Editorial Commentary: Year after year, for two decades now, the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) has been hammered by slashed budgets and appropriations for the state’s nonprofit arts organizations even as economic experts continue to laud the state’s rich cultural scene. The cultural economy not only attracts new investment in the state, but also is the glue that keeps many businesses here despite the higher cost of living. Culture is good for the economy, and funding for it should not be seen as an expense but as seed money that pays huge dividends.
Every time someone comes to Massachusetts to spend time in the Berkshires or Boston enjoying their cultural amenities, the states coffers fill up with revenues from retail sales and services, gasoline, hotel-motel and restaurant taxes to support its budget. Taxes thus collected are from out of state pockets, not from local citizens. The millions they add to the state’s income far exceed the small investment the state makes. And the cultural organizations universally have programs to enrich the state’s residents through programs in the schools, outreach to the underserved and in hundreds of free performances and exhibitions that happen throughout the year.
And there is one more point to make: that most successful MegaBucks Game began as a way to fund the arts, in an attempt back in the 1980′s to make sure the arts were not funded out of the general fund. However, when the Arts Lottery proved to be a real moneymaker, the Massachusetts Legislature reneged on its deal with the proponents who spent years creating the program, and took the money back for other purposes. Over the decades the promises made by politicians to the arts community have proved to be more like treaties with Native Americans and political expediency than anything else.
So while the effort to increase advocacy described by the press release below is worthy, even essential, those of us with long memories and broken hopes wish a new generation well. All I can say is to remember who you are dealing with. – Larry Murray
From our News Desk: The New Plan
The Massachusetts Cultural Council released a new plan today that aims to rebuild public support for the nonprofit arts, humanities, and sciences over five years through collective advocacy and reinvestment in the nonprofit cultural sector.
The plan also lays out several new ambitions for the MCC. These include securing additional resources and financial incentives for communities seeking to establish cultural districts, making arts education more available in schools, and expanding access to cultural facilities for the disabled.
“Our new plan reaffirms our top priority: restore MCC’s state appropriation so we can deliver more resources to the cultural organizations, local cultural councils, education programs, and artists that make our communities better places,” said Executive Director Anita Walker. “We’ve embraced a changing economic and political climate. But our core mission remains the same.”
The MCC’s new five-year strategic plan is the fruit of conversations with hundreds of its constituents through four public forums, an online survey, and dozens of focused meetings with stakeholders in communities across the state. Leaders from nonprofit cultural organizations, individual artists, educators, state legislators and executive branch officials, and business leaders, all participated in this effort. MCC also employed new polling data from MassINC showing broad public support for using arts and culture to enhance the quality of life in Massachusetts cities, and for public investment in those efforts.
- Increase the financial resources — public and private — available for the arts, humanities, and sciences across Massachusetts.
- Invest state dollars in cultural organizations, local cultural councils, schools, and artists with increased funding.
- Help cultural organizations, local councils, schools, and artists develop tools, skills, and relationships to increase cultural participation and thrive.
- The plan affirms four key goals for the agency through 2018:
Expand awareness and understanding of the power of the arts, humanities, and sciences to build healthy, livable communities, through vigorous advocacy on behalf of the sector.
The full plan, along with MCC’s mission and vision, was unanimously endorsed by MCC’s Board at its last public meeting. It is available online at www.massculturalcouncil.org.
The new plan comes as the MCC and its allies prepare for a key stretch of the state budget process that begins with the release of the Senate Ways & Means budget next week. MCC seeks to restore $1.8 million to its budget and invest those funds in operating support for nonprofit cultural organizations through its Cultural Investment Portfolio, and expand available grants in its STARS school residencies and YouthReach Initiative for young people at risk. The House recommended a $300,000 increase in the budget plan it passed last month.
Elements of MCC’s new strategic plan
1. Work with allies in the cultural sector to rebuild a statewide advocacy network to help restore MCC’s budget, maintain support for the Cultural Facilities Fund, and help the field build capacity and expand its support. This newly created network is called MassCreative, and is supported by the Boston Foundation, MCC, Arts/Learning, and leaders from nonprofit cultural organizations statewide.
2. Provide new tools and resources for cities and towns through its new Cultural Districts Initiative. MCC recently announced the first group of five state-designated cultural districts.
3. Rally support for “STEM to STEAM,” an effort to integrate arts education with school reform efforts that focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
4. Find ways to promote universal design for cultural facilities and programs for persons with disabilities.
5. Continue to streamline grant applications to reduce bureaucracy and make it easier to access state funds.
About the Massachusetts Cultural Council
The Massachusetts Cultural Council is a state agency that promotes excellence, access, education and diversity in the arts, humanities and sciences, to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts and contribute to its economic vitality. The Council pursues this mission through a combination of grants, services, and advocacy for nonprofit cultural organizations, schools, communities, and artists.
MCC’s budget for the current fiscal year is $10.8 million, including $9.1 million from the state of Massachusetts and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Bank of America, and other sources.