Creativity in Action

MASSCreative aims to highlight ways in which communities, organizations and individuals are having an impact and inspiring positive change in Massachusetts. Explore our success stories, posted below, and let them inspire you to get involved and work toward a broader, more impactful creative community.

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Springfield’s Drama Studio is one of the few theatre programs in the country to offer conservatory-style training for teens

The Drama Studio is one of a handful of youth theatres in the United States that offers quality, range, and depth in its acting training programs. For Springfield-area youth, the Studio's conservatory program offers an unusual opportunity for training that prepares its graduates (all of whom are college bound) to enroll in university theatre programs. In recent years, Harvard University has accepted two Drama Studio graduates, and Emerson College and the University of Massachusetts have each accepted three.

The Drama Studio was founded in 1987 by Steve Hays, a longtime theatre producer in Springfield (he founded and managed StageWest, a LORT regional theatre, from 1967-1984), who understands the importance of the conservatory style approach to the acting training process. First, students learn and grow in their craft over a period of years through a series of acting classes offered sequentially from introductory to advanced levels. Among the offerings from the four-member faculty of the Drama Studio are Introduction to Acting; Advanced and Intermediate Musical Theatre classes; Improv Technique; Comedy; and Stage Combat. There are also a series of production opportunities for which students audition, rehearse, and perform. Plays are chosen to uplift the adolescent experience and range from Shakespeare and the classics to contemporary works, including those written by students (Drama Studio also offers a course in playwriting).

For many students, the “Studio”―as it’s affectionately known―is even more than a place where they train for the stage. It’s also a refuge where they can be completely themselves without fear of judgment.

“Kids come to us who don’t fit in at their schools,” says Hays. “For many of them it’s a godsend. We have many parents tell us if it weren’t for the Studio, they weren’t sure how their kids would have gotten through the public school system.”

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Such a deal: Arts & culture for 35 cents a person!

As chair of the Medfield Cultural Council, when Jean Mineo learned last year that other local cultural councils had secured municipal funding to supplement their state grants, she knew immediately she had to try the same thing.

“If other places were doing it, I figured we had a chance to try to make it happen in Medfield, too,” said Mineo, who is currently serving her last term on the council.

Spoiler alert: She made it happen.

In April, Town Meeting members approved a $4,250 appropriation to the Medfield Cultural Council, an amount equal to the most recent allotment of state funds it received from the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC). The additional funding has enabled the council to increase the number of grants it gives to local arts organizations, after two years of struggle in which it was only able to fulfill about 25 percent of their total funding request. 

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From zero to $13K: How the Medford Arts Council leveraged grassroots power to boost arts funding

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Late last year, the Medford City Council and Mayor Michael J. McGlynn allocated $13,000 in the city budget for arts programming. It was the first time in Maria Daniels’s six-year tenure on the Medford Arts Council  that City Hall dedicated any money at all to the arts. For a small city like Medford, the move was an extraordinary show of support for the work that the arts council routinely engages in to enrich and enliven the Boston suburb.

But that’s not all the good news. McGlynn recently announced that he would add a $15,000 arts line item to his Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal, demonstrating the city’s renewed investment in the arts in a more permanent way. The Medford City Council still has to approve the budget before it can take effect. But the ongoing support from the mayor and many city councilors has encouraged and excited local arts advocates. 

So how did the Medford Arts Council get city officials to put arts and culture back on their agenda?

In a recent interview, Daniels, the council’s chair and interim treasurer, offered up three keys to their triumph: a good political strategy, coalition and relationship building with local allies, and publicizing their cause. In other words, good old-fashioned grassroots advocacy.

 

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Pittsfield shows that public investment in the arts makes a real difference


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It’s a basic principle of business that one must invest money to make money. Around the state, arts and cultural programs and events have boosted local revenues and brought new life to struggling municipalities. Few illustrate this better than Pittsfield.

A small city at the western edge of the state, Pittsfield is a prime example of how investment in the arts brings economic benefits. Over the last few years, downtown Pittsfield’s rebirth as a center of arts, culture and nightlife has been well documented by the New York Times, the Boston Globe (more from the Globe),WBUR and other publications, and for many good reasons. Here are a few of them:

Between 2005 – shortly after the city began investing heavily in its creative economy – and 2010,

  • attendance at arts and cultural events shot up 169 percent from 225,000 to 606,239;
  • annual direct expenditures on local arts events (organizational and audience) grew by almost 49 percent, from $17 million to $25.3 million;
  • full-time equivalent jobs in the arts sector increased from 531 to 762, a growth of 44 percent;
  • local government revenue from the arts programming increased nearly 47 percent, from $738,000 to $1 million;
  • state government arts revenue also increased by 47 percent, from $781,000 to $1.1 million; and
  • collective yearly household income in Pittsfield increased by 54 percent, from $9.3 million to $14.3 million.
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Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: From med school to elementary school, connecting students with Mrs. Gardner's vision for the arts

Over the past two years, nearly 250 dental students have participated in an abridged program at the museum aimed at sharpening the future dentists’ observation skills in the clinical setting.

  

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Tobin K-8 School third graders draw around the Gardner Museum’s central courtyard. 

 

Michelle Grohe recently led a group of sixth graders from the Tobin K-8 School in Boston into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s modern and new Hostetter Gallery. For five minutes the students roamed the space, contemplating the massive abstract contemporary paintings mounted on luminous white walls.

“What’s going on this room? What’s speaking to you?” Grohe, the Gardner Museum’s Director of School and Teacher Programs, asked her charges.

“I really don’t understand what we’re looking at, and I can’t tell you exactly what it is,” Grohe recalls a student answering. “But I know if we sit here together and talk about it, we’re going to start figuring some things out together and I’m really excited about that.”

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Boston Gay Men’s Chorus: using music to heal

When he performs as a member of the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus (BGMC), Samuel Brinton’s is one of 175 voices that fill concert halls across the city and around the world. He stands shoulder to shoulder with other men who understand many of his joys and struggles. He feels part of a community.

He never thought this could happen. Because once upon a time, Brinton believed he was the only gay person in the world.

Literally. 

“I was told over and over that I was the only gay person in the world. That I had AIDS. That God hated me,” explains Brinton, recalling the years when he was subjected to so-called “conversion therapy” designed to “cure” him of being gay. Then living in Florida, Brinton was sent to the sessions by his parents, Baptist missionaries, who violently rejected their son’s coming out; Brinton’s father gave beatings that sent him to the emergency room more than once. The young man even attempted suicide, but eventually told his parents he was “cured”: that the “therapy” had worked. It was the only way to avoid its archaic torture, which Brinton says included electric shocks that jolted him when he was exposed to sexual images of men. To this day, he says, he can still feel phantom shocks.

As a member of Boston’s Gay Men Chorus, though, he also feels something new: pride and safety.

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Building community, one note at a time

In music, the key to success is harmony.

That’s why harmony is intrinsic to Boston Children’s Chorus (BCC)—which is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2013—in a particularly profound way. Scan your eyes over members of the youth organization at a concert, as they stand tall and smile proudly in their snappy crimson jackets, and you’ll see tremendous diversity. There are boys and girls of different colors, creeds, religions, neighborhoods and backgrounds; outside the Chorus, socioeconomic lines may have kept them apart. But when they open their mouths to sing, these very different youngsters create one beautiful, resounding, unified sound. 

“Diversity is a key objective,” says David C. Howse, executive director of the BCC, which refers to its young participants as Ambassadors of Harmony. Indeed the organization was created by esteemed Boston civic leader Hubie Jones, founder of Massachusetts Advocates for Children, as an artistic opportunity to inspire social change among underserved communities and build bonds between young people. The Chorus has grown exponentially in a decade, from a pilot program of 20 children to an organization of nearly 500 diverse members (38 percent white, one-third black, half from families making less than $65,000) representing 50 different urban and suburban neighborhoods. 

“Embracing differences and understanding other people is vital to building a more empathetic, just and equitable society,” says Howse. Yet even as the Chorus teaches young people to work together as one voice, it also helps each member find his or her own.

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Playwright Mentoring Program at Barrington Stage Co.

Pittsfield’s nationally acclaimed theater group, the Barrington Stage Company, has an innovative educational youth initiative called the Playwright Mentoring Project (PMP). During this rigorous, half-year program, troubled adolescents learn essential life skills in a supportive environment. Over a 26-week span, participants go through a series of creative exercises and educational sessions that culminate in their own performance pieces. 

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Creativity in Action: Pittsfield

You cannot do arts and culture in order to have economic development. Do arts and culture for its own sake, but wait for the lovely side effects” Megan Whilden, Director of Cultural Development in Pittsfield, MA

The city of Pittsfield embraced creativity, arts and culture at a time when the city and its residents needed it most. From there, the "lovely side effects" have been incredible.

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Creativity in Action: Lowell's Renaissance

In the past thirty years, Lowell has seen an incredible amount of growth and revitalization. Part of the reason? Creativity.

 

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Community Impact

The Drama Studio is one of a handful of youth theatres in the United States that offers quality, range, and depth in its acting training programs. For Springfield-area youth, the Studio's conservatory program offers an unusual opportunity for training that prepares its graduates (all of whom are college bound) to...