Paul Feeney's Response to the Arts & Culture Questionnaire

1. Your Personal Connection

We've all had defining moments in our lives. What personal experience with arts, culture, or creativity has had an impact on your life and your view of the community? 

“Think critically about the lyrics. Don’t just tap your foot to the music, dig deep to find meaning in what the artist is trying to convey.”  As a teenage boy in 8th grade this seemed like a daunting task. I thought music class that year would involve us learning instruments or how to read music. As time went on however, my teacher taught me that it is so much more than that.  We were instructed to bring in tapes of our favorite music. As we listened to each other’s choices, we discussed the lyrics in depth. Something clicked in me and I never listened to music the same again after that moment. I learned from that particular educator, that music conveys messages and creates a sense of connection with people, no matter who they are or where they are from. Though we may experience the same piece differently, our journey to understand it creates a sense of community.  Community, not just in the sense of our geographic location but as a shared experience wherever we are.  

I was blessed not only by that experience with my 8th grade music teacher, 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.

2. Arts & Culture in Your District

Our district is home to a rich mix of arts and cultural organizations. Please provide us with a story about the impact of a local arts or cultural institution in our district.

Our community and district is rich in the arts in so many ways.  My wife and I like to attend the many local artisan craft fairs, farmers markets and outdoor concerts that our community has to offer.  One of our favorite activities to attend is the Jaycees Concerts on the Common in Foxborough.  They provide a wide variety of music over the summer months.  On the surface it’s a great weekly event that allows people to take time from their busy schedules and enjoy the company of neighbors.  But I feel it provides so much more.  It provides an open space for children to dance and express themselves.  It provides a stress relief for adults to just get lost in the music.  The lyrics and music can provide inspiration for someone who may be struggling, give comfort in the form of a memory, or provide the strength to face a task waiting for them tomorrow.  These concerts, sponsored by local organizations, are happening all over our district and allow so many to decompress, become inspired, reminisce, dance or reflect through the arts.  The impact this has reaches far beyond the summer night.  Each person takes that experience with them, a feeling, a thought, or a memory and uses it to make a better tomorrow for themselves and their community.  Laura and I have found ourselves in stressful times, in attendance at a concert on the common drawing from the energy of our neighbors in attendance as much as the performer on stage.

From the Attleboro Arts Museum to the Orpheum theater in Foxboro, Black Box Theater in Mansfield and dozens of other arts and cultural organizations throughout the Bristol & Norfolk district, our region is blessed to have so many creative individuals who work hard to inspire our communities.

3. Addressing District-wide Issues

Just as any other part of the state, we face many economic and social issues here in the district. Can you provide examples on how you would integrate the arts, culture, and creative community in solving social problems? How would you use our community to drive economic development in the district?

I was inspired recently 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. 

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.

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 will work to protect funding and continue to promote the success of these particular economic drivers.

4. Arts Education and Programs for our Youth

Art instruction should be a critical part of education across all academic disciplines as it develops the whole child. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has pledged to update the Commonwealth’s arts education curriculum as well as report on access and participation in arts education in schools in districts. How will you support arts education in the Commonwealth’s schools? 

I will be a strong advocate for arts education and STEAM in our schools. The arts, in all of its forms, connects us.   It creates a sense of community.  Creativity helps unlock the potential of many young people and it must be a major component of our public education system as a way to truly educate the whole student no matter their age.  I would like to work with a task force of educators who know first hand how important arts education is to our children. I would support legislation that  secures funding for arts programs in our schools.  I fundamentally believe in the importance of a well rounded education and fostering the whole student.  I will be a strong advocate for art instruction to be included in curriculum across all disciplines and in all districts and will work to increase funding.

I believe that we must end the punitive use of high-stakes testing as the exclusive barometer of student and classroom success.  The pressure being put on educators to simply “teach to the test” prohibits them from spending time cultivating a child’s creative side or nurturing their artistic abilities.  As the Co-Chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Platform Committee in 2017, I was proud to advocate for language that promoted STEAM and called for an end to high stakes testing.  I will continue that advocacy as a State Senator.

5. The Commonwealth’s Support and Role in the Creative Community

This year, the Massachusetts Legislature invested $14 million in organizational support through the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) for the creative community, ranking it eighth in the country in per capita spending. In 1988, the Massachusetts Cultural Council gave out more than $27 million in grants, nearly twice what we do now. At what level would you fund the MCC? 

As a State Senator, I will work with advocates from the Creative Community to ensure that the 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.



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