Michelle Ciccolo's Response to Create the Vote Questionnaire

1. The Role of Arts, Culture, and Creativity

What role do arts, culture, and creativity play in your life, your family, your community? What impact does it have?

One of my sons, in particular, is deeply involved in music and it sustains him in ways that nothing else can. Music is a very important part of our family life. But well beyond its importance to my family, I believe that the arts are an essential component of a strong community and an effective catalyst for social cohesion, bringing people together through their shared appreciation.

I’ve been a strong supporter of the arts throughout my career and also in my personal life. I helped start the nonprofit Friends of Herter Park, a 501c3 of which I am President. Over the past several years, we restored the historic Herter Park amphitheater, creating a venue to bring performing arts and public programming back to Brighton on the Charles River. You can read more about this organization here: http://www.friendsofherterpark.org/. This summer, our organization brought numerous performances to the neighborhood creating terrific community engagement.

An emphasis on art and cultural resources has threaded through other professional work, as well. As the former Community Development Director for Hudson MA for 20 years, I worked closely with the Hudson Area Arts Alliance to bring public programming, public art, and cultural events to Hudson. As a current Selectman in Lexington I am assisting a number of stakeholders, including the Executive Director of the Munroe Center for the Arts to begin planning for the creation of a community cultural district designation for Lexington.


2. Addressing District-wide Issues

Just as any other part of the state, we face many economic and social issues here in the district.

What are your priority issues? What role can the creative community play in addressing these challenges?

Equality of opportunity across society is a top priority for me. For many communities, our outdated and unfair school funding formulas force schools to give short shrift to arts education. This deprives a significant number of our children in the Commonwealth of the opportunity to discover an important talent or to nurture a life-enhancing form of expression. Early exposure to such creative outlets is the key to cultivating a new generation of artists, who are able and empowered to pursue their interests even outside of the academic setting. But beyond the personal benefits of engaging in the arts, arts education has an important role in the economic health of our commonwealth. An educated workforce is crucial to maintaining our prosperity in Massachusetts. Studies have shown that students who participate in the arts demonstrate improved academic performance and reduced dropout rates. Exposure to the arts and the benefits it provides should not be limited by a municipality’s ability to fund it. I am committed to working for a State school funding formula that ensures universal K-12 education in art and music.

The importance of arts in schools goes beyond the important opportunity of introducing individuals to these creative opportunities. So too does the early exposure help develop a creative community, a crucial catalyst for deeper inspiration and the opportunity for a higher level of engagement for both students and the greater community. Beyond education alone, the creative community has always played a distinctively effective role in furthering social and environmental movements by drawing awareness and provoking thought in ways that that no other form of expression can.

I also believe the creative community can play a role in improving public health via art therapy.


There is a growing body of data and science that’s telling us that loneliness is more prevalent than we thought. Former U.S. surgeon general Vivek Murthy even compared the mortality effect associated with loneliness to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

What do you think the creative community can do to address social isolation?

During a time of particularly divisive national politics, art provides a unique platform to bring people together in culturally and politically diverse communities. It speaks to the soul, providing a medium for expressing feelings and forming meaningful connections through shared appreciation.

The creative community already does much to address social isolation. Lexington town life is enriched by inclusive cultural festivals involving visual art and dance such as Chinese New Year, Diwali and Holi. Lexington’s weekly outdoor Bicentennial Band concerts and band performances sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce in the summer months, as well as Lexington Symphony concerts and Woburn’s Friday night concert series provide important opportunities for the elderly, single people, and families with children to feel part of the community fabric. Lexington has two arts institutions, the Monroe Center for the Arts and the Lexington Arts and Crafts Society which provide space for artists, programs facilities and instruction that engage hundreds of people in the community. Art in all its forms, brings people together.


3. Arts Education and Programs for our Youth

Research has shown that arts education increases achievement across all academic disciplines, enhances student engagement, and fosters development of critical thinking and learning skills.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is currently redesigning school and district report cards to include measures for arts education participation. In addition, DESE is updating arts curriculum frameworks for the first time since 1999.

What will you do to increase access and participation in arts education for youth both in school and out of schools?

I have extensive municipal experience working with the business community to collaborate on projects, and a strong track record of creating public/private/non-profit partnerships to create opportunities and funding outside of the public school budget. In some places, zoning laws limit the locations where art and music lessons may be given. I would advocate for zoning reform to reasonably facilitate accommodations for arts education. Recently, Lexington has rezoned areas in town to allow a music school to be built. However, I believe that the largest current impediment to arts education is our unfair State education funding formulas that often force less-wealthy school districts to cut vital arts programing. We need to recognize the positive social impact an arts education can have on our youth and our communities. I advocate fixing this outdated funding system to provide universal access to arts education across the Commonwealth.


4. The Commonwealth’s Support and Role in the Creative Community

Public investment in the arts strengthens local economies, attracts additional investment, and ensures resources serve the public interest. For the past three years, the Legislature has level funded the Mass Cultural Council, investing $14 million in organizational support for the creative community. In 1988, the Mass Cultural Council gave out more than $27 million in grants, nearly twice what we do now.

At what level would you fund the Mass Cultural Council?

I would advocate for increasing funding for the Mass Cultural Council to between 40 and 50 million dollars, to ensure the provision of necessary grants and operating costs. This is a modest expenditure relative to the state’s overall budget and our communities’ needs and the funding would go a long way in providing institutional support for the creative community.


Created by the Massachusetts Legislature in 2007, the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund has granted $110 million in matching grants to help restore the Commonwealth’s most treasured historical and cultural landmarks, and fund visionary capital projects that revitalize our communities. As the Cultural Facilities Fund comes up for reauthorization in 2019, there’s interest to increase the Fund to $75 million for five years, allowing the yearly allocations to increase from $10 million to $15 million and meet the increasing demands of projects.

At what level do you suggest the Commonwealth fund this program?

I would advocate increasing funding to $100 million for the next five years, enabling an annual budget of $20 million not only to keep up with existing restoration and preservation projects, but to expand the scope and magnitude of the fund’s operations. We need to make sure there is funding in the program to renovate, and create performing arts venues. Throughout my career, I have worked to ensure the survival of small towns and businesses through economic development, and recognize that historic preservation and cultural opportunities are necessary for providing jobs and supporting downtowns. Lexington provides a valuable example of the economic strength of tourism as a driver of tax revenue, and I believe that investments in this program are dollars well spent given their multiplier effect on the growth of the creative economy.


5. Space for artists and arts organizations (For Greater Boston Districts)

Active arts organizations and artists make neighborhoods safer, more welcoming, and improve overall quality of life. Yet, as Greater Boston’s development boom continues, the creative community is consistently being priced out of space to live, create, and present art.

From the eviction of artists at the Piano Factory in Boston’s South End and the EMF building in Cambridge, to the possibility of the Huntington Theatre losing its mainstage home on Huntington Avenue, Boston is in danger of losing the vibrancy and cultural diversity which make the area a desirable place for businesses to move and people to live.

How will you work to ensure artist live work spaces are included in development plans?

For decades I have been a strong advocate of affordable housing and zoning reform, especially the creation of mixed use and diverse housing stock. New developments must be planned with inclusionary zoning in mind to allow for vital creative spaces to emerge.


How will you encourage the development of affordable rehearsal, exhibition, and performance space for artists and cultural organizations?

State assets need to be coordinated in such a way that existing artistic and cultural facilities become more accessible i.e. through public transportation. Moreover, underutilized public assets (like school auditoriums) should be opened to the public and to arts groups on a regular basis. This will require focused attention and better staffing but can be done on a relatively low-cost basis. In Lexington, recognizing this impediment to coordinating public spaces, we created a position - the Director of Community Programs, and reorganized under one umbrella to help facilitate this type of collaboration. I also have a track record of collaboration with developers and negotiating the requirement that new developments include some form of shared space in their facilities. Additionally, I have been a strong advocate of affordable housing and zoning reform for decades, especially the creation of mixed use and diverse housing stock. New developments must be planned with inclusionary zoning in mind to allow for vital creative spaces to emerge.


6. Public Art

Public art helps build vibrant and connected neighborhoods and the arts community plays a vital role in the development of cities and towns. The rest of New England and 22 other states have a Public Art Program, which establishes that public art will be an integral piece of all new state construction. The Legislature is considering The Massachusetts Public Art Program, legislation that would invest approximately $2 million a year in the creation and preservation of public art on Commonwealth-owned properties.

What will you do next session to help get the Massachusetts Public Art Program to the finish line?

I strongly support the MA Public Art Program, and believe in the social value of public art. In order to be an effective advocate and voice for public art, it is essential to have direct experience promoting the arts and to be able to tie that experience to the public good. Having worked in Hudson for 20 years on a wide range of arts and cultural projects, I know firsthand that arts can help revitalize a community. Before I started my tenure in that community, Hudson was a downtrodden, dilapidated community. Its downtown was unsafe after dark and vacancies, drug deals, and biker-bars were commonplace. Over the course over several years, I restored historic storefronts; built parks in which we then did public community programming at gazebos; oversaw the renovation of the town hall, using a Mass Historic Grant and for the public art; and commissioned, using a grant from the Mass Cultural Council, custom quilts that depict historic scenes of the town. I also spearheaded the construction of the Assabet River Rail Trail, a major cultural facility. Through my efforts we restored historic railroad artifacts for public display and we sited an antique caboose along the trail for users to enjoy. When we had the grand opening of that facility, we included public displays visual art along the trail and musical groups staged in numerous locations to celebrate. Given all these first hand experiences, coupled with my recent experience starting the Friends of Herter Park, I will be the strongest supporter and advocate for the Public Art program out of all the candidates in my race.


7. Art and Public Health

Expressive art therapy is a proven and effective treatment to improve cognitive and sensory-motor functions, help cope with traumatic experiences, decrease depression and anxiety, and aid addiction recovery.

How would you ensure veterans, young people in the juvenile justice system, the elderly, and those suffering from addiction are able to access art and creative therapies?

Public health is a top priority for me, having had much experience with prevention and wellness programs through grants I’ve been involved with in Middlesex County and through Metrowest Moves - a four-town initiative. I am an advocate of restorative justice programs and of the mental health benefits of creative therapies, and would support linkage of those programs with art programs that can move this innovative therapy forward in its application. Moreover, I have demonstrated my commitment to the arts in other, more personal ways. As a private citizen I have directed sizable donations to the Lexington symphony, bringing music to residents to support the emotional well-being of the community. While I have more to learn regarding creative therapies specifically, I would welcome the guidance of medical professionals and arts experts in implementing such programs.

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