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Our arts infrastructure needs more support

Friday Jul 20, 2018

Our arts infrastructure needs more support

by Matt Wilson

It's summer, and that means locals and tourists alike are flocking to museums, and cultural and historical landmarks to enjoy concerts, movie nights, arts festivals, comedy shows, and dance and theater productions. As they do so, they'll be in and out of performance venues and other spaces in need of updates to their physical space.

Last year, the Massachusetts Cultural Council surveyed arts and cultural organizations on their capital maintenance needs; 169 identified pressing infrastructure projects totaling $114 million through 2019. The state invests in such projects through the Cultural Facilities Fund (CFF). Established in 2007 by the state legislature, CFF awards grants for the restoration of treasured historical and cultural landmarks as well as the funding of visionary capital projects that revitalize our communities.

Since 2007, CFF has awarded $110 million to 853 projects around the state that have benefitted organizations of all sizes that, as a requirement of their CFF funding, to raise private funds to also contribute. These projects include waterproofing, lighting, plumbing and flooring upgrades to the Boston Children's Museum exhibition hall; upgrades to the lighting, energy and security systems at the Worcester Center for Performing Arts; renovations, upgrades and repairs to the Lowell Memorial Auditorium; and the restoration of the Museum of African American History's Boston-Higginbotham House on Nantucket. All told, the organizations receiving CFF funding employ more than 7,000 full-time workers and another 25,500 architects, engineers, contractors, and construction workers, generating more than $1.7 billion in economic activity.

That's why cultural and business leaders and municipal officials across the state are calling on the state legislature to increase investment in CFF from $60 million over the next five years to $75 million. In a letter urging legislative leaders to support the funding increase, 23 mayors and municipalities and 23 local chambers of commerce write: "From our world-class facilities to our neighborhood arts centers and community playhouses, arts and culture have connected communities and built a vibrant, thriving economy across the Commonwealth. Our cultural venues are often the anchor of a neighborhood, making our cities and towns exceptional places to live, work, play, and visit."

Their support is not hard to understand. At its most basic level, art entertains us and brings us joy. Cultural and creative activities bring people together, thus making our communities more connected and safe. But art is also good for the economic health of our communities. Bars and restaurants feed concert goers before and after a show. Hotels provide lodging to tourists visiting local museums and historical sites. Local shops benefit from increased foot traffic before and after theater performances. In Lowell, Springfield, and Worcester alone, total spending by arts organizations and their audiences is a combined $188 million. It would be self-defeating not to support the capital infrastructure needs of our arts and cultural organizations.

Right now, there is an Economic Development Bond Bill making its way through the legislature that would fund the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund for five years at $75 million. I urge you to contact your state legislators and ask that they support this proposal. Surely, the stability of our treasured cultural assets and the wellbeing of our community-economically and otherwise-are worth this modest investment.

Matt Wilson is executive director of MASSCreative, a statewide organization advocating for the resources to make arts and creativity an expected, recognized, and valued part of everyday life.