November 3, 2023
ECCF, MVPC Welcome New Merrimack Valley Arts & Culture Specialist

Haverhill resident Jenny Arndt to lead critical efforts to strengthen the creative sector

One month into her role as the new Merrimack Valley Arts & Culture Specialist, Haverhill resident and artist Jenny Arndt has already immersed herself in learning about the ways communities are centering arts and culture in local development.

“Culture, however you define it, is the beating heart of a community. And the arts are one way of pumping the blood,” said Arndt. “I think it’s important for the creatives in the community to have a seat at the table when talking about development and planning to keep the very things that make a community livable at the forefront. Arts and culture should never be an afterthought.”

Her new role, a one-year pilot position, was created through a collaboration between Creative County at Essex County Community Foundation (ECCF) and the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission (MVPC). ECCF seeks to strengthen the creative sector of Essex County with a collaborative approach to ecosystem building and support; MVPC is looking to increase local capacity to create vibrant town and city centers and communities that are safe, healthy, inclusive, diverse and accessible, and offer many natural and cultural opportunities.

“So many of the objectives of Creative County align with the goals of MVPC and we are thrilled to partner with them to test the impact of this new position,” said Karen Ristuben program director of ECCF’s Creative County Initiative. “Jenny will play a critical role in developing positive connections across the arts, cultural, municipal and business sectors of the 15 communities MVPC serves.”

MVPC serves Amesbury, Andover, Boxford, Georgetown, Groveland, Haverhill, Lawrence, Merrimac, Methuen, Newbury, Newburyport, North Andover, Rowley, Salisbury and West Newbury.

Arndt will be embedded within the MVPC and will be responsible for research, data gathering and analysis, cultivating relationships within the Merrimack Valley arts and culture network and developing positive connections across the arts, cultural, municipal and business sectors across those 15 communities.

“MVPC is thrilled to embark on this new arts and culture initiative, recognizing that arts and culture planning is a fundamental cornerstone of downtown vibrancy and sustainable economic development,” said Jerrard Whitten, executive director of MVPC. “We believe that the creative spirit of a community enriches lives, fosters inspiration, and serves as a catalyst for economic growth. With Jenny in this new role, we aim to harness the transformative power of the arts to create a more vibrant, inclusive and economically prosperous region for all.”

Arndt, the former arts and culture coordinator at Creative Haverhill – a nonprofit that supports Haverhill arts and culture and provides experiences and access at the intersection of art, culture and community – is a painter, muralist and arts educator. She also served as the campaign director of Haverhill Promise, a cross-sector education collaboration.

“So much of Jenny’s experience is rooted in cross-sector collaboration and we are really excited to see the creativity and innovation she brings to this role,” said Ristuben.

ECCF is also eager to test the ways that the foundation can better engage with the community.

“This will be a great learning experience for us over the next year,” said ECCF Executive Vice President and COO Stratton Lloyd.

Arndt said it’s the people she’s met and the discussions she’s had that have been the most valuable part of the first month of her new work.

“What I’m super excited about as I go out into the community, is reaching out to the different organizations, the different artists who don’t normally have a seat at the table,” said Arndt. “There are so many ways the planning world and the arts world overlap, and I think we are going to find that uniting the two will be mutually beneficial. It’s going to be a great year.”

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