Matt Wilson to receive Leadership in Arts Advocacy Award

It’s exciting when the work of MASSCreative and our hardworking staff is publicly recognized in the media, or by political figures and other civic leaders. It’s truly special, though, to be recognized by one of the arts organizations with whom we work side by side in our advocacy efforts, because we have deep respect for each our coalition partners and the important creative and community-building work they do.

That’s why we’re so proud that Central Square Theater (CST) will honor our Executive Director Matt Wilson for his leadership in arts advocacy at its Dream It. Be It. Gala April 30.

Without a doubt, Matt’s leadership of MASSCreative over the last five years has helped make the Commonwealth’s arts and cultural community a potent political force. By bringing together a coalition of 400 arts and cultural institutions under MASSCreative’s banner to advocate for arts funding, organizing more than 50 arts leaders statewide through our Leadership Council; and blueprinting our Create the Vote Campaign model, Matt has spearheaded a movement. Not only has he convinced an increasing number of politicians and Massachusetts voters that arts and culture aren’t just nice, they’re necessary, other state arts organizations now look to Matt for ideas and advice on how to replicate MASSCreative’s success in their own states.

Matt has described his and MASSCreative’s work as creating the political and social “heat and friction” needed to produce a greater depth of support for arts and culture. 

“Saul Alinsky, one of the great political organizers from the ’60s and ’70s, says that to make change, you have got to create a little heat, a little friction, a little uncomfortable-ness,” he said in a recent interview. “Many in the arts community are uncomfortable with putting pressure on decision makers and creating tension. Leaders need to be able to say, ‘Yes, I like you, but you have got to do a little bit more. You cannot just say you like us; you have to be a champion.’ Through its public education and advocacy, MASSCreative works to create that heat and that friction.” 

Matt was initially a surprise pick to run MASSCreative when we formed in 2012. He was not a part of the arts community and his background is in grassroots political organization. Beginning in 1989, he became executive director of Toxics Action Center where he helped more than 300 neighborhood groups address toxic pollution in their own backyards, while growing the organization from a one-person operation working in Massachusetts to a regional operation with 11 staff members.

He left Toxics Action Center in 2005 for a job with the progressive political action group There, Matt led efforts to recruit and train more than 100,000 volunteers in 60 swing districts for the 2006 congressional elections—in which Democrats regained control of the U.S. House and Senate—in addition to working to expand the movement against the Iraq war.

From there, Matt worked on Health Care for All’s campaign to ensure consumer and community voices were heard when Caritas Christi Health Care was purchased by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management.  

Since then, Matt has put his political organizing skills to work for the state’s arts sector. CST, which joined the MASSCreative Coalition in 2013, has been an important part of that work.

“Our partnership with MASSCreative is a logical extension of our mission to serve as a cultural anchor for the Cambridge community, which we take very seriously,” CST Executive Director Catherine Carr Kelly said recently.

Aside from staging acclaimed, affordable and accessible productions and running arts education and cultural enrichment programs, CST also participates “in broader discussions about how the arts benefit our economy, public safety, community cohesiveness, and overall quality of life—and what resources we’re willing to invest in maintaining and growing our arts infrastructure,” she said. “MASSCreative has been an important partner in helping create and bring people into this dialogue.”

The Dream It. Be It. Gala takes place Monday, April 30 at Central Square Theater, 450 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. Tickets are $250 and available online.


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