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.
So how’d she do it? Mineo teamed up with MASSCreative’s organizing team to formulate a plan of action. She also worked closely with the Massachusetts Cultural Council and their Local Cultural Council program officer. Then she armed herself with a host of easily-digestible data that strongly made the case that funding the arts in Medfield was a sound―and eminently affordable―investment.
Mineo’s plan of action first called for determining how to get approval for the funding. In this case that meant getting the Board of Selectman to approve a warrant article over which Town Meeting members would have final approval.
Before going before the Board of Selectman last November, Mineo prepared several documents to make her case and sent them to the three members prior to the meeting.
The first was a one-page fact sheet giving a brief overview of the cultural council, its mission, and how it manages and uses its funds. She attached a history of the council’s grant allocations, which identified grantees and where their programs were held (“to be clear ALL of our grantees deliver in Medfield,” says Mineo), how much money they received, and what percent of requests by dollar were funded. By contrasting the success of the programs that were funded with the fact that the council was able to fulfill just about 25 percent of its funding requests during each of the past two years, the document clearly demonstrated the need for additional funding.
Mineo also prepared a two-page “Case for Municipal Support.” Among other valuable information, it noted that MCC funded the Medfield Cultural Council at its lowest appropriation level, severely hindering the council’s ability to fund local arts programming. It detailed how 15 other communities provided support to their local cultural councils―12 of which also received the state minimum from MCC. Mineo then listed six reasons to give municipal funding, trotting out facts and figures demonstrating how arts benefit the local economy and help build strong, stable communities.
Mineo attended the meeting prepared to summarize these documents and field questions from the selectman. It all went off without a hitch. “They voted unanimously right then and there to support our effort to request a municipal match to our state funding,” said Mineo.
Mineo then had to have her request approved by the Warrant Committee. She sent the same documents in advance of that meeting and made the same case. The committee approved the request after ironing out some legal semantics. From there, it was on to Town Meeting.
In preparation for making the case to a much larger swath of the Medfield community, Mineo raised the cultural council’s profile by hosting a reception honoring grantees from the previous two years. Held three weeks before Town Meeting, the event offered a platform for grantees to give moving testimony about their work and the importance of the cultural council’s support. It generated positive local media coverage before and after, further amplifying their message.
“For the people in the audience who were listening, it meant they understood, maybe for the first time that these programs don’t happen without cultural council support and here’s this group of volunteers who are making these decisions for our community,” said Mineo. “Then I was constantly pitching, ‘We need your vote at Town Meeting.’”
As voters filed into Medfield High School for the April 28 Town Meeting, Mineo was stationed outside, distributing informational fliers and asking for votes. “I limited it to a couple bullets and made it as simple as possible knowing that I would have the chance to speak [at the meeting],” she said of flier. It was very simple and identified what the warrant article number was and stated, ‘Vote yes.’
The flier wisely broke down exactly how much the cultural council’s $4, 250 budget request would cost Medfield residents: 35 cents per person.
“As I was handing out fliers, many people commented, ‘Do you want my 35 cents now?’,” Mineo recalled. “It was just a joke because it’s such a tiny amount of money for bringing culture to the community.
In preparing to make the case at Town Meeting, Mineo had asked past grantees and other supporters to attend and be prepared to speak if opposition to the measure materialized. But the usually vocal Town Meeting members uttered not a word of dissent after Mineo stepped to the microphone and again made her case in prepared remarks that struck a positive note. Shortly after, the proposal was approved in a unanimous floor vote.
“I really just couldn’t be happier about it,” Mineo said. “Our next order of business is to figure out how to disperse the money, which is a really happy problem to have. So my message to other councils would be that you can do this, too. It’s really possible. The help I received from MASSCreative was invaluable. The organization was a terrific partner.”
The work by Mineo and MASSCreative is critical to the future of the arts community in Massachusetts. In most other states the bulk of public funding for the arts comes from cities and towns. To date, few municipalities in Massachusetts contribute real dollars to the arts. The formula followed by Mineo in Medfield is one that other local cultural councils can use to encourage their towns to step up to the plate and support the arts.
Below are links to the documentation the Medfield Cultural Council used to make their successful case for matching municipal funding: