Jonathan Edwards' Response to the 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?

The arts are critical to my life and my community. Personally, I played the French Horn through college and instrumental music taught me skills of discipline and collaboration that I use to this day. My wife served two terms (six years) on the Whately Cultural Council, and as a 14-year member of the Whately Selectboard I have been a strong and constant promoter of our town’s involvement and support of that Council. I am lucky enough to take my two children to performances, museums, and art museums on a regular basis because Western Massachusetts has such a flourishing artistic scene.

Culture and arts are equally important to Whately. Every year, the Town of Whately supports a non-profit initiative called “Watermelon Wednesdays” which brings nationally and world-renowned musicians to our West Whately Chapel. Whately has also spent the past five years renovating our former town hall and turning it into a cultural center that will soon house our Historical Society and also be a venue for plays, musical performances, art exhibits and more. I’m proud to have been a leader in this effort on my Selectboard and in the community.


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?

The creative community and the creative economy are critical to our vibrancy as a district and region as a whole. On my Selectboard, I get to have conversations with area leaders about the creation of cultural centers and incubator spaces for the creative economy. Our region is faced with a declining and aging population. We must reverse this trend with strong job growth and vibrant recreational opportunities for people to stay in the region. However, young families are far more likely to move to small towns when they have a strong cultural and recreational community. Artistic, theatrical, and creative communities strengthen towns as they stand already, but also offer great opportunities for job growth in the future.

Further, I believe that our schools must find a way to place a greater emphasis on the arts as part of their curriculums. We spend too little time on music and art right now, and we’re sending the message that these areas are less important. We couldn’t be further from the truth. Adequate creative instruction will help develop young artists, establish new modes of learning for children’s growing brains, and help them succeed in their core academic subjects.


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 da

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

Studies over the past decade demonstrate how involvement in creative and cultural activities can help with loneliness and isolation, especially in rural communities. I also believe that vibrant arts and culture can help with the aging process and can keep a senior active in their community while also keeping mental capacity sharp and challenged. I would especially love to see more burgeoning artists performing at senior centers and senior housing developments.


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

Research shows 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.

I am a strong proponent of increased funding for arts education and believe that we need to find added classroom time or after-school programs that will establish intensive art and music programs. This isn’t just for an improved arts and music education, but rather because of the obvious data that shows how art and music enhance a student’s ability for critical thinking, creative expression and other foundational elements of a strong education.


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

This FY 2019 budget appropriates $15 million for the Cultural Council but I would support raising that figure. The budget this year included over $17M in funding for the council before line-item vetoes from the Governor’s office lowered that figure. We should aim to fund the council at $17M next year, because I recognize the value of each program that the Council funds. But we shouldn’t stop at 17 million dollars. One of my priorities will be passing a state Constitutional amendment to create a progressive income tax. The Fair Share Amendment would have raised the state revenue stream by 2 billion, or 5%. If we get a revenue windfall like that, I would fight to ensure that the Cultural Council budget doesn’t just go up by 5%. A progressive tax amendment isn’t legally allowed to take effect until 2022 at the earliest, but we need to plan for a future with this revenue or without this revenue. I think that $25 million for the Council by 2025 is a reasonable goal, and I would love to return to the 1988 funding level as soon as we achieve that first step of $25 million.


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?

The Commonwealth needs to be prepared to fully fund this program. I am grateful for the million dollars in federal grants that went towards the Council’s program this year, but we can’t rely on federal funding under the current administration. The second and third-degree effects of the unnecessary federal tax cuts will be reduced funding for block grants that fund programs like the Cultural Council. Let’s take all federal money for this program with a smile and the recognizance that it isn’t something we can depend on under a President who does not care about the arts.


5. 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?

As the Massachusetts economy grows and we become a hub for a more diverse and expanding population, we must provide for a strong public art program. The needs of a diverse population are significant and if we are to continue to demonstrate our economic leadership and attract more and more business to the state, we must remember that business is attracted by varied social and cultural opportunities.

In the next legislative session I will work with my new colleagues to help them understand that our continued growth and our presence as the world capital for higher education needs to be fostered by a Public Art Program. I will fight for a progressive income tax as mentioned earlier, but that’s not an immediate solution. I would also consider implementing a tax incentive for developers to put public art on most new buildings. The group of developers who would choose to pay the tax instead would fund that small sum of two million.


6. 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?

As the Chair of the Board of Oversight for the South County Senior Center, I work on a regular basis to expand and broaden access to creative therapies. Our mission is to let seniors to age in place and continue to be active and vibrant members of our community. Furthermore, I have close ties to the veterans community and many of my supporters are veterans. My connections to these groups allow me to legislate effectively for them from Beacon Hill.

As a state representative I will encourage stakeholders and advocates for juvenile justice, the elderly, addiction treatment and veterans to create an organized meeting and communications system that facilitates how they can better work together towards their goals. Departments and agencies do not work closely enough to foster collaborations. While a state representative cannot directly encourage statewide communications, I will work closely with staff from agencies and NGOs who are directly involved with Western Massachusetts to ensure that there is stronger collaboration on issues such as access to art, creative therapies and all other beneficial programs.

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