Best of NH 2021 Arts & Culture

Check out a newly formed hip-hop band, step hundreds of years into the past, and get ready to laugh— this list of winners in the cure for boredom.

Editor’s Picks

Inspiring Poet

Being New Hampshire’s poet laureate is more than just an honor for Alexandria Peary — it’s a chance to effect change in a part of our state that’s too often underserved. Meant to reach kids in Coös County, her inaugural North Country Young Writers’ Festival took place this past May, bringing together graduate and undergraduate student leaders, accomplished student poets and bright young writers via virtual workshops, games, activities and more. Originally meant to take place in person at the White Mountains Community College (a partner of the festival), the pandemic caused a change of plans. The two-day event was free to New Hampshire residents, and featured advice and input from bestselling authors, published poets and more. In addition to organizing a brand-new festival, Peary is the author of seven books (and is working on more), teaches at Salem State University and offers writing workshops. On top of all that, through the month of April she published daily writing prompts to encourage local poets to submit to her second volume of “COVID Spring.” You can purchase volume one at Hobblebush Books.

Arts for All

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First of all, the Loading Dock is not actually a loading dock. What it is may sound complicated — an all-ages collaborative multidisciplinary creative space — but the concept is really pretty simple (and clever). This inclusive and welcoming space in Littleton provides a venue for music and art, and it’s open to all. It’s something like a co-op, run by friends, volunteers and bandmates, but is also available for event rentals. It’s host to touring musicians, artists, local bands and community events from poetry readings to birthday parties. The 1,000-square-foot space has room for 100 people, a full PA sound system and, yes, a loading dock to facilitate bringing equipment in and out. Check out the website for a calendar of events, or get in touch to hold your own concert or movie screening.

Historic Host

We chose Canterbury Shaker Village as the site of this year’s reimagined Best of NH celebration for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it’s a beautiful place. The nearly 700 acres include trails that wind through quintessential New Hampshire countryside. And it’s not just natural beauty you’ll find at this National Historic Landmark — the Shaker aesthetic is everywhere, from the 25 original and four reconstructed buildings to the iconic furniture; the style of simplicity permeates the grounds. Then there’s the deep sense of history you feel when standing in a place established almost 230 years ago. The connection to the past is rich here, and there’s much to be learned. The Shakers may be best known for celibacy and simple living, but they were also the most successful communitarian society in American history, developing and adopting new technologies to build industry after industry, reinvesting their earnings into the community. The Shaker brand, so to speak, became known for quality, integrity and reliability. Shakers also believed in equality of the sexes, cared for the poor, and used their resources to promote social good. Today, the museum is ideal for quiet reflection, a place to slow down and revisit a past that still has lessons to teach us.

The Long Journey

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American pop/hip-hop artist Martin Toe was born in West Africa and survived the Ivorian and Liberian civil wars before his winding journey brought him to the Granite State. He grew up here and now thrives as an author, community organizer and leader. That circuitous path has also provided him with a diverse combination of skills and experiences that make up the tapestry of his captivating, inspiring and raw lyricism. Toe’s music, including his most recent, aptly titled, “Civic Leader,” is a collection of Afro-pop and R&B with touches of everything from Bob Marley to Pete Seeger. He was named the 2020 Stay Work Play New Hampshire Civic Leader of the Year — an honor both reflected and illustrated in how he engages audiences, communicates his message, and leaves listeners challenged and enlightened.

Theater Town

There must be something in the lake water around Laconia, because not one but two historic theaters are just about ready to welcome back eager audiences. Both the Opera House of Lakeport established in 1882, and the Colonial Theatre of Laconia, originally built in 1914, underwent extensive renovations to bring these beautiful venues back to their former glory (with some modern updates, of course). The three-level Opera House is home to both Wayfarer Coffee Roasters Café and The Laconia Daily Sun on the first floor, the theater in the middle, and top-floor apartments with soaring, original ceilings. The Colonial will begin showing off its $14.4 million rebuild (with many gorgeous original details) starting in late July when comedian Bob Marley takes the stage.

Arts Educators

When lifelong lover and supporter of the arts Carolyn Jenkins passed away in 1981, she gifted the City of Concord with her family’s home, the Kimball Jenkins Estate, with directions that it be used for cultural and educational purposes, including the “encouragement of art.” Today, this beautiful property is home to the Kimball Jenkins School of Art, where each year more than 1,300 students study drawing, painting, ceramics, photography, woodworking, glass, sculpture and more. And now, as the school continues to expand upon Jenkins’ vision, ballet and hip hop (plus other cultural dance and music) were added to the list of disciplines, thanks to creative collaborations with Eastern Ballet and Vibes of Style.

Humor Summit

New Hampshire is a funny place, which may account for the number of nationally famous comics who call it home, but for a taste of true local humor you have to dig a little deeper. We have probed the state with our comedy detector and selected two local humorists who tell funny stories that are as sweet as sugar on snow and as gritty as a swimsuit at Hampton Beach to headline the Granite State Humor Summit for our 2021 Best of NH party. Northwood’s “Moose of Humor” Rebecca Rule and Fred Marple of the semi-mythical village of Frost Heaves will unite their storytelling powers in a tour de force presentation titled: “What’s So Funny About New Hampshire.” The comic collaboration will debut (and perhaps finale) at this year’s “Best” bash, which will take place at Canterbury Shaker Village on August 21. Visit and and for more.

Past Prefect

R.P. Hale doesn’t exactly live in the past, though you might wonder if he has a time machine hidden in a closet somewhere. As a juried member of the League of NH Craftsmen, Hale’s profile describes him as “a multigenerational interdisciplinary artist, scientist and teacher. He is a nationally known master calligrapher, medical illustrator, wood engraver, paper marbler, harpsichord maker as well as concert musician.” He teaches in all those fields, they add. He studies Mayan cultures and runs workshops on traditional Mexican/Aztec cooking. Oh, and he’s a regular player in the Celtic music sessions at The Barley House in Concord, his home town. Learn more or send him a message via Facebook: R.P. Hale/La Imprenta Azteca.

Deep Grooves

Fee The Evolutionists

Hip hop culture exists in New Hampshire, but mostly in small doses — house parties, some basement emceeing, and an increasing respect for street art as a way to brighten up some downtown walls. Brand-new band Fee and the Evolutionists represents something rare in the local scene — continuity. Bill Fee and Ruby Shabazz performed percussion and vocals in the madly popular Ruby and the Groove, who have been based in the Nashua region since 2018. This new project of the power couple harks back to the golden age of hip hop featuring “conscious rhymes, good vibes and crowd participation,” weaving the familiar sounds of soul and R&B into a contemporary soundscape that is guaranteed to induce dancing, even in a room of stoic New Englanders.

Readers’ Poll Winners

Art Gallery

AVA Gallery and Art Center

AM Radio Station

WGIR 610

FM Radio Station

WZID 95.7

Independent Movie Theater

Red River Theatres

Large Music Venue

Bank of NH Pavilion


Hayley LaPoint WMUR


Currier Museum of Art

NH Radio Morning Show

Greg and the Morning Buzz, WHEB

NH Radio Talk Show

“The Exchange,” NHPR

Small Music Venue

Tupelo Music Hall

Theater/Performing Arts Venue

The Palace Theater

TV News Anchor

Erin Fehlau WMUR

TV News Reporter

Ray Brewer WMUR

TV Sports Anchor

Jamie Staton WMUR

Categories: Best of NH Winners