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Against the Tide: Kristina Newman-Scott

As Director of Culture for the State of Connecticut, Kristina Newman-Scott has what some might see as an impossible job: overseeing the labyrinth of arts-related initiatives and grants; strengthening Connecticut’s infrastructure for its many artistic and civilizing organizations; and ensuring the preservation of historic structures statewide. Perhaps her most difficult task is balancing the will of The State with the seemingly incompatible needs of its artistic enclaves. While new to the post, Newman-Scott isn’t new to the Connecticut arts scene – or to managing creative resources. She’s also a gifted navigator of life, having emigrated from Jamaica to reify our state motto: Qui Transtulit Sustinet (“He who is transplanted still sustains”). Here, Newman-Scott talks about her plans and challenges, and sheds light on how creative people can be shaped into a more powerful economic force.

When folks who don’t work within the creative sector hear the word “artist,” very specific images come to mind. They might think of an easel painter in a beautiful garden, or some kind of performer. That’s a language barrier. I’m trying to switch the narrative. I’m also talking about designers, architects, and engineers as artists. That changes how people understand ideas like creative economy and cultural development. It’s about being open to innovative approaches that people within your own team might not have. We need to create a pathway so that all of these folks understand the importance and the value that the arts play in their own work. We have to be relevant, so we can’t just be creating art in our own little bubble and not finding new avenues for collaboration, and for sharing resources. I’m focused on changing the narrative.

For me, it really is about empowering the people we serve. The minute the power transfers and we remind the artistic and cultural community that they’re the ones that truly hold the power, then we’ll be able to get a lot more done. My job, as I see it, is to serve them. I’ve worked for a nonprofit arts organization as a program director. I strongly believe in operational support.

It’s our job in government to create an infrastructure that supports artists so they can curate and be innovative. We give them the tools to do that. My big dream would be for all of our artistic and cultural community, whether it’s individual, nonprofit, or service organizations, to come together in a way that we’ve never seen. Have you ever seen thousands of people from the creative economy gathered in one place – in Connecticut, by the way – talking about their needs, and creating a presence? Can you imagine the message it would send to the nation? That’s my dream.

I’m not going to write the memo and then send it to the arts and culture communities. I don’t have a new white paper that I’m going to release. It’s not about the office having the power; it’s about our people having the power. And while data is important, we can’t forget heart. I do know that we need to look inward as an office before we can do any good outward work. My grandmother, who’s East Indian, always used to say ‘take care of your own house first.’ Right now, I’m taking care of our house and my team. We’re rebuilding. At the same time I’m listening to the field. I want to be thoughtful. I want to hear what’s going on, and then I want to be responsive

I feel like the shoreline arts communities work well with each other. They’re really interested in collaboration, and in innovative approaches to raising money. When we think about budget cuts and operational support and all that stuff, these groups come to mind. They really want to work with the state to figure out a way to move forward together. The Office of the Arts has nine Designated Regional Service Organizations, including the Shoreline Arts Alliance. Eric Dillner is fabulous. They’re all fabulous. They’re a great resource for us in the state office, because they know their communities better than we ever could.

Image Credits: Adam Coppola

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