Paul Feeney's 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?

I was blessed not only by an experience with my 8th grade music teacher who taught me to appreciate music for its meaning, but years later as I embarked on what became a lifelong outlet of personal creativity. Twenty years ago, I had the fortune to learn a unique trade that I had always been captivated by. I began my career as a pyrotechnician (professional fireworks shooter) by learning the trade from a talented group of creative people, led by a photographer and sculptor who used their artistic inclinations and training to produce incredible displays. Each Summer, I have the privilege to lead a crew in producing displays that carry on that tradition of artistry. Using the sky as our canvas, we aim to integrate light, color, sound, effects and timing to evoke emotion in the audience members. As with many forms of art, it is essential to see the display in your mind’s eye prior to the performance. I am fascinated by the ability to interpret music with fireworks in displays known as pyro-musicals and will forever remember that lesson taught to me so many years ago by my music teacher.

My wife Laura and I find that the stress of everyday life can be alleviated with arts and culture. We are both fans of live music and try and attend shows whenever possible. We take day trips to art museums, community events and farmers markets because we enjoy these activities, but also to show our support and ensure that they remain viable.


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?

Economic Development: In many communities, it is the local theater, art house, museum or other cultural draw that brings a diverse group of people to that particular area. For many cities and towns, the business district or downtown is reliant on the foot traffic that results from these organizations. I have supported increases in funding and will continue to promote the success of these particular economic drivers. Places and programs like the Marilyn Rodman Center at the Orpheum Theatre in Foxborough, MMAS and the Black Doll Museum in Mansfield and each of the cultural councils throughout the district generate interest, tourism and business in our communities.

Equality: I was inspired last year by the actions of Medfield students and community members in the face of intolerance within the community. The idea to use art and a rainbow painted crosswalk to send a signal of inclusion was powerful in its own right and simplicity. When that art was intentionally defaced however, it was the overwhelming response by the Harmony Club, the Gay Straight Alliance, the National Honor Society and many community allies that displayed the connection between art and its ability to build bridges and heal wounds. This is a glowing example of art being used to solve social problems.

Education:  STEM is important, but STEAM should be our ideal.  In order to prepare students for a lifetime of learning, we need to adjust our public education model to include more Arts into a well-rounded curriculum.  I believe that there are many students who do not reach their full potential because of a lack of resources and focus on the arts.


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?

I believe that there are many in our community, especially younger people that feel disenfranchised and alone. Social pressure on our youth these days is enormous and for many, their only solace is found in arts and culture. I am a firm believer that we must increase accessibility to creative outlets in our community and work to connect a diverse population of young people together. Arts and culture breaks down walls and inspires connection and commonality. We must focus on providing more opportunities to promote greater harmony in our communities for generations to come.


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 co-sponsored and voted in favor of legislation to update the formula used to fund our public schools and will continue to champion this cause. I believe that we must dedicate additional resources to arts education at the State level. Additionally, I believe the punitive use of standardized testing has left a void in our public schools. As educators focus exclusively on core curriculum, we have failed to nurture their creativity. I was proud to co-sponsor an amendment in the Senate that would have moved our public schools away from traditional standardized tests and toward a more accurate assessment.

As a State Senator, I have voted in favor of additional funding for arts in our communities and will continue to do so.


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?

As a State Senator, I have met with advocates from the Creative Community to join forces in ensuring that MCC is adequately funded. This should be a priority for the Commonwealth and funding should be fully restored to levels that would allow us to significantly invest in the arts and cultural community in Massachusetts. We cannot allow partisan politics to deter us from policies that raise vital revenue. We should focus on closing corporate loopholes and raising taxes only on the highest income earners to increase revenue in the Commonwealth . That revenue would be well spent by increasing funding to the MCC.


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?

I am inclined to be supportive of increases to the facilities fund, however each fiscal year has its own demands and balance of priorities. I would be happy to address this as the revenue picture for the next fiscal year becomes more clear.


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?

I am supportive of development that allows for shared artist spaces and affordable living and loft space. Though I don’t believe that the legislature would be wise to mandate such development, I will continue to work with local officials to explore additional opportunities. I believe that comprehensive redevelopment plans like the one at the former Medfield space hospital are ideal for such spaces. Additionally, gateway cities like Attleboro would be well served by establishing artist live-work spaces in the downtown to encourage foot traffic and small business support.


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

I am proud to be working with the Mass Music and Arts Association (MMAS) to do just that. Our delegation has been active in exploring ways to expand the physical layout of MMAS to provide rehearsal, exhibition and performance space in the heart of our district.


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 am supportive of this funding and a Public Art Program. I am willing to file, co-sponsor and vote for this going forward.


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 was recently inspired beyond words when Laura and I visited the Attleboro Farmers Market and met a man who was giving guitar lessons to veterans. I had the chance to chat with him and was moved by his program in which he gives a free guitar to vets and then teaches them to play it. This simple act and others like it have long-term healing effects for those that are vulnerable.

I have worked with many friends, co-workers and others that have been caught in the grip of addiction. For many, when treatment was finally sought, it was while painting, drawing, listening to music, etc. that they found the moment of clarity that allowed them to begin the healing process.

I am supportive of “outside the box” thinking when it comes to rehabilitative services within the criminal justice system and believe the data that shows the benefits of creative therapies. I have also seen firsthand the benefits of music and art therapy on the elderly. It is often a song, painting or artistic activity that is the key to unlocking a pleasant memory in those suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia.

I think we would be well served to include art in therapy for those young and old.

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