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Sarah L. Stewart




Culture commissioner
New state department gets a fresh perspective

07/19/18



 You’re ... taking over as a commissioner of a pretty new department. How do you feel about this new opportunity?

I’m excited to see the connectivity among the divisions in the new department: Parks and Recreation, Forests and Lands, Libraries, Historical Resources and the State Council on the Arts. Seeing the connectivity that naturally takes place between these divisions and the potential for new collaboration between them is exciting. I think our state is known for our natural and cultural resources and our love of preserving our past. … Our mission is to make these resources accessible and support local grassroots organizations and networks that are connected to their local assets. 
 
What’s changed with each of the divisions in the new department? Will they benefit from being under one roof?
I think in a very practical way, they benefit from division directors being able to connect in real time on a regular basis, which allows them to update each other on problems as they occur. Someone from libraries can say, “Parks and Recreation is doing an interesting program with trails, why can’t we promote that with our network of libraries in the state?” … I think our state’s assets will benefit from our divisions’ being able to find unique ways to collaborate. 
 
Cities and towns across the state have been revitalizing their downtowns over the last several years. How has the department been involved in these efforts, in terms of preserving historic districts and landmarks?
Several communities are seeing how they can leverage their current assets in a way that will help the local economy but preserve historical resources. When you drive around New Hampshire, you can see remnants of creative placemaking from hundreds of years ago — a library next to an opera house next to a town green, for example. The benefits of this were clearly obvious to our forefathers in New Hampshire, and now we’re having this conversation again so we can plan for future opportunities. Each town has its own unique culture and unique historical buildings and areas. … They are all very different and inspire different local groups to invest in them. Our department helps in various ways with planning these projects. For example, we work with town planners to integrate art into downtowns so we can promote local artists and our history of craftwork in New Hampshire. Our Historical Resources division also works closely with nonprofits and downtowns to identify grant money.
 
New Hampshire’s natural and cultural amenities are among the state’s most praised features. What is so unique about our state’s environment and communities?
What’s unique about New Hampshire is the sense of pride and local commitment to our resources. It’s very clear already to me on this job that whether we’re talking about a state park, a historic site or another potential project in a community, it all really comes down to the people involved. … We have beautiful mountains, views, rivers, lakes and ocean fronts, but a lot of states do. In New Hampshire we’re very much engaged at the local level. … As I tour around the state and visit our parks and our libraries and festivals, it’s clear they would be irrelevant if not for the people and partnerships and local organizations that make sure these places and events have life and passion.
 
What are some of your favorite natural and cultural places to visit in New Hampshire?
I have three young kids ... and we are out and about in New Hampshire regularly. Every summer we spend a week at Lake Sunapee, and Mt. Sunapee State Beach has become a family favorite. It’s a really wonderful family spot. When we’re out there, we try to hit up the New London Barn Playhouse. Last year we saw Seussical the Musical, which was a big hit with the kids. … Going from the beach to the playhouse are common things in New Hampshire. It’s kind of a literal example of how these different things are used by our visitors and residents in similar ways. … My mother-in-law lives in Freedom, so we spend a lot of time at Ossipee Lake. We’re definitely a lake family. … We live in Manchester, and we go to the Manchester library often, which has a ton of programming that is fantastic for a family like mine.
 
— Scott Murphy 





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