Democratic Gubernatorial Nominee Jay Gonzalez Meets with Create the Vote Coalition

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jay Gonzalez met with members of the Create the Vote 2018 Coalition at the American Repertory Theatre’s Loeb Drama Center on Monday, October 15. The discussion touched on a number of topics including education, how to increase investment in art and creativity, and the ways in which culture can strengthen community. The session was recorded and what follows is an edited transcript.  

Question from Matt Wilson, executive director of MASSCreative: In a time when our political leaders and our technology are working to pull us apart and isolate us, many of us are looking for community and a sense of belonging. Can you talk about the ways in which art, culture, and creative expression can do this?

Jay Gonzalez: I don’t have a creative bone in my body but know from personal experience what a positive impact arts can have on people. My dad, growing up, used to play his guitar in Spanish—Spanish songs—to us. It’s one of the most vivid childhood memories I have. It’s one of those experiences that brought our family closer together and it also connected me to my Spanish heritage in a way that is very special for me.

The arts connect us. They’re a vehicle for having a shared experience where when we go to watch a performance, it’s something we share that we can engage about. Take an art class or participating in making art with other person is another shared experience. It strengthens our bonds and keeps us sharp and uplifts us. It is a good antidote to social isolation. I think about my wife’s grandmother, who is this very sweet older woman, she has Parkinson’s and she lives in Holyoke. Every day she goes to Mercy Life for a day program and part of what they do every day, which is her favorite part of the day, is art. When she talks about it, she lights up, she would otherwise be staying home alone.

Question from Matt Wilson: Over the past 25 years, education reform has focused on the core subjects of English, math, and science while arts education has taken a back seat. Now policymakers are focused on the 21st century economy where creativity and innovation are core to success. Yet many of our students don’t have access to arts education What would you do to increase access to and participation in arts education in our schools?

Jay Gonzalez: Two things. Increase funding so schools have the resources to provide a well-rounded education, including arts. And de-emphasize the importance of MCAS and how we access student and teacher performance. One of my daughters just graduated from high school last year where she had joined the school newspaper and become the layout editor and found that she really loved graphic design. That put her on a team where she learned to collaborate to solve problems—which is an important 21st century skill that isn’t on the MCAS.

A great public education is about more about than basic literacy and numeracy skills. A great public education is also about preparing our students to be successful in a 21st century world, which includes being able to work collaboratively with others to solve problems, it includes having good communication skills and leadership skills. A great public education is also going to enable our young people to explore the world and to explore themselves and find who they are.

Question from Catherine Peterson, executive director of ArtsBoston: In Greater Boston, four times as many people go to the arts every year as go to the Patriots, Celtics, Bruins, and Red Sox combined. There’s a wide base of support for the arts. Can you talk about what you would do to make sure that the money that goes to the Mass Cultural Council is increased and what would you do as governor to work with the legislature to make sure that the increase goes through.

Jay Gonzalez: Funding for the Mass Cultural Council is important—we need to support our creative community. I understand the governor has repeatedly tried to cut funding for the Mass Cultural Council. I know it’s now at $16 million—I will not make it worse, and I will try to make it better, I will try to add more to it. On the Cultural Facilities Fund—I oversaw the state’s capital budget when we first started investing in the Cultural Facilities Fund. During the Great Recession—the worst fiscal crisis we’ve faced—we had a lot of challenges and had to make a lot of tough decisions, including the Mass Cultural Council line-item. We knew we had more flexibility with capital projects, so we really ramped up the investment in the Cultural Facilities Fund because it was easier for us to do more there. And we were intentional about it—I have a record of being intentional in trying to do better. I think we can get to $15 million in the Cultural Facilities Fund, maybe better. I’m going to aspire to do that for you.

Question from Laura Mandel, executive director of the Jewish Arts Collaborative: Access for veterans, for the elderly, people with addiction—how do you see growing opportunities for arts therapies and arts opportunities for these communities?

Jay Gonzalez: I would ask my Secretary of Health and Human Services to do an inventory of our programming at the state level that are supporting all these populations that you mentioned to see whether we’re being intentional about including arts as part of the programming. Speaking of inclusivity and underserved communities—we’re one of the most expensive states in the country right now for childcare and most families can’t afford it. The evidence is clear—this is game changing for young kids—particularly from lower income communities. I have made it a huge priority of mine to make childcare and preschool affordable and high quality for every child and family in the state. That’s part of the reason why I’m being honest that we’re going need to raise more revenue from the wealthy in order to pay for that. I would see and expect that part of the programming for that would be exposing young people at the most formative period of their lives—where 90% of brain development happen—to arts. And education—properly funding our public schools—so that there aren’t public schools that are cutting or don’t have any art programs. This isn’t in Brookline, Lexington, or Wellesley where this is happening—it’s in lower income communities where disproportionally kids of color, immigrants, English language learners are being left out of all of this. I’m offering a very different approach than our current governor who has no plan for investing tax dollars in education or early childhood or Mass Cultural Council or any of these areas.

Question from Laura Reeder, Associate Professor of Art Education at MassArt: How will you get folks to come to the table—state education, union leaders, organization, businesses, cultural organizations?

Jay Gonzalez: It’s a really important role of government. Government is the one institution that represents all of us. It’s one of the things I love about it. And I think I philosophically have a difference of opinion from our current governor about the role of government. I see it as our instrument, not our enemy. It’s the vehicle through which we empower each other, support each other, and protect each other. And one of the ways we make it effective in representing all of us is being a convener, a collaborator, and bringing different stakeholders together.

One of the important roles of government to be a convener. In this area, I plan to appoint a high-level person who would report directly to the Secretary of Economic Development whose sole responsibility would be our creative economy and who would wake up every day and think about nothing but this. Part of his or her job responsibility will be to convene this community around what we can be doing to work with other stakeholders to support this community and to make sure we’re supporting our creative economy.

David Libbey, Digital Graphics and Design Fellow, A.R.T.: The A.R.T and its mainstage home, the Loeb Drama Center, are owned by Harvard. How will your plan on taxing large endowments of higher education institutions possibly affect arts institutions, especially since education is a big sponsor of the arts?

Jay Gonzalez: I made a proposal to impose a 1.6 percent tax on the endowments of the wealthiest universities in the state that have endowments over a $1 billion. It would affect nine universities, including Boston University and Harvard. It would generate $1 billion in new revenue each year for the state to invest in education and transportation. I believe this is a fair proposal because these institutions have been able to accumulate enormous wealth because of our public policy not to tax them.

I appreciate Harvard and Boston University—they are huge drivers of our economy, and really important assets for our innovation-oriented ecosystem here. It’s great that they provide financial aid to their low-income students but I believe they can afford this tax and still do everything they do today. I don’t want to hurt these institutions, but as important as they are to our economy, nothing is more important than our people. They are the most important asset to our economy and we are letting them down right now with a transportation system they can’t depend on to get to work on time, one of the worst in the country. And an education system that is failing way too many of our children in this state, so they are going to be my top priority. I believe this is a fair way to raise meaningful new revenue we desperately need to make sure our economy is working for everyone in this state and not just those at the top.

Melissa Nussbaum Freeman, artist and founder of Red Stage Stories: I’m a performing artist and a teaching artist and I barely make a living. I took my social security early, I get food stamps, I live in an apartment with three other people in Dorchester, but I manage to pay my artists, even for their rehearsals, because that’s their time, that is how they make the art. We all scramble as artists in this city doing public engagement work for a $2000, $5000, $10,000 grant or stipend. Whoever you have waking up thinking about art has to be an artist. I want artists at your table.

Jay Gonzalez: I think you’re right, we need to be informed by people who are living in this world. I want to speak to the broader point you made about the challenge artists have sustaining themselves. Unfortunately, it’s not unique to artists. My agenda is about helping not just artists but everyone who is facing the same challenges. Early ed providers who are supported by government make about $25,000 a year. Forty percent of them are on state assistance. Many people who work in our human service agencies, taking care of the most vulnerable among us who take home about the same amount. Twenty-nine percent of people in Massachusetts make less than 15 dollars an hour. I am running to make a difference for all of these people—the artists and everyone else—all the little guys who are being left behind by our economy.

By not only looking to increase the minimum wage and wages, but to make childcare and preschool affordable, to make housing more affordable, to make health care more affordable. All these costs that hold people back and make it harder. I’m not being shy or coy about saying I’m going to ask the wealthy to pay more in taxes. We need government to invest in our people. All these working families are being left behind and artists are among them. I often get asked—we need special programs or loan programs for artists or nurses or different people—we’re in this together. Artists are really important and we need to support them. There are lots of others who need support too.  As governor, you—artists and everyone else who are being left behind—are going to be my top priority.

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Earlier in 2018, members of the MASSCreative Leadership Council met with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez and his campaign manager to discuss arts and creativity. Read about the sit-down meeting here

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