Hundreds of Massachusetts artists and advocates marched to the State House Tuesday to make the case for an increase in arts funding.
The march was organized by MASSCreative. Supporters gathered first at the Paramount Theater, where cultural and political leaders including Barbara Grossman of the Massachusetts Cultural Council and state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli of Lenox spoke to the crowd about the value of arts in the state's 351 cities and towns.
Then the crowd, armed with signs saying "Arts Matter," headed to the State House to ask for an increase in state arts funding, more arts education in public schools, and a program to fund public art for state buildings.
A lot of them wanted to talk to political leaders about the role the arts plays in their lives, and expressed concerns and fears about President Trump's proposed elimination of the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. Organizations across the state receive grants from the NEA that are distributed through the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
Arts patron Quincy Morgan traveled from North Attleborough to engage in arts advocacy at the State House for the first time. For her, art bonds her community.
"It helps create a common bond and a shared experience," Morgan said. "In the summertime we have outdoor concert series, and it brings everybody out into the parks and a chance to create that sense of community that is so important."
Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 includes a 2.5 percent increase in arts funding. The House and Senate will release their budget proposals in the coming weeks, and advocates are asking lawmakers for even more money. They believe it's particularly important because of President Trump's proposal to defund the NEA.
"I’m here today because I was in education for 36 years and there have been too many times where the pressure has been to cut the arts," Belchertown photographer Randi Shenkman said. "Every time there’s a budget crisis — cut the arts, cut the arts. If we had lots of time I could go through a zillion examples of how the arts engage the students, broaden their minds and sometimes save their lives."
In general, Massachusetts leaders are supportive of the arts. Even so, Shenkman says proposed cuts at the federal level mean the state is going to have to "step up" to help fight for the NEA's preservation.
At the State House, Shenkman and her fellow advocates fanned out to air their worries to legislators, but also to give thanks to members who recognize the role the arts play in the state. House Minority Leader Brad Jones was expecting a few visitors and said he has definitely noticed an increased urgency among cultural supporters this year.
That said, March is "march month" at the State House, he said. All kinds of groups knock on lawmakers' doors as the budget is being formed.
"Honestly, candidly, at this time of year pretty much anybody who comes to the State House is talking about money," he said.
Rep. Jones believes in the value of the arts, but puts it in context, saying he always listens to advocates from sectors ranging from health care to libraries to higher education justify their requests. But then he has to ask himself: "How do you take everybody’s number one priority and try to be reasonable and fair to everybody with a finite amount of money?"
The state budget is still in the hearing process. At the federal level, it's Congress that controls spending, and it's unclear how much of Trump's proposed cuts they will follow through on.
This segment aired on March 28, 2017.