February 4, 2010

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In transition
Full house for forum on the future of Kimball Jenkins Estate

By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

Probably more than 75 people came to a talk about the future of Concord’s Kimball Jenkins Estate at a Jan. 28 public forum.

After moderating the event, trustee Gary Shirk said he was delighted with the outcome. It was a confirming couple of hours for the new team of transitional trustees. Many ideas they heard about how the estate should be handled echoed their own, Shirk said.

Carolyn Jenkins, who had worked in theater in New York, was the last heir to the late-1800s-era mansion and outbuildings at 266 North Main St. The estate had been in the Kimball family for more than 200 years. She died of cancer in 1981, leaving the property for charitable purposes.

Since then, the estate has seen a variety of challenges. But the tone of this public forum was constructive and kept to the topic at hand — discussing how the site could serve the community in a self-sustaining way. Shirk thought the nature of the discussion was excellent. There was a lot of participation, and “people built on one another’s ideas,” he said.

Currently, the estate is home to the Kimball-Jenkins School of Art, which offers community fine art instruction for adults and children. One of its main revenue streams, providing space for NHTI’s visual arts courses, is not expected to be available in the fall. NHTI has said that its visual arts programs have grown to the point that they need more space.

The transitional trustee board includes some heavy-hitters when it comes to nonprofit expertise. Peggy Senter founded the Concord Community Music School in 1984 and is a consultant for arts nonprofits, nationally. Bill Chapman is a past president of the Orr & Reno law firm and represented MacDowell Colony in a state supreme court case which ruled in MacDowell’s favor. Sherilyn Burnett Young (who was away Jan. 28) is a founder of Rath, Young and Pignatelli. Her practice experience includes estate, trust and tax law. Chair of the KJSC volunteer group, the School of Art Supporters, Steve Metzger is also on the team. Senter stressed that this group is meant only to be transitional.

(For a little more background, see “More than the title implies,” in the Jan. 14, 2010, Hippo, available at hippopress.com/100114/arts.html.)

Public input
Recommendations Jan. 28 included hosting artist residencies or internships, renting space for artists to meet with clients, hosting short-term workshops in other arts disciplines such as literature, hosting artists’ retreats, and tapping into a 20- and 30- something audience.

Linking with existing arts organizations was mentioned, with some name-dropping — specifically Currier Museum of Art and New Hampshire Institute of Art, both in Manchester. Shirk admitted NHIA had been mentioned more than once.

KJSC supporter Aaron Bourque expressed concern about how the presence of a four-year degree-granting school like NHIA could affect the affordability or availability of KJSC community classes. Others spoke about the value of KJSC to themselves or their families, and asked the new trustees to keep the community school in mind. One suggestion was to create an outreach program, sending KJSC instructors to after-school programs.

A neighbor noted that the nearby Pierce Manse, historic home of Franklin Pierce, 14th U.S. president, has also struggled, and wondered if pooling efforts would be effective. He asked trustees to keep in mind that Kimball Jenkins is in a residential neighborhood. His comment that his family enjoys activities there, like children’s camps, led others to inquiries about increasing children’s programming at the site or linking with the city’s Recreation Department.

Byron Champlin, chair of Creative Concord, a committee of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce, and Sarah Chaffee reported talk of the possibility of an incubator for creative businesses, but Kimball Jenkins had not specifically been looked at as a site, Champlin said. 

A close friend of the late Jenkins, Carol Bagan, suggested getting several Concord groups involved in using the property, including historic ones. Performing groups may want to use it for a small venue now that the city’s Annicharico Theater is closed, Bagan said.

James McConaha of the Concord Heritage Commission said many groups mentioned don’t generate or have a lot of money. Others tried to underscore the need for revenue sources and a dedicated fundraising professional.

As it stands, the new trustees are still trying to calculate the actual cost of maintaining the property because those finances were woven in with the art school’s, Shirk said.

“There is no endowment,” Shirk said.

Maggie Stier of the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance and Van McLeod, Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Resources, pointed out that there are other models for financially sustainable uses for historic properties to look to in the U.S. and Europe. One example is providing overnight experiences in historic houses, they said.

One suggestion was to sell memberships or shares to raise funds.

For context, the group turned to Bagan.

“They cherished this place,” Bagan said of the Kimballs. But balancing preservation with use was always a struggle. In the early years of the trust, a number of activities were held including art shows, concerts in the garden, and small theater productions in the carriage house, to try to stay afloat financially while keeping with Carolyn Jenkins’ intent.

Jenkins had told Bagan to resign her role as one of the original trustees if the job became a burden, and after eight years of dealing with the property daily, Bagan gave up the post.

“I look forward to when there’s new life at Kimball Jenkins Estate,” Bagan said. — Heidi Masek



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