Arts Advocacy Day draws 350 advocates to the State House

One trending hashtag, 80 meetings with Beacon Hill lawmakers, and countless stories shared.

These are just a few of the accomplishments pulled off by the 350 working artists and organizational leaders who attended Creativity Connects: Arts Advocacy Day March 26. The day began with speeches and performances at the Emerson Paramount Center in downtown Boston, continued with a honk band-led arts march across Boston Common, and ended with meetings on Beacon Hill.

“Artists carried the message to lawmakers that for Massachusetts to be the best place it can be for residents, then art and creativity must be an expected, recognized, and valued part of everyday life,” said Matt Wilson, executive director of MASSCreative. “That means investing in creativity and culture and enacting policies that support the creative workforce, ensure access across geography, income, physical ability, and other barriers, and also bring the arts to education, health and wellness, and economic development.”

Boston Arts Academy student Alexis Maxwell set the tone for the day with her joyful ode to the power of art to change the world, which she sang on stage while strumming a ukulele. When she finished, audience-goers throughout the packed theater stood to declare why they were advocates for the arts.

Mass Humanities Executive Director Brian Boyles observed that creativity “connects us with our past and helps us imagine our future” while artist Justina Crawford explained that creativity connected her with “communities that inspire me to be bold” and author Lauren Wolk said that creativity connects her “to my very best self.” ArtsEmerson Executive Director David Howse, who emceed the event, garnered applause when he gestured back and forth between himself and the audience as he repeated his reason for advocating for the arts: “creative connects us to our common humanity!”

Stories of art’s power to change lives, bring people together, and build community flowed from the stage along with the pointed message that art is serious business. Emerson College President Lee Pelton noted that “art and artists build bridges not walls” and Enchanted Circle Theater Executive Director Priscilla Kane Hellweg explained that “we bring joy back to learning.”

Mass Cultural Council Executive Director Anita Walker described the “ever present anxiety” many people feel in response to current politics. The cure for our collective angst? “Human contact,” she said. “That is your superpower. …. Artists speak with empathy connecting all of us.”

Both co-chairs of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts, and Cultural Development attended Creativity Connects and had advice for the crowd. State Sen. Edward Kennedy of Lowell credited artists and arts organizations with anchoring Lowell’s economic resurgence and for welcoming the city’s African and Cambodian diasporas. But he reminded audience-goers to share the creative sector’s impressive economic contributions to the Commonwealth when they met with lawmakers: more than 73,000 jobs and $1 billion to the state’s economy.

State Rep. Ed McMurtry of Dedham said that the work of advancing art policy and increasing state investment in creativity hinged on strong shows of support from the creativity community itself. “Today is an important day as you come up to Beacon Hill and advocate to your reps and senators and staff the significance that arts have to you and to the community,” McMurtry said.

Maurice Emmanuel Parent, co-founder of the Front Porch Arts Collective, led other artists in an entertaining and theater-worthy session about how to share personal stories about the impact of art with lawmakers. State Rep. Mary Keefe of Worcester who sits on the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts, and Cultural Development teamed up with Erin Williams, Worcester’s cultural development officer in leading a group of volunteers through a role play of how to ask lawmakers and staff for support.

Emily Ruddock, MASSCreative’s director of policy and government affairs, unveiled MASSCreative’s policy platform for the 2019-2020 legislative session, which provided the framework for organizing personal stories into policy prescriptions. Focusing on five realms in which the creative community makes unique and vital contributions to the state, Ruddock explained, the platform identifies what the creative community “needs to do better”: the well-being accessed through creative expression; broad opportunities for participation; community-based arts programs; sequential arts education; and respect and support for the creative workforce and economy.

Audience-goers then transformed into a lively and enthusiastic parade. Led by the Summer Street Brass Band, they marched across Boston Common to the State House where they met with lawmakers to share stories about the power of art and request legislative support for funding and policy reforms.

Additional resources:

Video of Howlround’s Livestream of Creativity Connects: Arts Advocacy Day

MASSCreative’s guide to the state budget

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