As 2016 draws to a close, and an uncertain 2017 fast approaching, Anita Walker, director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council ponders the role the creative community can play in the coming year.
The work artists do is more important than ever before
by Anita Walker
We are a sanctuary for hope. An incubator for social justice. The stewards of our collective memory. The scientific rigor that explains our world, and the knowledge to change it for the better. We provide the vision to see our common humanity and the imagination to overcome what we cannot see.
As the first rays of light touched 2016, we could not have foreseen the new importance of our work. We have always embraced hope and imagination, community and meaning, as the nucleotides of our DNA. And as 2016 dawned, we accelerated our commitment to these values with vigor.
Even as other major funders were redirecting their arts investments away from programs for youth, we doubled down on increased funding for creative youth development because we know the names of the lives saved in these programs over the past 22 years. And we know that unnamed thousands more could be saved.
With a flat budget in hand, we increased our investment in Massachusetts’ traditional artists, many of them new immigrants with unparalleled skill and talent.
We added new resources to our fledgling UP Initiative, embracing universal design principles in the cultural sector so that everyone is welcome to participate in the arts.
We committed new support to our 30-year-old Local Cultural Council program to re-energize this most potent grassroots community-building arts network in America.
We fortified our investment in nearly 400 nonprofit cultural organizations, from the visual arts, theater, and dance companies that help us see our world through a creative lens, to our interpretive science institutions that teach the critical thinking skills we need to separate fact from fiction.
And in partnership with the Boston Foundation, we took a leap of faith on a new approach to city making, launching Futurecity\Massachusetts. This is not just a shined up version of creative placemaking. It is an entirely new way of thinking about the role of artists in city planning and an even newer way the arts field thinks about itself, not as charities but as economic drivers, who belong at the table with developers and city leaders.
Success in 2016 presented itself in remarkable ways: An unprecedented $50 million gift from Michael Bloomberg to the Museum of Science, inspired by a childhood experience learning about a sequoia tree from a museum educator. Two Massachusetts Creative Youth Development programs, Theater Offensive and IBA, honored at the White House as among the best in the nation. Our first showcase of traditional artists planned for next May at the beautiful Shalin Liu Theater in Rockport, unveiling the music and dance hidden in plain sight in communities across the Commonwealth. Leadership from Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Artists for Humanity, and The Hitchcock Center embracing energy conservation as a basic responsibility of residence on the planet Earth. And dozens of cultural non-profits joining us to be inclusive, judgment-free zones, knowing no organization is complete until everyone feels they belong.
Now, as we look toward an uncertain 2017, we are more certain than ever of the urgency of this work and the confidence with which we must carry it forward. The young people in our YouthReach and SerHacer programs know that they matter and that they can make a difference in their communities. Many of these young people have grown up a border apart from parents and family. They now fear that their chance to matter and make a difference here is threatened. We must make sure it is not.
As the caretakers of the nation’s history, our investments in historic buildings and records preserve stories that teach not just about the past, but also about the consequences of the decisions we make. Museums are among the most trusted institutions in an increasingly cynical society. Their vitality and sustainability is directly related to ours.
When we hear that we live in a “post truth” era and that facts are in the eye of the beholder, science teaches us that facts are the difference between truth and fear. Our science museums are the first line of defense against confusion and distortion.
And when we wonder how we became so divided as a nation and if we will ever be in harmony again, the arts remain the language through which we share our pain and joy, and the fragile tissue that connects us.
In 2017, we must bring more vigor to our work. We must open our doors wider, welcome louder, and hold our vulnerable youth tighter. Provide more opportunities for people of color. Add the voices of youth to our boards. Commit to serving neighborhoods that we may have overlooked. Walk through our facilities with persons in wheelchairs or using a cane, and learn from that experience. Embrace the fact that people have their own personal pronoun preferences. Extend your hand, and your reach.
Let’s end the culture wars and declare that culture works.
Because we are a sanctuary for hope. An incubator for social justice. The stewards of our collective memory. The scientific rigor that explains our world, and the knowledge to change it for the better. We provide the vision to see our common humanity and the imagination to overcome what we cannot see.