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Timothy Hess: We use the phrase a lot, “events take place,” and there’s a wonderful reciprocity between the little improvements that you always feel compelled to make, and then when the event is happening, the kinds of next improvements you can imagine and that might be, then, attracted by the success and the dynamic of the event.
Anita Walker: Hi. I’m Anita Walker, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and welcome to Creative Minds Out Loud. Our guest today is Tim Hess. He is chair of the Maynard Cultural Council. Welcome to our program.
Timothy Hess: Hi, Anita, thanks.
Anita Walker: Now, there might be one or two people who are listening to us today who have not been to Maynard, so what would you tell them about Maynard?
Timothy Hess: I would say that Maynard is probably not the kind of town you’d expect to find just fifteen, twenty miles west of Boston. It feels both near enough to be a kind of suburban, commutable distance, but autonomous enough that, you know, one of the phrases I’ve used to talk about our town is that it feels not so much like a town. It feels like a kind of dynamic micro city. It’s a little urban mill town, you know, and like all urban mill towns, it’s dominated by the place that was once the major place of employment, and it developed in such a way that all the people that worked there could walk to work.
Anita Walker: You are the head of the Cultural Council.
Timothy Hess: Yeah.
Anita Walker: Which is the Local Cultural Council in Maynard, and also part of the initiative to establish a cultural district in Maynard, and I want to talk a little bit about what it’s been like working with all the various creative entities to pull together and align all the people who are doing creative things in Maynard. One of the things that we have learned through experience with the Cultural District program is that it isn’t so much about just identifying a cultural organization in a community. What the Cultural District really does is it provides a space or room for all the creative people to come together and get their interests in line to move toward a shared and combined vision of what the community could be, or what they could imagine it to be. So it’s really more than anything else is a framework within members of the community to bring their enthusiasm, and ambition, and ideas around how to invigorate, or activate, or make a community a better place to live. Have you found that the process of applying for a cultural district has been a way to bring people together around an idea?
Timothy Hess: Absolutely. I mean, I would describe it, you know, with only a few different words, but it’s exactly that sentiment that I’ve found really sort of thrilling about the process and the effort of being involved with this thing. There is really no end of groups, individual, you know, people in kind of one-off ways trying to champion a little effort here and there in a group that musters itself and says, “We’re going to revitalize this,” or “We’re going to save the park,” whatever. All those things are wonderful. The district create, or for us, really, the challenge and the opportunity to kind of craft a narrative and imagine a cohesive district gives, you know, that has given me a sort of device, you know. It allows me to hypothesize a picture, paint a picture of a kind of imagined someday, future, you know, incredible Maynard, and show it to a million of these people making these individual efforts, and immediately they can project themselves into it, and it’s so easy to then start to say if we start to all work together, our efforts aren’t independent. Our vision isn’t really eleven different visions. These things can pretty quickly start to unify. I think if only for that reason it allows a kind of, I don’t know, a sort of unifying, or corralling of these things that might otherwise be inclined to see themselves as independent. It’s been terrific.
Anita Walker: You know, I think about Maynard in a couple of other ways, too, that I think are really relevant to city making or community building today, and I think a lot of it does have to do with creative peoples’ instinct and interest in having some way of being the maker of it, the maker of the city, the maker of the space.
Timothy Hess: It’s interesting.
Anita Walker: I love the little theater that’s in the school building. It doesn’t look like, you know, the, no offense, architect’s vision of what the perfect theater space would be.
Timothy Hess: Right.
Anita Walker: It’s like we took this space in the basement of the school building, and we made it be a theater that’s serving our community.
Timothy Hess: But the vitality of the thing is so real, and so evident, and so compelling.
Anita Walker: And I know that my listeners can’t see what I’m doing with my hands right now, but I wish you could see the wall in this scrappy, little basement lobby going into the theater of the national recognition this theater company has.
Timothy Hess: Yeah. Yep. Absolutely true. What do I say about that? Yeah. It’s a great place. They don’t behave as if they’re stuck in the basement of a high school. They have a wonderful place that’s theirs to do what they like, and they’re very good at it.
Anita Walker: Exactly.
Timothy Hess: I wish they were downtown, you know. I wish we could make them be– I mean, what makes me sad is to go, and I have to admit it’s been too long since I’ve been, but to go to a show there and be surrounded really shoulder to shoulder with ninety other people to see a terrific show, and then to wander out and sort of find our cars, and then you watch a bunch of people leave.
Anita Walker: Yeah.
Timothy Hess: Right, so, you know.
Anita Walker: Even though you are really a pretty easy walk to the center of town.
Timothy Hess: We’re an easy walk, but, you know, in the architecture, urban design business we talk about sort of missing teeth, right, so it’s a three-minute walk, which sounds like nothing, but it’s three minutes of passing things that aren’t especially culturally rich.
Anita Walker: Or a restaurant.
Timothy Hess: Or a– well, that’s– what do you “or?”
Anita Walker: Exactly.
Timothy Hess: For example, a restaurant.
Anita Walker: Yeah, yeah. So just kind of to wrap up a little bit, what are your ambitions? Five years from now, say you become a cultural district.
Timothy Hess: Yeah.
Anita Walker: What do you see that’s happened in Maynard that makes you know this has been a successful effort?
Timothy Hess: I think of it in terms of, you know, again, through the kind of lens that I see places, and space, and towns through this lens of kind of place making that is native to me, or been trained into me as an architect. You know, we have these four, and, again, this is thanks to the discipline forced through the district application process, we have identified four critical assets that have been underutilized, and ill maintained, and need to be preserved, and enriched, and improved, and bloom. We have, you know, my favorite and the most urgent, I think, of them, is this thing we call “the Basin,” and you only have to know what a piazza is to walk into that parking lot, and blur your eyes a little, and look around, and think, “This is a piazza that hasn’t yet happened.” Yes, we have to figure out where we’re going to put most of these cars. Yes, we have to figure out how we’re going to handle the trash collection. There’s a bunch of problems to be solved, but that space, right now, is like the yoke of our egg. It is the epicenter of this terrific, little town, and five years from now we will have invested in that space in a very substantial way. How substantial, I don’t know, but already in a year and a half of talking about it, we’ve got, we’ve had, we, the town. I don’t mean we, the council, but the town has had a design competition to redesign the park. The park adjacent to that has included some pretty rigorous efforts to integrate the park and the Basin. We’ve called attention to that space through sort of redevelopment efforts. There’s a terrific Mexican restaurant on the Basin, who’s a really vibrant cultural place.
Anita Walker: On the piazza.
Timothy Hess: On the piazza. We still call it “the Basin,” you know. That’s a great legacy. I think we’re never going to pretend to be Italian, right? But, you know, we’ve had a wonderful Cinco de Mayo party with them each of the last couple of years. That is going to develop and grow. Maybe in three years it will be a Cinco de Maynard party, and we’ll have our wonderful, you know, Korean restaurant, and our two Italian restaurants, and two of our Thai restaurants also participate in a kind of wonderful.
Anita Walker: Food fest.
Timothy Hess: In a food fest right there. We’re going to do a similar thing with the river. We have, you know, Main Street crosses the river right between the mill and downtown, and it’s easy to miss right now. People cross Main Street all day long and don’t know we have a river, so we’re going to find some ways to express that, bring people down to it. This summer, I mean, I’ve been shopping over the last several months for folks, individuals to try to provoke into proposing some sort of, really for the first year it’ll be a kind of spectacle, do something that’s shocking and beautiful on the river, even if it’s only long enough to photograph. Ideally maybe it’s three hours and it’s a party, or it’s a weekend, or it’s a week, but we think of it in a kind of iterative way. First notice that there’s a place that could be more beautiful. Then create a circumstance by which it is more beautiful for at least long enough to point to it, and then talk about that for a while, and say, “Hm, in what way did we all like it better when it was more beautiful, and what if we do it again next year, and what if we crank it up a little bit more, and maybe make it, you know, could there be seating there? Could there be a food truck there, whatever it could be. We’re thinking of it very iterative, you know. We have a couple of other, sort of, vital, critical, what do we call them, physical, cultural assets, these places that we want to call attention to, make better through sort of temporary, you know, short term means, and come back to it, and spend some money on it. You know, we use the phrase a lot, “events take place”, and there’s a wonderful reciprocity between the little improvements that you always feel compelled to make to a place when you’re going to have an event there, and then when the event’s happening, the kinds of next improvements you can imagine and that might be then attracted by the success and the dynamic of the event. And as you cycle through time, assuming there’s no train wrecks along the way, things get better. The events get better and the places get better.
Anita Walker: I love that. “Events take place.”
Timothy Hess: Yeah.
Anita Walker: Tim Hess, chair of the Maynard Cultural Council, one of our Creative Minds Out Loud.
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