Mary Ann Stewart's Response to the Create the Vote Questionnaire

1. The Role of Arts, Culture, and Creativity

What role do arts, culture, and creativity play in your life, your family, your community? What impact does it have?

The arts have always been my lifeline.

I grew up in a time when arts education was the pride of every community, whether in public schools or in the public square, and I was encouraged to participate in all of it: music; drawing and painting; poetry and creative writing; dance; photography. I began with piano lessons in first grade. Over time, I added to my portfolio the needle arts; calligraphy & book arts; ceramics; cooking; costumery; visual arts, collaborative arts. When I had worked for a while on a calligraphy project, a writing project beckoned; after working on that for a time, a knitting or sewing project next.

The affect the arts has had on me throughout my life has been boundless, but it was in those early, formative years that I developed an attachment to the arts and they became a lifeline to me as we relocated from the rural mountains of PA, to urban, central OH, and then to a quiet, reserved community in MA just before I started high school. Despite the paucity of music and arts programming offered in my high school, what was offered got me up and to school on the rainiest of days.

And, that still holds true today. Since the November 2016 election I have sat at my piano nearly every day, finding solace in patriotic and popular songs, and in the compositions of Debussy, Bartok, Haydn, and Bach. I now have a little set that I would consider playing before a small group of friends.

A personal connection with arts, culture, or creativity has an immeasurable impact on one’s life and well-being, place, and view of community. Among other things, my engagement has taught me patience, perspective, sequencing, problem-solving, persistence, and the joy of self-expression.

However, children in many public schools and people in our communities are losing the opportunity to engage with the arts on a daily basis, whether due to shrinking budgets or the focus on standardized testing in schools or loss of national and state funding for community arts programming. The arts are designated a core academic subject, yet access to arts education in our schools is eroding. And this at a time when parents, employers, and civic leaders are demanding improvements to teaching and learning that will make our schools places where each learner will access a complete education and opportunities to succeed.

 

2. Addressing District-wide Issues

Just as any other part of the state, we face many economic and social issues here in the district.

What are your priority issues? What role can the creative community play in addressing these challenges?

We’re faced with competing and compelling priorities in the Commonwealth. That’s why we need a courageous champion who isn’t afraid to speak up and make change. Some people’s approach is to first step back and wait until a consensus has formed before making a move. I approach things differently, leading with my values first and building coalitions from there, right at the outset. If there will be compromise (as is often the case), then we shall compromise, but that is not where I begin. I will not compromise on values.

As the clear progressive choice in this race and the candidate who will strengthen the constituency base of power within the Progressive Caucus in the State House, my top priorities are:

  • Improving public education, including fair, adequate funding for K-12 (ultimately recalculating the Foundation Budget Formula), expanding early education and care, improving career/vocational technical education, and debt-free college options;
  • Climate and environmental justice and a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy; and
  • Improving the lives of working people, with affordable healthcare, housing, and social, racial, and economic justice.

It will take more than asking the wealthiest to pay more of their share. It will take a bold vision for the future. The Commonwealth has a history of being bold and visionary. Not only must we resist regression in the short-term, we must persist with a progressive vision for our Commonwealth for the long-term.

Time and again we see the supermajority of Democrats in the State House content with moderate compromise on small issues, instead of a driving sense of urgency on the critical issues before us. I believe in representation that champions quality public services that people need to overcome the challenges they face everyday. It’s that belief, plus a lifetime engaging in our political process and giving voice to progressive values, that I will bring to the Legislature.

Massachusetts has been a proving ground for progressive policies before, and we must push onward. Our school funding formula (Chapter 70) has not been comprehensively updated in 25-yrs; assuming a 5-yr phase-in, the Commonwealth could address problems identified by the Foundation Budget Review Commission with increased education funding of $888 million or $1.082 billion when also accounting for increases to minimum aid provided to all school districts. The creative community can advocate for updating the funding formula so that it is reflective of actual costs for students needing special education, English language education, and for the economically disadvantaged, including an increased percentage for students needing special education in Career/Vocational Technical Education, as well as improving allocations for arts education.

 

There is a growing body of data and science that’s telling us that loneliness is more prevalent than we thought. Former U.S. surgeon general Vivek Murthy even compared the mortality effect associated with loneliness to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

What do you think the creative community can do to address social isolation?

The creative community can have a great impact on decreasing social isolation. Robust public art, as in the recent installation of Liz Glynn’s “Open House”, is a great example of the way in which art can provoke dialogue about social issues (i.e., income inequality) and bring together people across diverse backgrounds. Community events such as concerts, guest speakers, lunch socials, day trips, classes, and cultural festivals serve as a way to bring people together and facilitate important connections necessary to combat loneliness.

 

3. Arts Education and Programs for our Youth

Research has shown that arts education increases achievement across all academic disciplines, enhances student engagement, and fosters development of critical thinking and learning skills.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is currently redesigning school and district report cards to include measures for arts education participation. In addition, DESE is updating arts curriculum frameworks for the first time since 1999.

What will you do to increase access and participation in arts education for youth both in school and out of schools?

As the Parent Representative on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, I have pushed DESE to update their Arts Curriculum Frameworks. I am gratified that Acting Commissioner Wulfson announced DESE would update them following completion of the History and Social Science update. Those curriculum frameworks were voted on by the Board in June and the process for updating the arts framework is now underway. Increased allocation to the Mass Cultural Council could provide greater opportunity for collaboration between schools and community thus increasing overall welfare of inter-community connectivity.

 

4. The Commonwealth’s Support and Role in the Creative Community

Public investment in the arts strengthens local economies, attracts additional investment, and ensures resources serve the public interest. For the past three years, the Legislature has level funded the Mass Cultural Council, investing $14 million in organizational support for the creative community. In 1988, the Mass Cultural Council gave out more than $27 million in grants, nearly twice what we do now.

At what level would you fund the Mass Cultural Council?

Beginning twenty years ago, decisions were made by Republicanadministrations, to eliminate state revenues by $3-4 billion and we have never recovered. As a result, needed revenue continues to be our biggest problem. But, it’s more than revenue that we need. We also need a bold vision for the future we want to see implemented. As a Commonwealth, we should increase funding for organizational support for the creative community. How much we can fund is dependent on how much revenue we generate. As of right now, we are not reaching the levels of funding for many key state programs. This is why I favor a progressive taxation system to address these issues.

 

Created by the Massachusetts Legislature in 2007, the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund has granted $110 million in matching grants to help restore the Commonwealth’s most treasured historical and cultural landmarks, and fund visionary capital projects that revitalize our communities. As the Cultural Facilities Fund comes up for reauthorization in 2019, there’s interest to increase the Fund to $75 million for five years, allowing the yearly allocations to increase from $10 million to $15 million and meet the increasing demands of projects.

At what level do you suggest the Commonwealth fund this program?

I support increased funding for this program as currently outlined and would look to increasing the funding by indexing it to inflation and, possibly, taking a regional approach. Lexington, which forms a large part of the 15th Middlesex District, is the birthplace of American liberty and citizens pride themselves on maintaining historical spaces and monuments to keep history alive, recognizing that our historic parks, landmarks, and museums are many of the jewels in the crown of the Commonwealth’s cultural treasures. From the Lexington Battle Green to Munroe Tavern to Minuteman National Park, it is vital that we preserve our history for generations to come. Monuments, historical sites, and cultural landmarks not only tell important stories but they also benefit the economy by creating jobs, increasing property values, and bringing in visitors.

 

5. Space for artists and arts organizations (For Greater Boston Districts)

Active arts organizations and artists make neighborhoods safer, more welcoming, and improve overall quality of life. Yet, as Greater Boston’s development boom continues, the creative community is consistently being priced out of space to live, create, and present art.

From the eviction of artists at the Piano Factory in Boston’s South End and the EMF building in Cambridge, to the possibility of the Huntington Theatre losing its mainstage home on Huntington Avenue, Boston is in danger of losing the vibrancy and cultural diversity which make the area a desirable place for businesses to move and people to live.

How will you work to ensure artist live work spaces are included in development plans?

How will you encourage the development of affordable rehearsal, exhibition, and performance space for artists and cultural organizations?

Accessibility for artists to the public, and likewise the public to artists, is vital to positive community development. It behooves both the state and localities to foster these relationships by subsidizing and accounting for public creative spaces in city planning.  

 

6. Public Art

Public art helps build vibrant and connected neighborhoods and the arts community plays a vital role in the development of cities and towns. The rest of New England and 22 other states have a Public Art Program, which establishes that public art will be an integral piece of all new state construction. The Legislature is considering The Massachusetts Public Art Program, legislation that would invest approximately $2 million a year in the creation and preservation of public art on Commonwealth-owned properties.

What will you do next session to help get the Massachusetts Public Art Program to the finish line?

We should look to states that have already incorporated a Public Art Program to learn more about how to best advocate for implementation. Working with groups like MASSCreative and other arts advocacy groups, as well as artists themselves, will help guide the conversation with legislators in order to create coalitions and push forward a pro-arts agenda. I commit to fostering dialogue with grassroots advocates in order to create the best public policy on this issue.

 

7. Art and Public Health

Expressive art therapy is a proven and effective treatment to improve cognitive and sensory-motor functions, help cope with traumatic experiences, decrease depression and anxiety, and aid addiction recovery.

How would you ensure veterans, young people in the juvenile justice system, the elderly, and those suffering from addiction are able to access art and creative therapies?

After the tragedy of September 11, 2001, once again I brushed off my piano skills and offered to play an hour a week at the local assisted living facility in my neighborhood. Playing music from classical repertoire and from the popular songs of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s was tremendous balm for me, as it was for the elderly afflicted with Alzheimer’s. Everyone from staff to residents enjoyed singing along and some got up and danced! It was magical and I underestimated just how much joy it would give me, too.

Ensuring that our veterans, young people in the juvenile justice system, the elderly, and those suffering from addiction get access to the mental health care they need begins with expanding our understanding of what it means to offer comprehensive, affordable healthcare. It continues with addressing mental health stigmas and facilitating a dialogue surrounding how to best address an individual’s needs. The next step is bettering revenue and improving health care provider options on the whole to cover for necessary care, like therapy.

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