Tom Merolli'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’ve been playing musical instruments for years. I can honestly say its grounded me, helped keep me moving in a positive direction, and helped me network with many like-minded people. In my community, the local concert series have helped bring Mendon together in a positive way.


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 priority issues are clean water, combatting the opioid crisis, and fixing school funding. The creative community can certainly assist in providing a creative outlet for those struggling to dig themselves out from the pit of addiction. It is important that we provide programs that allow this to happen. 


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?

Creative endeavors are among the best ways to network and meet new people. The creation of programs community art programs, music programs, and other programs to encourage creative engagement would certainly help address the epidemic of loneliness.


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?

We should create a dedicated source of funding at the state level to assist school systems to offer these kinds of programs. Unfortunately, funding for schools in this state does not happen in an equitable manner, and any assistance the state can provide will be key to ensuring local school districts can push these kinds of programs.


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 start to push to fund the Cultural Council at at least $20 million. These grants help communities to develop important cultural programs that are difficult to fund on their own.


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?

As a member of Mendon’s historic commission, this is certainly a priority of mine. Restoration of historic buildings remains a great way to drive economic development. I would certainly push the fund to be increased by $75 million.


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?

I would fully advocate for this money to be allocated in the budget, and would push it forward as part of the discussion. Art funding provides job opportunities and cultural vibrancy to communities throughout the Commonwealth.


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?

I would push to mandate this to be covered by different health insurance plans. I would push to develop programs as part of diversion for juveniles who are being faced with the criminal justice system. I would push that these programs be made available to veterans, either through grants to non-profits that already exist, or dedicated state programs.

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