Denise Provost Response

Your Personal Connection

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

As recently as 25 to 30 years ago, it was impossible to buy so much as a postcard with an image of Somerville on it. It was possible sometimes to find antique postcards from the 19th and early 20th centuries, with pictures of Somerville landmarks, but nothing contemporary. Somerville was a run-down, hard-luck city, without a positive self-image.

The arts community in Somerville has done much to change that image deficit. Painters, muralists, and other visual artists; writers, musicians, cartoonists, dramatists, dancers, and other creators have filled Somerville with art, and have taken Somerville as subject matter. Images of Somerville abound. Whether it’s a postcard of the Rosebud diner, a new show at the Nave or Brickbotton galleries, Honk! or Porchfest, or a tour about Somerville’s fabulous Christmas light displays, our community is visible and vibrant from a resurgence of the arts.


Arts and Culture in Your District

Art and culture plays a role in the Commonwealth from Boston and the Gateway Cities and our rural and suburban towns.  Please provide us with a story of the impact a local arts or cultural institution brings to your district.

Just one story? I hardly know where to start. Somerville Open Studios brings tens of thousands of people every spring to see – and purchase – a vast array of locally made art. Mudflat Studio, I’m told by those in the know, is the best clay facility in the country. Our music festivals are widely imitated, and the Somerville Theater – one of the best live music venues in the region – was where U2 chose to perform an invitation-only concert. Somerville Avenue has two edgy Shepard Fairey murals, right on view for anyone who makes the trip. I’ve been poring over my own list of Somerville’s arts institutions, trying to figure out where we would locate a Cultural District – and I’ve concluded that we would need a few.


Arts Education and Programs for our Youth

Creativity and innovation are vital skills in a student’s education. While many communities have access to quality arts education, many youth are still being left out of the creative community. How will you champion arts education for our youth both in our schools and in our communities? How will you balance the importance of arts education with the constant pull to “teach to the test”? Would you support joining ten other states to make one year of arts education in high school a requirement for admission to the state university system? Do you support adding ‘arts’ into the Commonwealth’s STEM program to transform it to STEAM?

The transformation of STEM to STEAM is something I have been advocating through several changes of administration at the Massachusetts Department of Education. There is a considerable body of research which shows that arts training and practice is vital to all forms of intellectual development, and improves academic performance. “The Arts” are not some tiny, elite state – they are the essence of creative thinking, wherever it is applied.

I have always been a champion of arts education in my community, and I’m proud that we have stuck with arts education even during the years that we struggled to keep our MCAS scores on the rise. We have expanded music education, to include an El Sistema program at the elementary level, to offer instruments on loan to all students who want in-school lessons (which are free), we have run a renowned String Camp every summer for many years now. With institutions like Artisan’s Asylum, Parts and Crafts, and The Sprout located in Somerville, we’re now collaborating to create a STEAM innovation school within Somerville High School.

The success of such programs creates models which can be replicated elsewhere. Massachusetts could – and should – lead the way as a STEAM education state. We’ve got all the elements we need.


Economic Development

Nonprofit art and cultural organizations support more than 45,000 jobs, spend $2.1 billion annually and generate another $2.5 billion of economic activity. How will the legislature foster an ecosystem which supports the creative community and industry across the Commonwealth?

I think the legislature has come a long way in recognizing the fiscal impact of the creative sector of our economy, as evidenced by increased funding for the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Cultural Facilities Grant program, and other targeted investments in that vein, such as Mass MOCA. Continuous advocacy by – and for – the creative sector will help foster a supportive environment for the creative economy. It’s not simply a question of funding, but of planning for and prioritizing our creative sector, and helping to educate municipalities of the value of integrating artists and art institutions into their planning, zoning, and other development agendas.


Addressing the Commonwealth’s Socioeconomic Issues

Massachusetts faces many economic and social issues, among them workforce development, public safety, and health care. Can you provide examples on how you would utilize the arts, cultural, and creative community to address the Commonwealth’s social and economic challenges?

We have to continue to break down the idea of the arts as its own little silo of preciousness, and make sure that individuals with creative skills are at the table when we talk about addressing any social challenges. I’ve seen an encouraging trend to including more architects and urban planners in discussions about development and transportation, but such inclusion shouldn’t end with these admirable efforts. We need to “mainstream” arts and culture into all of our civic life – and though it entails sacrifice, I’d encourage members of the creative community to get involved with government, sit on boards, join chambers of commerce, and help others understand the value of arts in their communities.


The Commonwealth’s Support and Role in the Creative Community

  • Last year, Massachusetts invested $12 million in organizational support through the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) for the creative community, ranking it ninth in the country. In 1988, the MCC gave out more than $27 million in grants, more than twice what we do now. At what level would you fund the MCC?
  • For the past two years, Governor Patrick allocated $15 million in matching grants through the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund to support the maintenance, repair, and rebuilding of the Commonwealth’s cultural facilities. At what level do you suggest the Commonwealth fund this program?
  • Would you develop or dedicate a revenue stream to provide a sustainable and stable funding stream for the arts, cultural, and creative community?

Although every budget cycle is filled with the pleas of worthy, competing interests, I would want to fund MCC and the Cultural Facilities Fund at higher levels than they now enjoy. I think it’s important to recognize investment in arts and culture as economic development spending. When that particular pie is cut – in both the operating and capital budgets – the creative sector should be getting a robust share. A dedicated, sustainable funding stream is a good way to provide needed stability for this growing part of our economy, which is also the heart of our culture as a civilized people.

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