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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50 years later: JFK’s Inspirational View on the Arts

50 years after the day of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, many will reflect on the 35th president’s legacy. From his speech on October 26, 1963, MASSCreative looks at his inspiring vision for the arts.

Just less than a month before his death, Kennedy spoke at Amherst College in honor of Robert Frost who had died in January of that year.  In his speech, Kennedy framed the poet laureate’s work within the context of the American identity. He argues that Frost contributed to “national life” in a way that only artists can:

But democratic society--in it, the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost's hired man, the fate of having ‘nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope.’

Kennedy combats apathy and invites his audience to consider the arts in a light that is anything but superfluous. His words inspire appreciation for art as an essential tool in crafting our national identity: “Our national strength matters, but the spirit which informs and controls our strength matters just as much. This was the special significance of Robert Frost.”

These words still find meaning today as we weigh the societal support of art and culture. Historically, political leaders segment issues in silos, quarantining art to the fringes of governmental funding. Our culture is often pervaded by the sentiment that Art is nice, but not necessary. To help alter this attitude of indifference, we need our political leaders to stand up as champions of the arts. If there is any question about the pertinence of art as a tool for civic engagement, politicians need only reflect on the integrative vision for the arts that Kennedy offers in his speech: 

I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.

50 years later, we can appreciate the resonating power of John F. Kennedy’s voice and honor his commitment to the arts. Visit the National Endowment for the Art’s page to hear the audio from his historic speech

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Boston Magazine: Keeping the ‘Art’ In Mayor Marty Walsh

Mayor-elect Walsh has already begun his transition phase which means the Create the Vote coalition needs to continue advocating for arts and cultural issues. In a discussion with Steve Annear of Boston Magazine, Ron Mallis of BostonAPP/LAB, producer Jason Turgeon of FIGMENT Boston, Liz Devlin of FLUX Boston, and Matt Wilson of MASSCreative talk about working with Walsh to make art a priority in his administration.

The arts and cultural leaders reflect on the great progress the community has made in elevating its issues and treats the culmination of the mayoral race as a call to action:

“All of that is good, but at the same time, that does not relieve anybody from continuing to emphasize that yes, this is important, and there is a variety of things that need to be done and need to be examined. I am hoping all of that will occur,” Ron Mallis said. “There needs to be an ongoing kind of lobbying on the part of the arts community, acknowledging that we have gotten this far, and the pressure needs to be kept up.”

In the meantime, these leaders will collaborate and write an open letter to the mayor to address his next steps. Additionally, Mallis has taken his involvement a step further by applying to be on Walsh's transition team to represent the arts. But the engagement doesn't end there. In the coming months, it will be up to the whole creative community - spanning across disciplines and working in neighborhoods around the city - to reach out to Mayor-elect Marty Walsh and work with him in solidarity.

Liz Devlin has the final say in the article, setting the tone for the road ahead:

“I have hope, but it’s not Marty Walsh’s deal to change everything for us. We all have a responsibility to do it. He just has to be open and listen and say OK, and we can be all the worker bees and we can do it. The potential is there to be better.”

Read the entire piece over at Boston Magazine's page.

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Big Red & Shiny: Art in the Innovation Hub Part 4: Arts Non-Profits

In the fourth entry in Laura Mitchell's blog series, Art in the Innovation Hub, she considers the infrastructure supporting the arts scene in Boston. First, Mitchell explores how the Boston Center for the Arts serves local artists with a space to experiment, a venue to curate, and home away from home to nurture. Conversation eventually turns to neighborhood organizations and their crucial role in identifying cultural indicators. Without committed groups like the Dorchester Arts Collaborative, these up-and-coming artists have no easy path to exposure. Jay Gustavo, president of the collaborative, commented that the creative sector is experiencing progress in working cohesively with each other in the ecology of art in the city. Gustavo praises the creative community for coming together, and gives props to MASSCreative for its advocacy, saying: "the city can no longer afford to not listen to us."

Read more about Art in the Innovation Hub over at Big Red & Shiny

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From the I AM KREYOL Art BaZaaR show at the Erick Jean Center for the Arts, Dorchester Arts Collaborative. Courtesy of DAC. 

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WBUR: Who Should Be The Mayor’s Arts Czar? Our Nominees

Greg Cook and Ed Siegel of WBUR's The Artery, put their heads together to come up with a list of their own nominees for Mayor-elect Marty Walsh's new cultural officer. On a list full of impressive names in the arts and cultural community, we were honored to see many names representing the Create the Vote coalition, including: executive director Jill Medvedow of the ICA, senior program officer F. Javier Torres of the Boston Foundation, director of artistic programs David Dower of ArtsEmerson, managing director Michael Maso of Huntington Theatre Company, Joyce Kulhawik of Joyce's Choices, and executive director Catherine Peterson of ArtsBoston.

Most notably, the list features executive director of MASSCreative, Matt Wilson, as a suggestion for Marty Walsh's cultural officer. Greg Cook supported his choice with Matt's credentials: 

With three decades of experience in political organizing for Toxics Action Center, MoveOn.org and the like, he became the Massachusetts art advocacy group’s first director in March and quickly built a coalition that helped make culture a central issue in Boston’s mayoral campaign. MassCreative attracted an overflow crowd to a candidates forum about the arts at ArtsEmerson’s 590-seat Paramount Mainstage theater on Sept. 9.

Read the entire list in the Artery's article: "Who Should Be The Mayor’s Arts Czar? Our Nominees."

 

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WBUR Artery: Massachusetts Triples Cultural Facilities Fund

After yesterday's exciting announcement from Governor Deval Patrick that he will triple his allocation to the Cultural Facilities Fund, the statewide creative community was a abuzz with the possibilities of what $15 million will do to support our cultural venues. Andrea Shea of the WBUR Artery wrote a great piece highlighting the role of MASSCreative's Cultural Facilities Fund campaign to increase investment. Andrea spoke with Matt Wilson of MASSCreative who offered up this moment as a victory in arts advocacy:

“From institutions to mayors and chambers of commerce, they understand both the cultural and economic value that these facilities play in our communities."

Read the entire article at WBUR.

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Arts and cultural community applaud Governor’s decision to invest $15M in Massachusetts cultural facilities

STOCKBRIDGE, November 12, 2013 – Advocates for investment in the state’s arts and cultural economy, today praised Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick for his allocation of $15 million to the Cultural Facilities Fund to improve cultural venues across the Commonwealth. This triples the annual allocation that the governor historically gives to this program. The governor is scheduled to make his remarks this morning at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, which has received grants from the Fund totaling $388,000 for planning and infrastructure improvements. To date, the Fund has made $54.8 million in grants to 269 arts and culture organizations.  

The governor’s announcement follows a four-month advocacy campaign led by MASSCreative, which involved over 200 arts and cultural institutions, mayors and chambers of commerce and over 1200 individuals across Massachusetts. MASSCreative is the only organization in Massachusetts working statewide to advocate for arts and cultural initiatives, made possible by support of the Boston Foundation and the Hunt Alternatives Fund.

“More than 200 creative institutions, large and small, from all corners of the state, came together to make a bold request of Governor Patrick,” said Matt Wilson, Executive Director of MASSCreative. “The governor clearly understands the impact these institutions have on our communities and our economy and responded in kind.”

The work of the Cultural Facilities Fund has resulted in the creation of nearly 15,000 jobs to architects, engineers, contractors, and construction workers; and created over 1,400 new permanent jobs. 

 

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Medford adds $13,000 to Local Cultural Council budget

It's grant season for the Commonwealth's 329 Local Cultural Councils, which means that $2.63 million of state funding is about to be infused into every city and town in Massachusetts to support local arts and history, fund school field trips, and sponsor local concerts and exhibitions.  

In Medford, the pot is now $13,000 larger, thanks to some creative pioneers.

At a city council meeting in September, Maria Daniels, co-chairwoman of the Medford Arts Council, voiced the need for municipal support for local arts and cultural projects.

"We see arts and culture here in Medford as a driver of economic development," said Daniels. "We can pat ourselves on the back, but the reality is there's not funding in a significant way for these activities. We rely on state funds, and that's not enough."

Daniels certainly made a compelling case. By October 1st, City Councilors Robert Penta and Michael Marks had introduced a joint resolution requesting the city allocate $10,000 for the arts in next year's budget. The resolution to add $10,000 to $20,000 was approved with a 5-2 vote. 

It all become reality during the Arts on the Mystic Festival on Saturday, October 5th when Mayor McGlynn announced the city would allocate $13,000 to the Medford Arts Council.

Read the full article in the Medford Transcript here

At MASSCreative, we believe that arts, culture, and creativity is a public good that deserves public investment - not just on the federal and state level, but on the municipal level, as well. Just over a dozen of the 329 local cultural councils - less than 4% - receive municipal support for local arts and cultural projects. We're working to increase that number by working with local cultural councils to provide them with the strategies and backup on how to effectively ask your town or city for increased allocations to your local arts scene.

Please contact Tracie, our Senior Campaign Organizer, if you would like assistance in working with your municipal leaders to match state funding allocated to your local cultural council.

tkonopinski@mass-creative.org

office: 617-350-7610

cell: 856-266-7555

 

 

 

 

 

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Imagine the Possibilities: What Marty Walsh Can Learn from Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel

Mayor-Elect Marty Walsh called for a Boston “arts renaissance” during the Create the Vote coalition’s Oct. 18 public meeting on the arts. He could learn a lot by following the blueprint set by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel.

In October, Mayor Emmanuel and Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) Commissioner Michelle T. Boone marked the one-year anniversary of the Chicago Cultural Plan 2012, which Emmanuel has described as a sweeping strategy “to elevate the city as a global destination for creativity, innovation and excellence in the arts.” As the birthplace of blues music, improv comedy and slam poetry, the city has a reputation to live up to, and Emmanuel is keenly aware of that.

Emmanuel and his DCASE chief marked the one-year anniversary of Chicago’s cultural plan with an announcement that roughly half of the 241 initiatives in the detailed plan have already been addressed or implemented. Among the many achievements:

  • 60 percent of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have completed Creative Schools Certification, which categorizes schools based on how well they meet the goals and priorities outlined in the CPS Arts Education Plan—an initiative to systematically improve, expand, and strategically coordinate arts education for all CPS students. The certification provides opportunities for additional resources to help schools address gaps in arts learning, build more robust arts programs, and ensure that every CPS student can access quality arts education.
  • Re-launching the online Cultural Grants Program, which awarded 200 grants totaling $1.2 million.
  • The inaugural Chicago Theatre week, which sold 6,200 tickets to 300 performances.
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