Congressman Michael Capuano meets with Create the Vote 2018

U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, a 10-year veteran of Congress and a former mayor of Somerville, met with members of the Create the Vote 2018 Coalition for more than an hour Aug. 20. The group of 15 artists and arts leaders engaged in a wide-ranging discussion that covered everything from arts initiatives Capuano pushed in Somerville during his time as mayor, congressional funding for the arts versus state funding, the benefits of the arts and the creative economy, and how to better communicate those benefits to political leaders.


Capuano is seeking election to an 11th term representing the 7th congressional district, which includes most of Boston, parts of Cambridge and Milton; and Chelsea, Everett, Randolph, and Somerville. Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley is challenging him in the Democratic primary election Sept. 4. With no Republicans running, the winner of the primary will effectively win the seat.

During the meeting, held at 826 Boston, Capuano described himself as a “a big proponent of the arts,” and expressed a firm belief that art is good for kids, economic development and solving urban problems. He noted that he tells mayors all the time that if they want to develop their downtowns, “you need to bring in artists.” Capuano said his administration worked to make art more accessible and less “stodgy” through initiatives like the Somerville Garden Tour, and a grant program to pay artists to paint the traffic light boxes that dot intersections across the city.

“It gave artists some work,” he said. “And it stopped the graffiti problem.”

He also noted that art was a key way to connect students with school. For some, it’s sports, he said. But for others, it’s the arts and all students should have options to participate.

The congressman acknowledged that in Washington, D.C., funding for the arts is “one of the whipping boys,” among his more conservative colleagues. He said the arts community must be highly organized—as the NRA is—and vote. “So many people don’t vote,” he said, noting that one of the reasons why Congress is so polarized is because moderate Americans have largely stopped participating in mid-term elections.

He said that arts advocates can push back against misperceptions that art is of interest only to the wealthy by making themselves known in Congress. “Most members of Congress will take note if you walk into their office with ten people from the district,” he said. Even more important is having constituents explain how the arts or a particular arts organization made a difference in their lives.

He cautioned, though, that the last thing arts groups needed was direction from Congress. “All you want from us is money and freedom,” he said, noting that local officials know better than federal ones how to deploy federal funding. He recalled that many of the arts initiatives he backed as a mayor were funded through community block grants.

He noted that Congress has largely stopped funding housing initiatives and it will take new political leadership for it to get back on the agenda. If it does, he said that housing for artists should be included as a priority. Until then, it was up to local officials to come up with housing deals in economically depressed areas.

Participants in the Create the Vote meeting with Capuano included Matt Wilson and Emily Ruddock of MASSCreative, Matt Chapuran of Lyric Stage Company of Boston, Jess Drench of 826Boston, Temple Gill of Huntington Theatre Company, Kate Huffman of Encore Tours, Marinell Rousmaniere of EdVestors, Greg Ruffer of Boston Center for the Arts, Cliff Rust of the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum, Nicole Leonard of From the Top, Taylor Mortell of The Fenway Alliance, Sara Stackhouse of Boston Conservatory at Berklee, Kevin Becerra from ArtsEmerson, and Ken Tangvik of Hyde Square Task Force.


Create the Vote 2018 is a nonpartisan campaign to raise awareness of the ways that arts and creative expression improve schools, strengthen local business districts, and build vibrant neighborhoods in which people want to live, work, and play. Members of the campaign are meeting with federal, state, and municipal political candidates to discuss the candidates’ views on the arts and cultural community and the role that culture, creativity, and the arts should play in state and local government.

You can read Capuano's Create the Vote questionnaire here:


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