A Gloucester Artist Speaks Out by JoAnn Castano

We are not a community afraid of change;  we are the change, in the most creative, innovative and enduring spirit. 

Over recent years I’ve watched as we become a blueprint of Salem, now like so many communities across America,  hooked on tourism and the tourists’ dollars. We’ve become followers and not innovative leaders. We were different, but soon we will not be.  Plan 2000 was promising, the Mt. Auburn Harbor Plan was promising and the public forums were also promising.   I don’t see any resemblance to those now.  So I write the following letter and offer one more push,  as I see an opportunity for change… a united change toward openness and transparency.

Greetings Mayor Theken,

First the historic blizzards of 2015 and Patriots World Championship win, you are on a roll. Congratulations on new beginnings.

I’m writing hoping you can provide me a little more insight into the procedures and issues concerning the proposed David Black sculpture.

I understand you, the Administration, will be withdrawing the request Appropriation 2015-SA-10 – $30k of free cash.   As reported in the Gloucester Daily Times, Bruce Tobey, who is leading the project, will do the fund- raising and has implied the project will be funded with private donations.

Also being implied is that there is no urgency now for a community meeting that was required and planned but cancelled due to snow.  We are told the meeting will be held in the spring.  I respectfully disagree regarding its urgency as the $30,000 appropriation was but one part of the community’s concerns.

A remaining issue is the use of Solomon Jacobs Park and the City’s negotiation with National Grid to pay for the base and installation of the sculpture.  I understand going before City Council soon is 2015.SA-19,  the Boating Infrastructure Grant (BIG) which includes the agreement with National Grid to pay for the base of the sculpture and part of the landscaping/installation.

It is not clear whether those funds can be used somewhere else. My question is this:  If approved,  does it lock in that the sculpture would have to be placed at Solomon Jacobs Park? Do you feel the public is fully aware of City plans for this site and has had the opportunity for community input?  

Am I correct to understand that in the Boating Infrastructure Grant (BIG) there is no planning opportunity for community boating and these plans have not been fully discussed with the public?  Are we building for people of Gloucester or for general tourism? If any portion of the appropriation 2015.SA-19 in the Boating Infrastructure Grant (BIG) is being negotiated or allocated to the Black Sculpture installation, I would hope a public forum will be held before a vote, or it may be stipulated that these negotiations will be withdrawn until there has been public community input.

Working together as a community we can strengthen transparency in City governance, restoring the people’s faith and trust.  The public trust, in its growing desire for knowledge and community input,  I hope will be restored in good faith.

We are not a community afraid of change; we are the change in the most creative, innovative and enduring spirit.

I am a sculptor myself with 35 years’ experience in cultural community planning and development in Salem, Newburyport, Brockton and Gloucester. Having lived and worked in an internationally renowned sculpting capital of Pietrasanta, Italy, I have had the opportunity to work and exhibit with some of the most famous and internationally known artists.  My family has been in the gallery business before and during my entire life. My uncle had been the Newbury St., Boston,  dealer of many of the artists Gloucester has historically claimed. We have a history of knowing the arts and the business of art. Gloucester has many seasoned artists and sculptors today with more experience than I in public art installations. We collectively have a wealth of education, knowledge and experience.  I understand the contemporary and educational process of bringing community assets of art into the public arena, as well as funding structures.  I worked on Plan 2000 with efforts to integrate the arts into every part of our urban planning.  We established the Committee for the Arts and spearheaded and co-founded seARTS advocating for and bringing in well over $600,000 from the Mass Cultural Council alone in the first seven years (2003-2010) of the Creative Economy initiative. Since then the funds and MCC’s financial and social investment has continued to increase other local, public and private matching funds.  Our community has worked hard, participated as a whole to strengthen our economy and enliven the livability of Gloucester.

I thank you in advance for providing  hope for stronger communication between the City government and her people. You have given us, in the short time you have held the office of Mayor, a hope to end the divide and polarization we have been enduring for too long. The arts can transcend all,  and this may be the issue that will bring us together and return the “fun” you want to bring back.

We have heard from many of the seasoned and well- respected artists who are very concerned about their future and the direction Gloucester has taken in negotiating industry and the sustainability of living and working here.  Placing art on the harbor without proper and sensitive planning with the waterfront workers,  especially during such difficult times, as outlined in the Mt. Auburn Plan commissioned by the City, is a discredit to the fishing industry and the cultural community as well as all citizens.  This is a community- wide issue and respectfully I request you lend your ear to the people.

The artists’ #1 issue today and for many years now is to have live/work space with incentives such as 1% for the arts. Cultural tourism planning vs. general tourism is paramount to who we are.  We’ve discussed this in recent years as it was brought before City Councilors in 2013 awaiting a public forum.  We are still waiting.

Thank you for continued service to the people of Gloucester.


Jo-Ann Castano

Jo-Ann Castano of Gloucester ​is a sculptor, arts educator and a community arts activist and organizer.  She is the principal of Castano Design Associates/ArtsGloucest​er​. She was on the Gloucester Plan 2000 committee​, ​was a founder, past president,and acting director of the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts (seARTS) and co-founder of the Gloucester Committee for the Arts.

One thought on “A Gloucester Artist Speaks Out by JoAnn Castano

  1. As a long time resident filmmaker, artist and writer I am opposed to the David Black sculpture as a prominent emblem of Gloucester, whether at the Solomon Jacobs Park or anywhere else. I’m sure the sculpture, in itself, is a worthy piece of art, but it should represent itself as such and not as an expression of our community … Shep Abbott


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