Nika Elugardo’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?

I am lucky enough to live in a vibrant, art-filled community where the arts are a part of the everyday landscape. Cultural events, public art, and community events are the norm, and it contributes to a sense of a shared community. I think it helps bridge divides in what is an increasingly socioeconomically stratified district.

The arts have always been a part of my personal stability and healing, from my childhood in communities struggling with the impacts of structural poverty, racism, and crime, until today. I am excited to already be meeting with dozens of arts community activists to develop a shared vision and funding strategies for expanding the accessibility and presence of the arts in all its forms to youth and adults in our district. It’s very exciting!


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?

My top three priorities are housing for all, education for all, and health care for all. The creative community is a vital part of the fight for all these rights. Artists and performers are particularly well placed to understand each of these needs—housing that is affordable for all incomes and that supports art spaces, education that values not just STEM but STEAM, and a single-payer, Medicare for all health-care system that would disentangle health insurance from a particular type of employment. We need the creative community’s input on all these topics, as they often are the people dealing with the repercussions of the current systems. Their input will be crucial in understanding how to structure new ways of providing these basic needs.

We also need to work hard to ensure that teachers and artists are able to live in the communities they work in. This is so critical to nurturing strong ties, not only to the arts and arts education, but by promoting shared and creative stewardship in our living spaces and public spaces. I also want to encourage youth and elder jobs in the creative arts, especially in areas that overlap with other budgetary needs such as mental health care and neighborhood clean up and beautification.


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?

Connection is vital for people; we simply need it. And there are so many ways to foster connection via the arts, particularly in elder communities and among youth. A shared creative project brings people together and gives them a common goal as well as a creative outlet. This could be a visual art project—my own neighborhood is home to many murals, several a result of Boston’s Mayor’s mural team—or something as involved as a community theater. Public art and arts organizations also make a neighborhood more welcoming and actually safer because of an increased sense of community.

Again, there is important synergy between the need to provide jobs for youth and elders, the need to provide accessible jobs for members of the disability community, the need for increased mental and public health outcomes, and the need for cleaner and beautiful shared spaces. I hope to encourage our district to take advantage of both grants and public resources, and I will be a strong advocate for increasing public funding for those resources to integrate the arts into our public and shared spaces in the district. This includes music and dance. We are so fortunate to have many seasoned arts programming leaders living in and serving our district. I will continue to learn from them and to use my platform as a public servant to create not just shared dialogue, but shared accountability and action.


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?

Boston Public Schools Arts Expansion Initiative improved arts education among elementary school students, with most students in BPS receiving arts instruction weekly, but arts education could be so much more than this, and for older students BPS still lags far behind. I think the first step is to fully fund all schools in Massachusetts and stop our school leaders from having to choose between allocating money to art versus another vital class. Art should not be an optional part of a quality education.

We must also extend our conception of education to include internships and youth job opportunities in the creative arts, so our youth can envision themselves in arts careers and can begin building the connections they need to get to the schools and career opportunities they will want to pursue as young adults.


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. With the passage of its FY2019 budget, the Legislature approved a $16 million state investment in the Mass Cultural Council. This is the Legislature’s first increase to state arts investment after three years of level funding the Mass Cultural Council at $14 million. 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 think it’s vital to maintain the current funding level—the benefits derived from this investment are unquestionable, and I’m very pleased that the Legislature approved an increase in funding this year. I would like to see us work toward increased funding; the Council estimates that for every $1 it invests in arts organizations, $5 ends up back in the economy, so investing in the arts is vital not just for the artists and performers but for a healthy economy for all Massachusetts.


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. In a 2017 Mass Cultural Council survey, 169 organizations reported $114 million in essential capital projects through 2019. The Legislature recently reauthorized the Cultural Facilities Fund at $50 million for another five years, yet there’s interest to increase the Fund to $75 million, 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?

An increase in funding for the Cultural Facilities Fund would be a boon to our economy. The revitalization and maintenance of our landmarks is a vital piece of building and maintaining a community. In terms of finding the funding, the Millionaire’s Tax was struck down by the courts, but I believe there are other way to structure similar taxes. The revenue could then be used for education and the arts.


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?

In order to have such spaces included, arts organizations must be involved in planning and development from the start. By involving these voices in the process, we can be sure that the resulting developments include art space that is responsive to the needs of the community. Additionally, these spaces will need to be affordable for artists permanently. Integrating affordable housing for artists with creative workspaces and/or retail space might be one way to support this endeavor.


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

The first step will be to support and promote the Massachusetts Public Art Program bill. Advocating for an increase in the Cultural Facilities Fund would also be helpful here. But apart from funding, we need to help developers understand that these spaces have both economic and civic benefits.

We can also promote the sharing of resources—particularly spaces—from our larger institutions with our smaller arts organizations that form the base of our vibrant arts culture.


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 would be happy to lend my support to this bill and to advocate for its advancement with my colleagues in the State House. I think we should look at the other states in New England, which all have some version of a “percent for art” program—their established examples might help persuade any holdouts to vote for the bill.


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?

I believe that implementing arts programs in the justice system (and not just the juvenile justice system) is an important part of criminal justice reform, reshaping the way we envision the justice system and making it a restorative system rather than a simply punitive one. This mindset applies to those in addiction and recovery groups as well.

I believe that all these groups deserve access to creative therapies and, moreover, that it makes sense in terms of both the groups’ outcomes and their economics. This is another area ripe for cross-sector partnerships, and I think both arts organizations and the various groups would derive benefits from such a collaboration.

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