Jo Comerford's Response to the Create the Vote Questionnaire

Jo Comerford met with the Create the Vote Coalition in August to discuss arts, culture, and creativity. Read about the meeting here.


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?

I was a professional actress for a decade. My focus was on new and classic theatre. Living in New York City, I also worked as a teaching artist in the New York City public schools for the Theatre Development Fund, ran a classical education program out of the Pearl Theatre (which is an off Broadway house in the Lower East Side), and started a theatre company in New York’s public shelter system.

When I became a community organizer, the arts were central to all of my social change efforts.

And today, the arts remain, for me, integral to who I am. My wife and I now have two children and they are budding artists themselves. My volunteer efforts are focused on my childrens’ school where I have helped raise funds for cultural programming.


2. Addressing District-wide Issues

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

Art is transcendent. It can reach people in ways that mere facts cannot. My priority issues in this race are public education, health care, and the environment. I can foresee art-based expressions which helps drive the message of these priorities and helps open up people’s hearts and minds.


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?

Art helps create community so the extent to which we invest in art is the extent to which we break down the barriers that keep us apart and/or divided.


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 said publicly that we must bring art back into public schools—during the school day and with regard to after school programming. I will work to increase the foundation budget to fully fund our schools and I will also support grants which break down barriers to access—especially for middle and working class communities.


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?

Level funding an institution is tantamount to a cut. I would seek to increase spending in the arts.


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 suggest full funding.


5. Space for Artists and arts organizations 

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?

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

I am a strong affordable housing advocate and have spoken publicly about the ways in which affordable housing and public performance spaces must remain affordable and accessible to artists because of the inherent value of art in our community and because art is a driver of local economies.

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 will leverage the power of my office to act as a supporter.

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?

We must raise awareness about the power of art-based therapies as highly effective and the Legislature must see grants for programs like these as priorities.

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