Cecil Barron Jensen brings an artist’s touch to ReMain Nantucket as executive director.
When Melissa Philbrick retired from her post as the longtime executive director of ReMain Nantucket last year, she left some big shoes to fill. Under her watch, Philbrick helped ReMain founder Wendy Schmidt actualize a vision of revitalizing Nantucket’s downtown and supporting its year-round economy through a wide range of strategic real estate investments, community initiatives and business creations. Taking over for Philbrick was Cecil Barron Jensen, who previously had spent a decade as executive director of the Artists Association of Nantucket. Now exactly a year since taking the role, Barron Jensen spoke to N Magazine about the future challenges facing Nantucket’s historic downtown, ReMain’s newest initiatives, and what an artist’s touch will bring to one of Nantucket’s most influential nonprofits.
BARRON JENSEN: ReMain continues to be focused on transportation, parking and access to the downtown—especially in the summer months. We launched a marketing campaign to encourage people to ride the WAVE, bike or walk instead of driving. Our point of view is that there is more to see and do if you are not driving around in circles looking for parking. We know we cannot solve the congestion issues alone—we need the town, businesses and residents to join in and imagine a way forward on this problem—but we are trying to help. We’ve also spent a great deal of time and energy helping the town to improve and expand its bike paths.
N MAGAZINE: Should cars be limited on Nantucket?
BARRON JENSEN: The idea of limiting cars is in the hands of the Select Board. At ReMain, we focus on where we can help influence behavior. We launched a marketing campaign this summer targeted at short-term visitors. The campaign “Leave the Keys Please” encourages visitors to book their trips to the island without bringing a car, in addition to encouraging seasonal and year-round residents to opt for an alternative mode of transportation when shopping, dining or just enjoying the downtown. “The More Nantucket” website and advertising campaign spells out, very simply, that you will actually get more out of Nantucket if you’re not driving.
N MAGAZINE: Sea-level rise presents one of the most serious long-term threats to the future of downtown Nantucket. What is ReMain doing to prepare for the effects of climate change?
BARRON JENSEN: This is a priority. We chose to take 2019 to understand the problem and look at the subject from as many points as possible. It has been fascinating to learn about the ways other organizations are preparing for climate change and elevated sea water. ReMain’s role will be to stay a part of the conversation— and ultimately to fund key projects that will demonstrate, educate, or mitigate the impact for the future. We certainly cannot solve this on our own. We all will need to work together and keep the ideas flowing from across the island.
N MAGAZINE: With high rent and a short season, retailers continue to struggle on Nantucket. What can be done to help them?
BARRON JENSEN: More people coming into town more often. That’s it. That’s our motto. That’s why we fund nonprofits and businesses that bring people into the downtown. Classes, activities, concerts, art events – we support all kinds of cultural programing. In addition, we continue to invest in our properties and tenants. We want them to be open year-round and to provide lots of reasons for people to come and enjoy the Nantucket Cultural District. There is nothing we like better than to brainstorm with our tenants, helping them develop programs and activities. That’s the sweet spot – we are benevolent landlords because we want our tenants to collaborate with us. Together, we serve the mission to make the downtown core a vibrant place. We love it when we hear that other building owners are doing the same thing. We hope it’s contagious.
BARRON JENSEN: We like the old adage: A rising tide floats all boats. We all benefit from successful businesses and a vibrant island community. We’re so encouraged that the summer event schedule on the island is jam-packed. We are proud to be part of a community that provides such a varied cultural, historical, shopping and dining experience to our residents and visitors. Our mission continues to be to strengthen the lasting social, economic and environmental vitality of downtown Nantucket for future generations. By focusing on future generations, it allows us to step back and imagine the impact we may have in the long run, while also reminding us to continue to look for opportunities to partner and collaborate with other non- profits and business leaders.
N MAGAZINE: What initiatives does ReMain have on the immediate horizon?
BARRON JENSEN: This past year, we’ve focused attention on the year-round business community. By supporting the Chamber of Commerce and helping to open the Nantucket Island Center for Entrepreneurship, we’ve discovered that there is a real need for business-to-business support. [Chamber CEO] David Martin and Karen Macumber have stepped up to provide coaching and education for entrepreneurs at all levels. Karen, in particular, is helping aspiring business owners with writing business plans, marketing and real estate planning. In addition, she has developed a valued network of mentors (both on Nantucket and off). The downtown cultural scene is also a priority for us this year. ReMain’s Virna Gonzalez and I are working on a year-long research project that will survey and evaluate the cultural programming being offered in the downtown core.
BARRON JENSEN: We are so much more than our buildings. Yes, we are enormously proud of our properties and tenants. The buildings (and the organizations and businesses inside) serve as living, breathing, beating hearts of our community. The work that our tenants do to bring people into town and engage with our community is priceless. We are proud of them all and their commitment to Nantucket. I spend my days listening and learning from our community. At ReMain, I am developing patience. We affect change by studying, evaluating and supporting others who are working on projects that interact with our mission goals. I cannot yet see around the corner to know what our next projects will be, but chances are they will drive our core values forward in positive ways, which hopefully will provide time and space for future generations to make wise and sensible decisions for our dear island home.
*This interview has been edited and condensed due to space limitations.