia Orchestra, Newton Community Chorus, Charles River Wind Ensemble, Saengerfest, Suzuki School of Newton, and more!
- Trinity Church (Newton Centre) – The chapel offers an intimate performance space for a number of chamber music ensembles. Newton Country Players also performed their final show here last fall.
- Wilson Chapel, Andover Newton Theological School – this is a beautiful space with floor to ceiling windows that provides a lovely atmosphere. Smaller chamber performances take place here, including performances by the Walden Chamber Players.
- Second Church (West Newton)
- Temple Reyim (Auburndale)
- Congregation Mishkan Tefila (Chestnut Hill)
And so on… spot a theme? Most organizations have turned to religious facilities as venues. This has been a welcome trend, though nevertheless a tricky one to navigate the needs of a large performance group!
Schools and City Hall Facilities:
- Public Schools: While many of Newton’s schools have great facilities, it is difficult to use them because (a) the school’s have fairly well-booked schedules for their own productions/concerts and (b) it is cost-prohibitive for many community groups to hire the necessary sound/audio/stage/maintenance folks that are required by the various unions.
- Lasell College: Lasell is working with the Newton Cultural Alliance to make their spaces more available to the community though, at the end of the day, there is still difficulty using these spaces when up against the student body’s activities.
- War Memorial at City Hall: This space is large and sports a small stage, but at the end of the day, the acoustic issues make it very difficult to offer effective instrumental programs or musical theater productions. The Highland Glee Club does perform in this space but a chorus full of men are undoubtedly going to be better heard and blend more efficiently than individual instruments or less developed voices.
Other Rumored Facilities:
- Riverside: I probably don’t have the very latest scoop, but last I heard any community center might offer some performance space but nothing to the scale that most groups require
- Allen House (West Newton): This is another space that might offer a wonderful gathering venue for small performances and other functions but will not have the capacity for any large productions
There are other very capable facilities, like the gallery space at the New Art Center, the library’s performance space, etc but these cannot accommodate large-scale productions so I am leaving them out of the conversation… for now!
So what is Newton missing out on?
In a nutshell, groups that have Newton in the name or who rehearse/hold office space in Newton are going elsewhere to perform. West Roxbury, Cambridge, Needham, Wellesley, Waltham – all are being treated to performances by Newton’s performing arts groups! These groups, based in Newton with many Newton members, are struggling to get audiences to their out of town performances. It’s a vicious cycle! Some of these groups, such as the much touted Boston Ballet School (its Newton campus is in West Newton), would love to be more involved in our community’s fabric but are having difficulties finding the right way in. (Boston Ballet School performs at Babson College though they will be performing twice with the New Phil Orchestra at First Baptist Church this year, but for abridged productions.)
Two programs currently on everyone’s minds are the programs from the Mayor’s Office for Cultural Affairs and the Suzuki School of Newton. Both of these groups were housed completely at the Newton Cultural Center (Carr School) until June. MOCA was moved to City Hall but without enough space to host all of their popular daily classes for kids and Suzuki moved its preschool and music school to Temple Reyim temporarily.
If groups are unable to find a space to perform – or can’t coax the audience out of town – they are closing, as noted by Newton Country Players last weekend. (I do have to mention that I am not at all using facilities as the scapegoat for all of we artists operating woes. There are many factors at play, but we can talk about those another time.)
What should we do?
I don’t have an answer (well, I do, but that is a pipe dream like no other). I would really like to hear your thoughts. What sort of facility(ies) would you like to see for the performing arts and visual arts in Newton? I haven’t even touched on visual arts gallery space but this is getting long from me so feel free to chime in!
Do you have a favorite venue? Not necessarily in Newton, but anywhere.
Is there a space you would love to see created/transformed in Newton?
I’d love to hear about it!