Exeter’s arts evolution leads to philosophical fist fight: Progress versus Status Quo

Q&A with Steven Delong of Brentwood, a concerned musician and member of non-profit Town Exeter Arts Music, for his side of the story.

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I do love me a good fight. And there is one brewing out in Exeter between the artists and the old guard. Progress vs. Standard. You know the deal. It’s an old tale, one retold more times than Othello.
I’ve read an article on seacoastonline.com about the conflict. The Exeter Arts Committee decided to not reappoint a guy namedScott Ruffner, who was the director of TEAM, a group of volunteers that love the arts (visual, music, theater) and want to share more of it with the community.
My guess is Mr. Ruffner, who served in the post for three years, is new blood in town, someone who represents change, a different outlook on the direction the arts community in Exeter should be going.
Ruffer and his crew have likely presented some ideas to the committee that makes them terribly nervous, makes them feel like they’re maybe losing a grip onthingsthey’ve always possessed: power of direction, branding and pace.
The arts committee believes things are moving along just fine, and that the ambitions of others will not, and should not, isolate or push out the established artists in the area.
One things is for sure: Hanging a few paintings in town hall and having the occasional “pop up” art bazaar downtown is not progress. It’s just really kind of lame.
You can do better.
Granite State of Minddecided to reach out to Steven DeLong of Brentwood, a concerned musician and member of TEAM, for his side of the story.
DeLong: “I think some may be used to the status quo and not wanting change. It’s hard to say, but when you have folks who are volunteering their time and, sometimes, their own personal funds to provide innovate ideas to support artistic growth, it shouldn’t become an us vs. them.”

GSM:OK, so I get it. A younger more progressive group of artists and musicians have moved to the Exeter area and are looking to grow the art scene. Specifically, what do the artists want? Money? More venues? To be taken more seriously?

DeLong: I think the local artists want an outlet to express their many talents, whether it’s in the visual, music or performing arts. We just need to ensure that public venues are easily accessible and available for us to make events happen. There is a lot of great talent in NH – and New England for that matter – as you have seen and heard, and invited to play on your Granite State of Mind show. Most of us I think would like the exposure and possibly the opportunity to open up for some of the national acts that come through here, or even play at some of the same smaller venues.
GSM: As a traveling musician, in and out of towns around the state, what places do you come across in the state where artists are getting the support they need from the decision makers?
DeLong: To be honest I think most towns and decision makers honestly want to support the artists in their communities, however is that all predisposed by the age group of the politicians in office on what type of music they want playing on their bandstand or committee developed festivals? I’m not sure, but it seems grassroots festivals, art shows are popping up more and more, whether it’s supported by the towns or not. As far as where I have traveled with the band or played solo, Nashua has had some pretty great downtown music festivals and more planned coming up this summer. Concord seems to be adding more and more venues, and hopefully the city supports the revamping of the old Concord Theater. Exeter is up and coming and artists and musicians alike are partnering together, supporting each other in trying to shed a little light on the great things in this town and those that surround it. Those are just a few towns, but there are many others I haven’t explored in booking just yet!
GSM: What fears do you think those whooppose artistic growth in a community have about change? Are they simply out of touch, or just ignorant when it comes to really making an art scene grow?
DeLong: I really don’t think they oppose artistic growth. I think some may be used to the status quo and not wanting change. It’s hard to say, but when you have folks who are volunteering their time and, sometimes, their own personal funds to provide innovate ideas to support artistic growth, it shouldn’t become an us vs. them.
GSM: So, what do you see in your mind’s eye when it comes to growth and support?
DeLong: We all need to work together for the greater good of the arts & music community. There is a definite gap between the old guard and the new guard, but we should be able to find a happy medium for arts & music support to grow. We have fresh innovative ideas to get folks to come to town that would also help local businesses thrive, so I just don’t get it. If we are all strictly volunteers to try to make this work, and it goes on deaf ears, that defeats the purpose of volunteering and definitely depletes volunteerism as a whole. They just need to take the time to listen and hopefully not make decisions through favoritism or nepotism, but by being fair to all their residents who want to make a difference in the community.
GSM: Concord has New England College, the Audi, The Capitol and other smaller performance spots downtown and that really seems to satisfy the artistic needs of both older and younger art/music fans. Is that something that might work in Exeter?
DeLong: We’ve got a few local businesses in town that provide venue-type spaces for smaller bands as well as Exeter making the Town Hall and Bandstands available. It would be awesome if the old IOKA Theater came back to life for local musicians and performing artists! We also have the bandstand in Swasey Parkway that just held the first inaugural Team Exeter Arts & Music Festival. Great location for all to come out old and young to listen to some great music and look at all the great local artists.
GSM: Finally, what approach have the artists in that area used to convince the old guard to take a fresher approach to developing the art community, and how could that same group of artist improve their message?
DeLong: As part of the TEAM non-profit organization, we’re going to keep on doing what we have been doing, which is promoting arts in the community and working to ensure there is transparency on behalf of the town government. We also want to partner with other non-profits whose main goals/missions align to support the local artists and musicians. We need to stay focused and just keep trying to work amicably with town officials, keep the message positive and blast all the great things that are happening around the state over social media!

Granite State of Mind by Rob Azevedo