After the Old Man of the Mountain fell, New Hampshire was left with an unanswered question – what defines us? It is not tax-free shopping or the lack of a motorcycle helmet law — but rather, it’s the arts that make us unique. The link is between our state’s arts and our tourist/adventure economy. New Hampshire was home to the White Mountain art movement that for almost a century defined our state, built its economy and launched our tourism industry and conservation movement. New Hampshire was a very lucky state because art of the 19th century not only defined who we are but introduced us to the world.
Hundreds of painters from all over were drawn to the White Mountains, and their paintings received acclaim around the world, introducing everyone to the beauty and wonder of New Hampshire. The railroads followed, and so did the tourists, launching the era of the Grand Hotels. It also built the Mount Washington Cog Railroad, and launched the M/S. Mount Washington. At the same time, Augustus Saint-Gaudens came to Cornish to paint a farmer who looked like Abraham Lincoln. Saint-Gaudens was so taken by the beauty of the area that he decided to establish a studio there. Soon, his friends and fellow artists in New York followed him to founded the Cornish Art Colony. Not far away in Peterborough the MacDowell Colony welcomed artists from all over to the beauty of the Monadnock region. At the same time, the new League of NH Craftsmen brought together the most talented artists and craftsmen in the state. They launched their annual crafts fair that still defines the ongoing creative impulse in New Hampshire.
But it did not end there – the Palace Theatre helped kick start the rebirth of downtown Manchester in the late 1970s, as did the Capital Center for the Arts in Concord, leading up to the city’s transformative Main Street Project. Today, according to the late Van McLeod, New Hampshire has more artists and writers per capita than any other state in America.
But we don't seem to make a big deal about it. Art is a big deal, it is who we are and a point of pride for the state. New Hampshire today is defined by the arts, and we need to invest more in the arts economy and recognize how it improves our public reputation.