#CreatetheVote: Candidates and Voters Talk Culture, Creativity, and Connection


“Who do you see as the champion in the Massachusetts Congressional delegation for the arts?” Ayanna Pressley asked a group of artists, cultural sector leaders and advocates during a recent gathering. “Because I want to best them. This is important to me. I want this to be an ongoing dialogue.”  

The meeting with Ayanna Pressley was part of MASSCreative’s Create the Vote 2018, a statewide effort to connect candidates and voters and address the role the arts play in our communities. During two separate 90-minute  meetings - just days before the September 6th primary - Pressley and her opponent Michael Capuano listened and responded to the concerns and needs of artists and cultural leaders across the 7th district. At the top of the list were the financial obstacles working artists in Massachusetts face. As noted in For Artists, By Artists, a recent survey co-published by Massachusetts Artists Leaders Coalition and Artmorpheus, 75% of professional artists/creatives respondents cannot or do not earn their living entirely from their creative practice. The artists surveyed are highly educated, yet earn below 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level — in most cases less than $40,000 a year.

Pressley, noted that she includes the needs of artists in all of her anti-poverty work, including affordable housing, education, and access to health care. “We need permanent housing stock for working artists,” she said, adding that many people think of artists as young, independent contractors, not realizing that many artists also have families.

Capuano pointed out that Congress has largely stopped funding housing initiatives and it will take new political leadership for it to get back on the agenda. If it does, he said that housing for artists should be included as a priority. Until then, it was up to local officials to come up with housing deals in economically depressed areas.

As part of the statewide campaign, a Create the Vote questionnaire was distributed to candidates running for Governor, Congress, and the State Legislature. These questionnaires seek information from candidates about the role that arts and culture currently plays in their district; ideas they have for using art to spur economic development and address social problems; and whether they support increased public investment in the arts through the Massachusetts Cultural Council and passage of a Percent for Art Program in the Commonwealth.

Here are 3 things you can do before you vote on November 6:

  1. Read what the candidates are saying about arts and culture and share with your networks. Don’t see a questionnaire response from a candidate you want to hear from? Reach out to them and ask them to fill it out.
  2. Show the candidates you care about arts and culture. Raise your hand, tweet at the candidates, email them, and post questions to their Facebook pages about their positions on arts, culture, and creativity.
  3. Sign on as a Create the Vote Partner and help us engage more candidates and voters.

The topic of championing the creative sector came up during meetings with candidates running to replace former Senate President Stan Rosenberg in Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester. Rosenberg, a long time arts champion used personal political capital to help increase the Mass Cultural Council budget over time, Given the historical leadership by former Senate President Stan Rosenberg for the creative sector, meeting participants were especially interested in how each candidate would approach increasing public support for community art and cultural exchange in the district.

Jo Comerford, the winner in the Democratic primary, acknowledged Rosenberg’s status as an arts champion. Rosenberg’s successor, Comerford said, will have to quickly build strategic relationships to continue delivering for the community.

In the Berkshires, affordable and reliable transportation was a focus of conversation with State Senator Adam Hinds.Hinds, who represents the largest geographic territory in the legislature and an area with a significant creative economy met with creative sector leaders at the Clark Art Institute. Hinds spoke about his vision to better connect the Berkshires and its cultural amenities, noting that infrastructure helps the creative sector thrive and emphasized the need to set up rail access to the region. Hinds co-chairs the legislature’s Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, a post he said he requested because of what the arts and culture sector has done for his district: as its third largest industry, it brings money to the area, improves its reputation and attracts visitors. Senator Hinds won his primary race against challenger Thomas Wickham on September 6th and is unopposed in the general election.

As we turn our attention to Election Day, MASSCreative will continue to work with voters and candidates to elevate arts and culture on the campaign trail. Lookout for more completed Create the Vote questionnaires as well as candidate town halls and forums at Create the Vote partner organizations on our website.  

More September News

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