Diana Szynal'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?

I have the benefit of living in the First Hampshire District which includes the vibrant community of Northampton.  Northampton is a bastion of creativity and arts. Here our lives are enriched by a wealth of arts and we have endless opportunity to participate in and/or enjoy arts and culture.  The impact this has is profound. Children grow up with exposure to music and dancing and art and where they are encouraged to express themselves artistically. And art is found everywhere here, from beautiful galleries and music venues to the brightly painted walls of alleys.  Northampton is well on the way to completing the construction of the Northampton Center for the Arts, a project I have had the pleasure of watching come to fruition. It will be spectacular and will serve as the hub of various art forms in a richly creative city. In the outlying towns, there is art simply in the landscape.  We are truly so lucky to live in such a pretty place.

 

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?

My top priority will be education, both PreK – 12 and public higher education.  We know that children who have exposure to both visual and performing arts do better in school.  I will always view art and music as a critical part of a well-rounded education. And the First Hampshire District is enriched by the many wonderful colleges and universities in the Pioneer Valley.  They contribute to our culture by making various arts available to all our residents, young and old and everyone in between.

 

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?

Art is expression.  Very often feelings that are pent up are the root of depression and anxiety.  Being able to express yourself in non-traditional ways may be the only comfortable outlet for many people.  The arts also bring people together, in beauty and song.

 

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?

Children are naturally drawn to the arts, we just need to make sure there are opportunities available for them.  It is so important that young children are exposed to a variety of art forms – music, painting dancing, sculpting – so that they can find their own unique talents.  It is very important that art in school is properly funded but that there are also opportunities outside of school to enhance exposure. I am very proud that my little hometown of Hatfield does a musical production every April that includes students from both the high school and elementary school.  This not only lets children perform but it creates a true sense of community.

 

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?

I would work to steadily increase funding in an effort to quickly restore the Mass Cultural Council to its 1988 funding level.  We know that an investment in the arts makes good financial sense for many reasons including that Massachusetts is a leading destination for cultural travel.

 

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?

What two things come to mind when you think of Massachusetts?  History and culture, of course. It is imperative that we are careful stewards of our important cultural landmarks.  In the First Hampshire, great effort has been undertaken to restore and protect the Academy of Music, a performing arts venue famous for it’s splendor and history.  There are many such buildings in the Commonwealth and they are worth every penny we spend to preserve them.

 

5. 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?

I will fully support this legislation and would encourage colleagues to do so as well.  Public construction projects have come a long way. They are now more esthetic and more energy efficient.  But it is so important that we set the tone with public buildings by having them celebrate the culture here in Massachusetts through creative architecture and art that ties the building to the community around it.

 

6. 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?

We must insure that public facilities offer arts to those people who may not otherwise have access to them.  This can be done through schools, senior centers and libraries.  These programs must be free or very low cost.  For those needing the outlet of art as therapy we should make sure that resources like community health centers and social service agencies have a funding source through grants to institute such programs.

 

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