Former Governor Judd Gregg asked Van McLeod to become Commissioner of the Cultural Resources Department in 1992. The self-described old film and theater producer has been there even since, sitting through five administrations.
What is going on with the state budget in terms of Cultural Resources? For a while the department was set to lose approximately $245,000.
We’re still in the middle of that session. But we’re hopeful. Right now we’re not on that table. [McLeod spoke with The Hippo a few weeks back. Since then, the adjustments to the FY 2010 and FY 2011 budget were signed by Governor Lynch and it leaves the NH Film and TV Office intact and only includes a $45,000 cut to the State Arts Council.] What was on the budget cuts was both the Film Office and the grants for the arts. It would have eliminated both of those. The truth is those are two revenue generators for the state and the community. For example, the Film Office [a one-person office], for every dollar they get, they have been able to turn into 9.2 dollars in a down year....
In the arts, creative economy is huge.... It is about creating community. Why is it that across the state, whether Concord, Manchester, Nashua, Rochester, they’re focusing on the old opera house? They see these are centers of activity to generate revenue and create business around them. The Concord Community Music School is the largest employer of musicians in northern New England.... Not only an economic engine, but before you go to the theater, you go out to dinner. So it’s not that you’re just employing those people, it’s a revenue generator for the community. We did a survey and found that $5.3 million was generated in economic activity for the city of Manchester from the Palace Theatre. We spend an enormous amount of time and energy, as we should, in the sporting component. There are more jobs in the arts than there are in sports. And it’s not necessarily being the on-stage person.
[People are particularly budget-conscious these days.] Why would you recommend spending money on theater tickets or art galleries?
In the Great Depression, the film industry was at its height. There is a variety of reasons why people need, when times are difficult, to escape, to be a part of their community.
Also seeing on the grass roots level, where it all comes from, there is an enormous amount of creativity with the new partnerships being created within the cultural community. So you’re seeing arts organizations partnering with not only other arts organizations but with lodging and restaurants. The creativity going on in the grass roots to survive and be better puts us in a real good place when we start to come out of this.
What changes have happened in art over your time in office?
Artists are entrepreneurs. New Hampshire is based on not so much artist organizations but individuals. New Hampshire is a haven for creativity. It is where people have come since the White Mountain School of Art to create art. Whether they’re writers, composers, crafts people.... There’s more of it and the quality has risen. Throw into that, especially the last six years, what’s happened with film. We have 92 production companies, registered.
Where do you see the art community moving forward?
Artists add to a community a lot more than you can imagine because they are people with a passion who are entrepreneurs who, if in fact they stay, they are believers and supporters of that community.
There’s an old native American saying, “He who tells the story owns the future.” A lot of this is about story telling.... Art takes focus, attention, discipline, and it is not easy. But at the same time, good New Hampshire businesses are like that....
Good art, good educators, good community builders connect the dots between economic development and the local theater and gallery and the school and the TV station and the downtown well-being. We’re all connected. But how are we going to do it, how do we not fight over resources? Leaders have to do that. And they can come from any place.
With so much competition with other subjects, what can be done to keep arts in the forefront of education?
I was a terrible math student. I didn’t like history or any of those things, until I started doing some of the cultural stuff ... I knew dates and times but it didn’t mean anything — until I was able to interpret that in relation to people in theater....
We certainly have all kinds of data of music with math. If students at a young age take music, then their mind starts to work much better at understanding math. Math in the old days, in the ancient, if you will, math and science were an art. Now we put them in silos, as opposed to connecting them. I am a big believer that art and culture can be that connectivity.