Eric Nakajima'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?

Art, culture and creativity are central to my life and to the community in which I live.  Art and creativity are as intrinsic to life as are eating, breathing and sleep. None of us live complete and healthy lives unless we can engage in creativity as members of our community, as spectators and as creative individuals. Music, visual arts and the written word have been formative in every stage of my life – with music itself like bread or water.  A staple part of life. I am fortunate to live in the Amherst-area, which is home to a wide diversity of performing and visual arts. It is part of our identity as a community – our history with Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost and our future with exciting theater at UMass Amherst. There are also many opportunities to learn or engage in art in our area, which fortunately means that people of all ages can offer their talents and expression or enjoy the performances of others depending on their interests.  I look forward as state representative to supporting the arts in the district and working with leaders in the community to envision new ways to bring resources to our organizations, schools and colleges.


2. Addressing District-wide Issues

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

My community – the 3rd Hampshire District – is diverse and includes people of many different cultures, religions, and economic backgrounds.  Culture and the arts play a critical role in our community on many levels: as a public good to be enjoyed as widely and freely as possible, as an economic development priority to draw visitors and tourists to our towns and local businesses, and as a means of creating opportunity and engagement with neighbors who either economically or culturally may feel more isolated.  Creative community play can be a successful strategy to draw people together, foster community and communication, and nurture leadership.

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?

The arts and culture can be the best means of bringing people together, of acknowledging tough social issues that compound isolation (for many reasons, including as racism, oppression, untreated mental illness, or disability). The arts can act as means of celebrating differences, addressing social challenges, and offering a pathway for socially isolated people to gain their own voice and become empowered.  There are things a that groups at all levels can do – from classroom education or senior center classes to film and performing arts events at local theaters programmed to celebrate or engage certain members of the community. Active participation in the arts can be one of the most powerful means of breaking down oppression or isolation that we have as a community.

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?

The number one thing we need to do to increase arts education is to expand education funding and implement the Chapter 70 foundation budget review recommendations.  We also need to end local school district funding for charter schools, which are a drain on school funds that directly impact the resources we need for arts education. That is the major challenge. Beyond that, I’d look forward to engaging the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in ensuring that arts education are built into the required curriculum in the state (and thus are not treated as nice “extras”).

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 am a tremendous fan of the Massachusetts Cultural Council. I had the opportunity to work with the MCC when I was with the Patrick Administration and deeply admire the quality of work and leadership they provide and the direct, positive impact they have on communities throughout the state. They are critical to fostering strong local arts organizations, to preserve cultural heritage, and as a means of fostering economic development through the arts.  I would fund the MCC much higher than currently, at $20 million or more. I know it would be money well spent across Massachusetts including here in Amherst, Pelham and Granby.

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 love to see the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund increased to $75 million over five years if not more. I am familiar with the program and know that it makes a huge difference in cities and towns working to establish arts districts, revitalize neighborhoods, and support arts and cultural organizations essential to their communities.

5. Space for artists and arts organizations

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

Ensuring we have affordable, quality housing and professional space for artists is absolutely critical for the continued vibrancy of our state. We need a diverse set of tools to address the need for artists’ space.  We should actively incent and prioritize the development of artists’ live/work space as well as space for artists as they age (senior artist housing). I would support doing this directly through the projects solicited by the Department of Housing and Community Development for state tax credit support, and I’d pass legislation creating a seed grant program for planning and development to be administered by MassDevelopment or another state agency.  In Brockton , there is a good example of artists live/work space in a mixed-income housing development – we should do more of that. I would also support expanding state support for co-working space to specifically include artists’ practice/performance spaces. Finally, I think as the state looks to change how it deals with surplus state land, we should consider prioritizing mixed-use housing that emphasizes the arts and community facilities as part of a redevelopment strategy.  The most important first step is we should engage a full range of stakeholders to identify strategies for public (local)/private/public (state) partnerships to support the preservation of artists’ space and the development of new spaces.

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 love to work with the co-sponsors of this bill (become a co-sponsor) and then work with the arts community to bring attention to the value and need for public art. Ideally, we should look at the positive impact that similar programs have had in other states and then address the counter arguments head on (cost being the top one, I assume).  I think it is a terrific idea

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?

Art therapy is known to be one of the best and most effective means of helping people with a variety of challenges. We should include funding for art and creative therapy in the state budget and, if necessary, create a pilot grant program to engage in demonstrations of the value of art therapy in the juvenile justice system and elsewhere. It is really a question of the most effective strategy for getting resources out on a sustainable basis.

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