The New Dawn Blooms As We Free It: Massachusetts arts leaders reflect on the inauguration and a conversation with the Biden-Harris transition team 

by Emily Ruddock and Harold Steward

Yesterday not only did we witness the inauguration of a new President of the United States -- we also witnessed how arts and culture are key to our country's most sacred ceremonies. In witnessing the powerful testimony of Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, we also wanted to take a moment and reflect on our recent conversation with the Biden-Harris transition team, one that offers hope and excitement for the future of our sector. 

Signaling an era of renewed federal support for the country’s arts and cultural sector, arts advocates from around the country met with members of the Biden-Harris Transition Team prior to the inauguration to discuss the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the urgent need for the agency to better meet the needs of artists, arts organizations, and the diverse communities they serve. 

We were proud to be among the roughly 50 arts advocates at the December 8 meeting between the transition team’s Arts Landing Team and Americans for the Arts' State Arts Action Network (SAAN), of which MASSCreative is a member. This is a new day for the arts in America—a dramatic departure from the Trump administration’s repeated attempts to abolish the NEA.

Broadly speaking, advocates called for the NEA to lead efforts to enact major structural change to our country’s arts infrastructure. We emphasized the need for an NEA that prioritizes inclusivity, equity, and access to the arts for all Americans; that fully integrates art, culture and creativity in communities across the country; that empowers creative workers and improves our residents’ health; enhances education for all of our students; encourages innovation within art forms; invests in research on the power, benefit and impact of the arts throughout the country; and considers arts and cultural grantmaking as a crucial investment in our shared future. 

If you’re familiar with the advocacy work that MASSCreative has done in concert with our member organizations across the Commonwealth, these goals may sound familiar to you. They’re much the same things we’ve been advocating for in Massachusetts. Our Create the Vote campaigns, for example, have elevated discussions about the benefits of arts and culture to our state’s economy, our education system, and the quality of life in our communities, with the goal of persuading policy makers and the public that investing in the arts is worth the money.

SAAN made the case for having the NEA at the table when it comes to the Biden administration’s domestic policy. Among the many things we spoke about, we prioritized asking for a senior staff position, or team, to oversee and develop inter-agency/administration relationships and action related to arts and cultural policy. Ideally, this position would be a career public service role rather than a political appointment that could be terminated by another administration. We also requested elevation of the role of the arts and the creative economy plays in the federal government through a cabinet or council-level position, which would level the playing field of authority with other agencies. 

Advocates shared stories with the transition team of the economic devastation artists and arts organizations are experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic and requested immediate action and financial resources to support them. 

Noting the 2020 resurgence in reckoning with the ways in which white supremacy permeates all sectors of society, we urged the Biden-Harris administration to take advantage of this moment to call for “visionary change” at the NEA. Such a change would prioritize grant-making based on innovation, imagination, entrepreneurship, and the specific needs of communities. This would make grants more accessible to artists and organizations working in underserved communities, where they often focus on using art, culture, and creativity as conduits for building community and improving health and well-being. 

Similarly, we asked that the NEA under a Biden-Harris administration prioritize diverse representation at every level of the agency, from NEA Council members and staff to panel participants. Additionally, the NEA should focus supporting BIPOC arts, individuals, and organizations of all sizes across the country. 

By the end of the meeting, we felt hopeful about the future of the arts in America and the potential role it can play in our country’s economic recovery and in helping to heal communities across the country that are struggling with the fallout of the pandemic and our country’s on-going reckoning with white supremacy. 

But as we often say, political support for the arts doesn’t just happen on its own. We must keep on advocating. 

As part of our ongoing efforts to center artists, creative workers and cultural organizations in our shared advocacy, The Theater Offensive and MASSCreative are partnering with The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture to host the People’s State of the Union 2021, February 1 - March 1, 2021. Join fellow artists, cultural advocates and creative leaders from across the nation to share our stories and visions for a more just future, and to confront the interlocking crises of systemic racism, eviction, poverty, access to healthcare, and more laid bare by COVID-19. While our communities have suffered this past year, we also believe that our communities hold the keys to our survival. 

We hope you’ll join us. 


Harold Steward serves as the Executive Director and Cultural Strategist for The Theater Offensive in Boston, MA and a member of MASSCreative's Board of Directors. Harold is also member of the Board of Directors of Theater Communications Group where he is the Co-Chair of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee and he is Chair of the Partnership Committee for The Board of Directors of the National Performance Network. He is also a Steering Committee member of the Black Theater Commons. Harold is also a founding member of NextGen National Arts Network and founding partner of Steward Cultural Development Group.

Emily Ruddock serves as the Executive Director of MASSCreative. Emily is a member of the Mass Nonprofit Network's Board of Directors She is also a potter and former theatre artist. She holds a Masters in Public Administration from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Critical Social Thought from Mount Holyoke College.





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published this page in News and Views 2021-01-21 16:21:04 -0500

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