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Art scene helps fuel business in Portsmouth

Union Leader Correspondent

July 15. 2018 10:03PM
Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra's principal cellist Dorothy Braker will perform during! 2018 in Portsmouth. (COURTESY)

Performers with the Wanderkook Project — Matt Langley, Josh Gagnon, Nick Mainella, Hunter McKay, Zach Lange, Scott Kiefner, Jonny Peiffer and dancer Amanda Whitworth — hope to capture the audience’s attention at! 2018 in Portsmouth on Aug. 2. (SCOTT FOSTER)

PORTSMOUTH — Businesses on the West End of Portsmouth are thriving, and local leaders say the arts are a driving force behind that neighborhood’s growth.

Valerie Rochon, president of The Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth, said the group is honoring local artists during its annual! event on Aug. 2 for that reason.

“The 2016 Americans for the Arts economic impact study calculated that Portsmouth’s arts and cultural sector contributed more than $58 million to our local economy. The West End of Portsmouth is experiencing a growth surge, with many performing and creative arts organizations migrating in to create an electric vibe,” Rochon said.! 2018 will be held outside Portsmouth Music and Arts Center on Islington Street. It will feature performances from local musicians, dancers and a former city poet laureate.

Ginna Macdonald, executive director of Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra, said principal cellist Dorothy Braker will be performing during the event.

“I figured a solo cellist will be simple and beautiful,” Macdonald said.

Braker earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music performance at the Juilliard School in New York City. She is an outreach coordinator with the symphony and has a private studio of students, according to the orchestra’s website.

Macdonald said the orchestra has been making its presence in the community more well known over the last two years. In 2016 and 2017, it provided music for a performance of “Swan Lake” at Prescott Park.

During! 2018, the Wanderkook Project will also be presenting excerpts from “The Adventures of Oliver Z. Wanderkook.”

Director CJ Lewis said the original show featured a different combination of dancers, spoken-word artists and musicians exploring text, music and movement together in real time. A few of those artists will be leading the audience through that journey for about 15 minutes.

“We’ll have a reader interpreting the poetry in Wanderkook’s ‘lost journals,’ digital animation painting in the world, a dancer exploring the words and setting physically, and a band accompanying and improvising through all of this. And our hope is to get our audience directly involved in one way or another. It’ll be a raucous 15 minutes,” Lewis said.

Lewis lives on the West End and said the arts community there is anchored by Portsmouth Music and Arts Center and West End Studio Theatre, but within about a mile-and-a-half strip there are also maker spaces, artist studios, public art spaces, design firms, craft breweries and forward-thinking restaurant owners who support the arts community.

Jonathan Blakeslee, who owns White Heron Tea & Coffee on Islington Street, said it is more important than ever to support local artists because the cost of living in the city is high.

“It’s important to support the arts. If you don’t support the artists, they go away because they can’t afford to be here,” Blakeslee said.

Carolyn Law-Jones of MoJo’s BBQ Grill and Tavern on Brewery Lane said local actors stop in frequently and they hear about upcoming performances through them.

“Arts are important,” Law-Jones said. “It also keeps our end of town fun.”

White Heron and Mojo’s will be two of the establishments serving drinks and food at! 2018. Law-Jones said they plan to do something with barbeque, but also want to show off their ability to prepare other dishes.

Robin Lurie-Meyerkopf is the executive director at Art-Speak and has been working with the chamber to coordinate artists for the event. She said there will be one main stage and four smaller lounge areas for attendees to enjoy.

One of the lounge areas will be occupied by Kate Leigh, a former Portsmouth poet laureate.

Leigh will focus on performance poetry with people who visit her area.

“That’s becoming more important as people are feeling the need to be more vocal,” Leigh said. “People’s feelings are boiling over and it helps to have a listening audience.”! 2018 was started in 2012 and is the chamber’s flagship dinner event and fundraiser. It is held at a different place each year.

Tickets are $100 for chamber members and $150 for future members.

For more information, visit

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