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Carlisle Cultural Council Reinventing How to Connect Carlisle through Arts and Culture

The responsibility of supporting local arts and culture has taken on new and critical importance since the onset of the pandemic in 2020. The Carlisle Cultural Council, the local chapter of the MASS Cultural Council, has just begun to embrace these new-found challenges. Over the past 4 months, the Council has been identifying innovative ways to showcase arts and culture in Carlisle as a way of providing much needed outlets for artists of all kinds while connecting our community through creative expression.

Co-Chairs Mark Levitan and Jennifer Sagalyn of the Carlisle Cultural Council agree that finding ways to provide creative content for our town when audiences cannot gather has been difficult. Nearly all of the programming the Council supports is in-person events, including performances, lectures, workshops, and exhibits. Recently the Council launched the new Carlisle Virtual Showcase as a unique way to connect local artists with Carlisle audiences (

Carlisle Virtual Showcase Launches

Levitan explained that the Carlisle Virtual Showcase is an “opportunity to highlight Carlisle’s incredible talent. The site was envisioned to be a place for artists of all ages and all disciplines to share their work created during the pandemic when we cannot share in person.” The online multimedia gallery is organized by age groups, from ages 0 to adult, and encompasses music, painting, photography, sculpture, dance, fiber arts and more. Categories can easily be adapted to fit submissions from other disciplines like lectures or video, and they can create new categories depending on the submissions they receive.

“There are so many people in Carlisle who don’t know of the talent, and especially the professional talent, that exists in our town,” said Sagalyn. “It will be nice to have a full range of contributors on the site, from beginners to professionals, so our town better understands who lives next door.” Sagalyn and Levitan both agreed that professionals likely have their own outlets and may be less inclined to contribute. “The intent for having a pro section is not for them to win the contest,” added Sagalyn. “For me, the reason to have this section is about inspiring others.”

“The challenge has been trying to make people aware of the site,” said Levitan. Submissions were slow to come at first, but the art received has been impressive. The youngest contributor to date, Henry Kliger (age 7) drew a plan of a city then drew a grid on top of it so he could transfer his drawing onto large sheets of brown craft paper on the floor of his living room. Middle school student Sarafina Zhang submitted a video of herself performing Fantasy Dance for piano solo by Robert Schumann. High school student Lucy Jiménez submitted 4 paintings recently completed, including a pen and paint interpretation of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and an acrylic painting of a nurse in blue scrubs with angel wings tying on her mask entitled Heaven Can Wait. The adult entries include a video compilation from a peep diorama contest, original paintings and photographs, and an outdoor sculpture repurposed from a sailboat mast. The Council is eagerly anticipating new entries and encourages readers to check the site often for the latest submissions.

“We have also changed the scope of the site to accept submissions created before the pandemic, beginning July 1, 2019,” said Levitan. As extra incentive to participate, there will be two awards presented per age group: an Excellence Award to be chosen by the Carlisle Cultural Council, and a Random Winner selected from all remaining group entries. All participants will receive a gift certificate for ice cream, while supplies last. Gift certificates have been generously donated by a variety of local businesses and ice cream gift cards sponsored by an anonymous donor. Entries must be posted by August 31, 2020 to be eligible.

Pre-Pandemic Plans Postponed….For Now

Like arts organizations across the globe, the Cultural Council was forced to cancel events due to the current public health crisis, including its popular Open Mic series that was scheduled for Old Home Day in June. The Council first proposed the idea of an open mic series in 2018 and, with the help of the Old Home Day committee, planned the first event as a collaboration with the Carlisle Community Chorus in 2019.

“The chorus sang a short program inspired by the 2019 Old Home Day theme, The Sounds of Carlisle, and ended the program with a sing-along,” explained Sagalyn, “which was the perfect lead-in to the open mic event. The response was fantastic, and we had 13 performers including an 8-year-old elementary student.” The Council hosted a second open mic event in February at the First Religious Society with 12 performers, several of them high school students. Plans are underway to present a virtual open mic event in the future.

Hidden Treasures

A new collaboration between the Cultural Council and the Carlisle Historical Society as part of the Hidden Treasures celebration also became a casualty of the pandemic in May. Hidden Treasures was conceived as a program to share the untold stories about people, objects and places “hiding in plain sight” within the 45 communities that comprise the Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area.

As part of the Carlisle celebration, visitors were invited to the Heald House to view a variety mementos of the 19th Amendment, including a poster urging passage of the Amendment and a booklet outlining the reasons that the Amendment should not pass. In addition, members of the Historical Society planned to remove a cast iron bathtub blocking entry to an old copper mine that operated on the property in the 1840s to reveal its unknown contents. Other activities planned included live music, period dress and antique cars exhibits, and historical talks. This was the first time the Cultural Council participated in the celebration and it is unknown if this event will be rescheduled or reimagined in a new format.

Thriving Grants Program

As a local chapter of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Carlisle Cultural Council is part of the network of 329 Local Cultural Councils across the state, representing every city and town in the Commonwealth. Each council awards money based on individual community cultural needs, assessed and set by council members. This year Carlisle was allocated $4,800 to distribute, plus added $350 more from fundraising efforts. The Council awarded grants to 17 organizations, including some long term local favorites like the Carlisle Chamber Orchestra, Carlisle Community Chorus, Savoyards Light Opera Company, the Concord Orchestra and the Council on Aging.

“Two applications that stand out to me as new and different,” said Levitan, “are the Garden Club’s Earth Day Celebrations and the Carlisle Artisan’s Celebrating Carlisle's Landscapes exhibition at Gleason Library. Both events have been postponed until later this year, but not cancelled.”

The Council has heard from 6 of the 17 grantees so far that wish to alter their plans for this year. “The Cultural Council has been very flexible and supportive of grantees that need to change their programs due to COVID-19,” said Levitan. He expects that, “going forward, applications will look a lot different, with much more virtual programming, until it’s safe to have live concerts.”

Gleason Public Library recently modified some of its Summer Reading Program offerings to a virtual format, hosting a Facebook Live event featuring Roger Tincknell and Davis Bates. Both events are co-sponsored by the Carlisle Cultural Council and available to view online from their Facebook page (

New Members, New Horizons

The Cultural Council welcomed 3 new members this month, bringing the total to 8 members, but would like to grow to 12 to best serve the community. “The board is energetic and positive, and we have members who are development professionals, musicians, and have backgrounds in music promotion and philanthropy, writing, and communications,” said Sagalyn. “The board is collaborative and passionate about culture in all of its broad implications.” With a larger board, the Council can assign subcommittees to projects depending on their unique interests.

The Council also recently completed a town-wide survey, performed every three years, and is in the process of analyzing priorities for future programming. Both Levitan and Sagalyn agreed that musical performances and art exhibits are most popular, but the Council hopes to see more unique programming ideas in the future, especially in history and science.

“Right now virtual is it,” said Levitan, and the Council fully expects applications for the coming year will reflect that, with more interactive online offerings and perhaps even some drive-in events. The Council also looks forward to collaborating with other groups to design programs that span all age groups and cultural interests, and that connect the Carlisle community in this most unusual time when it is so difficult to gather in person.

Members of the Carlisle Cultural Council are: Jennifer Albanese; Alain Bojarski, Treasurer; Jill Henderson; Karin Kliger; Dan Lennon; Mark Levitan, Co-chair; Jennifer Sagalyn, Co-chair; Abby Zimmerman, Secretary. Visit the Carlisle Virtual Showcase to view art and music by Carlisle friends and neighbors at To learn more about the Council or become a member of the board, visit or like their Facebook page at

This article was published in the Carlisle Mosquito on July 24, 2020.

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