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LoManto and Wilson/My Turn:Investing in the arts

Art and culture have been central to the revitalization of Turners Falls and Franklin County.

The last decade has seen a steady increase of economic activity generated by the arts, and more residents are participating in arts-related events. Not surprisingly, there has been a growing partnership between area businesses and nonprofit cultural organizations. This month, over a dozen artists, designers, puppeteers, filmmakers, actors, and musicians collaborated on a video for the Third Thursday RiverCulture event taking place in April. The elaborate production was hosted at Fast Lights, a local lighting company.

This kind of cultural activity is central to the economic vitality of communities across the commonwealth. Working with the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, The New England Foundation for the Arts and the National Endowment to the Arts (NEA) have definitively shown the economic benefits of investing in the arts. In Massachusetts, nonprofit arts and cultural organizations support more than 45,000 jobs, spend $2.1 billion annually, and generate another $2.5 billion of associated economic activity, including costs paid to printers, builders, maintenance and repair vendors, banks, utilities, insurance and advertising agencies. This report also includes additional arts-related activities such as dining out after a show, according to a 2011 report by the New England Foundation for the Arts.

In Franklin County, The Massachusetts Cultural Data Project, a nonprofit that tracks the financial impact of cultural organizations, reports that arts organizations provide full- and part-time work to more than 300 residents and generated nearly $12 million in 2011. Cultural programming was also reported as being well attended. More than 100,000 people attended arts events, more than 12,000 of them free of charge.

Despite this, the commonwealth’s investment in the creative community has declined nearly 60 percent over the past 25 years. In the late 1980s, the state invested approximately $26 million annually through the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Today, their budget stands at $11.1 million. In fiscal year 2015, we are urging lawmakers to fund the Massachusetts Cultural Council at $16.1 million, which would bring the state’s investment in arts and culture back to where it was about a decade ago.

Massachusetts enjoys significant private and foundation funding of the arts, but public support for the creative sector is critical. Public investment ensures that access to the arts is distributed across geographical regions and socioeconomic groups. Public investment encourages long-term sustainability because state grants require the documentation of sound fiscal and planning practices. Public investment results in more support for smaller, community-based groups that revitalize neighborhoods. Public investment connects people to theater, music, visual arts, film, history, literature, and the natural environment. It builds communities that are far more connected than they would be otherwise. We think that’s an investment worth making.

Suzanne LoManto is director of RiverCulture. Matt Wilson is executive director of MASSCreative.

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