Making our case for the importance of the arts in Massachusetts

Arts Advocacy DayBy Michael Busack
For many American arts organizations, 2017 is a time of some trepidation and uncertainty. The new administration looks to cut federal arts and culture funding, which supports hundreds of causes across the country.

On March 28, more than 600 Massachusetts arts administrators, students, educators and patrons joined together for MASSCreative’s Arts Matter Advocacy Day to support and build awareness for the need for state funding for the arts. The group gathered at Emerson College’s Paramount Theater to share storytelling and advocacy skills before marching through the Boston Common to the State House to meet with legislators to advocate for arts issues and funding.

Standing in a theater full of people was simultaneously emotional and empowering. A bit like a family reunion, we were side-by-side with many familiar faces who have been touched by the arts. A lot of us have dedicated our lives and careers to arts organizations and causes. We filled the room with raucous oratory, moving performance, a lot of hugs, and a few tears.

Looking around the Paramount, I was struck by the reality that the arts contribution to our communities is enormous. In a community with a vibrant arts scene, citizens have an accessible way to communicate with one another, across barriers of culture, race, class, and education level. It’s both how we process the complex world around us, and how we project our emotions and ideals to the larger society. The arts reflect societal trends and shapes them.

When you live in a community, such as ours, where the arts are valued, your students have access to stronger and balanced educations. Underserved populations in these areas have greater opportunities for positive and uplifting experiences and social connections. And even more important to those focused in the bottom line, the arts have a very significant economic impact on our communities.

According to the Arts and Economic Prosperity IV research report (widely considered the most comprehensive study on the American nonprofit arts and culture industry) America’s nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $135.2 billion in economic activity every year.  The breakdown is $61.1 billion in spending by organizations, and $74.1 billion in event-related spending by audiences. In addition, the industry supports 4.1 million jobs and generates $22.3 billion in government revenue. In my book, that’s a substantial impact on our economy!

Because we see the crucial need for and the incredible impact of the arts every day, talking to our legislators is something we in the arts are familiar with doing. At South Shore Conservatory we see the impact in the student with cerebral palsy who now has channels to communicate better with his family and world around him because of his music therapy. We see it in the student who receives full financial aid to provide access to an arts education that will allow her to attend the college of her dreams and become a future leader in our society. And we see it when we gather together, republicans and democrats, black and white, young and old, gay and straight, to share in the joy of a concert. For that short moment the barriers that divide us are down and we are far more similar than different.

We hope that those who recognize the importance of the arts in our everyday lives, help keep this conversation going.  In my view, music and the arts are not a want to have, but a need to have. To learn more about how you can help ensure the arts stay in Massachusetts, visit http://www.mass-creative.org/.

Michael Busack is South Shore Conservatory’s Senior Director of External Affairs.

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