Mary Ann Stewart's Response to the Arts & Culture Questionnaire

1. Your Personal Connection

What personal experience with arts, culture, or creativity has had an impact on your life and your view of the community?

My parents were musicians. Mom was a concert pianist; one of her gifts was that she could read any piece of music you put in front of her. Dad was a sax, clarinet, and piano player who played in a dance band in high school and gigged on weekends with some pals from his small town; one of his gifts was that he could play anything by ear. Growing up I heard and enjoyed Mom playing her repertoire on a regular basis; she was most fond of Debussy, Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Chopin. Dad played at the piano on weekends, mostly, after he had finished household and yard chores with my younger brothers; he wrote original compositions for the sisters in the convent on the far side of the fairgrounds in the small rural coal-mining town in Pennsylvania that we lived in until I was ten years old.

I grew up in a time when arts education was the pride of every community, whether in public schools or in the public square, and I was encouraged to participate in all of it: music; drawing and painting; poetry and creative writing; dance. Over time, I added to my portfolio the needle arts; calligraphy; cooking; costumery; collaborative arts; and starting an arts movement! Among other things, my engagement in all of the arts taught me patience, persistence, and the joy of self-expression.

We moved to Columbus Ohio when I was ten, to a bigger pool of arts offerings - more and different things to try. I was in my element. We moved again when I was fourteen, just before beginning high school, to Medway, Massachusetts. The nascent arts and music programming in the school system there(and I wasn’t aware if there was an arts & culture scene)was lacking and left me wanting and my heart sank as I realized that I wouldn’t be expanding my artistic education there. I felt angry and frustrated and, initially, I resented this situation and rather cursed my dad for dragging all of us, especially me, to this godforsaken community with no big choruses to sing in or musicals to perform in.

But, what ended up happening, was that I became part of the group that built and led the music program in the high school by singing in the choral groups and learning to play a variety of instruments: piano in the jazz band; oboe in concert band; trombone in the marching band; and taking every music elective I could and taking part in every musical we were finally able to produce in my last two years of high school. I was the student conductor for concert band my senior year and took to arranging and transcribing Bach two- and three-part keyboard preludes for brass and woodwinds. I auditioned and sang in District and All-State Choruses. I was a founding member of “The Greater Bostonians”, an elite choral group and jazz band that met every Sunday at Northeastern University for an afternoon of rehearsals of original arrangements that were performed in Symphony Hall and in other venues across the Commonwealth.

Clearly, I was a full-fledged music geek.

I could go on about the affect the arts has had on me throughout my life, but it was in those formative years that I developed an attachment to the arts and self-expression and they became a lifeline to me as we relocated from the rural mountains of PA, the urban city in central OH, and the quiet, reserved community in MA. Despite the paucity of music programming in my high school, it was still the only thing that got me up and to school on the rainiest of days. I think now how fortunate I was then because our schools and communities have lost so much in their arts and culture offerings. I despair at all of the focus on testing in ELA and Maths at the expense of arts and creativity, because it is the arts that our children need to be learning, if they are going to be truly prepared to solve the challenges awaiting our society.

2. Arts & Culture in Your District

What stories from the 4th Middlesex District communities are the most compelling to illustrate the impact of a local arts or cultural institution?

I am most familiar with the art and culture in my Town of Lexington, where they play numerous and important and engaging roles. For example, not a celebration goes by without civic input on a range of expression: re-enactors on the Battle Green and floats in the parade every Patriots’ Day; the poetic care with which wreaths are placed on gravesites of our fallen veteran heroes. Our thriving Lexington Symphony Orchestra has an engaging program for every third grader: the instrument petting zoo! And, the Lexington Society of Arts & Crafts sponsors public school art shows and a holiday marketplace.

A rich and varied arts and culture scene is woven throughout the 4th Middlesex District, evidenced in the many historical museums; arts education in Arlington and Lexington Centers for the Arts; public education; and economic development. Driving from one end of the District to the other - Arlington to Billerica - one is struck by the positive social environment, safe, welcoming neighborhoods, and, in general, the overall positive quality of life. It’s no wonder that so many people are moving their families into our District’s towns! The arts are an invitation to all to participate in dialogue, in community-building, and more.

3. Addressing District-wide Issues

How, specifically, would you integrate the arts, culture, and creative community to improve living conditions in areas you represent? Please include thoughts on ways to alleviate social problems (student stress, isolation, etc.) as well as best ways to partner with the creative sector to drive economic development in the district.

To help make ends meet when our children were small, I founded a murals and decorative painting company. I know how arts and economic development are closely linked. The arts can revitalize traditional areas and create community. Focusing on the arts brings joy to people’s lives. Lexington has a vibrant arts and culture community, and Arlington does, too, but I am less familiar with the City of Woburn, Burlington, and Billerica and their arts, culture, and creative community offerings.

This district is quite diverse politically, demographically, and economically and I would like to connect all five communities in a collaborative art project in which any could partake. My strategy is, as always, to engage people from a range of perspectives in one-to-one conversations, group dialogue, and conferences to build consensus for our mutual benefit. I‘d like to convene a meeting, working group, or commission that would include a cross-section of stakeholders to suggest recommendations and ideas about how to do just that. I’d connect small business groups, educators, artists, social workers, guidance counselors, seniors, students, families, and any others and invite them to weigh in on the issues you mention. (As I write this, I’m envisioning a project that is inspired by the scope and scale of Christo and Jeanne Claude’s eponymous “Gates” or “Surrounded Islands” projects, along with the environmental sculpturesof Andy Goldsworthy, to connect the district: beginning in East Arlington at the Cambridge line, then into Lexington’s precincts and onto the City of Woburn, through Burlington, and to Billerica, ending, perhaps, at a gateway into Lowell.)

4. Arts Education and Programs for our Youth

Arts instruction is a critical part of education because it develops multiple intelligences and helps educate the “whole” child. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has pledged to update theCommonwealth’s arts education curriculum and has pledged to report on access and participation in arts education in schools and districts. How will you support arts education in the Commonwealth’s schools?

Arts education in public schools, once a jewel in the crown of a well-rounded citizen, is still essential for today’s children and youth. For too long, our view of public education has been narrowly focused on achievement outcomes within strict, limited parameters, without looking at the whole child, what the child needs, and how all of us benefit as a society when each member is given the opportunity to contribute his or her best self. In my vision for education, we bring back the joy of learning. Students need a well-rounded education that’s based on a rich and varied curriculum that includes music, art, and athletics. Too many of these programs have been eliminated since NCLB and market-based reforms were ushered in, or were severely eroded in many communities during the recession years.

We must work together as a Commonwealth, across sectors - education, business, non-profit, agency, in collaboration with communities, parents, and families - to support, expand, and improve children’s access to quality arts and cultural programs, as we support expand, and improve activities that prepare teachers to incorporate the arts into the curriculum of other academic subjects to supplement and engage student learning.

I have championed adding arts to the Commonwealth’s STEM program to make it STEAM. Adding arts to STEM is vital for solving the deep problems our Commonwealth and country faces. Applying STEAM in public education promises to drive our economic engine for innovation in all of our years going forward. Ensuring the funding necessary for arts and development makes sense. I would support creation of funding for marketing and economic development efforts in MCC-designated Cultural Districts. I would work with Senate Committee on Ways and Means to create a dedicated funding stream for arts and culture so essential programs are not susceptible to drastic year-to-year cuts.

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

Last year, Massachusetts invested $14 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 almost twice that amount. At what level do you think the MCC should be funded and what would you do to get to that level of funding?

It’s sad to imagine where we might be today if we had maintained our commitment to MCC fundingof nearly 30 years ago! We are all paying the price for decreased funding to MCC. I understand that the Senate’s budget funds the arts at over $16 million in FY18. I support that amount and propose increasing the amount each year. Health insurance is out of control and we must find a way to change the equation to make healthcare more accessible and affordable; tax expenditures within the state budget haven’t been looked at in ages. It’s time to reassess these key programs within the budget with an eye to funding the health and well-being of our people through investment in MCC.

For FY14 and FY15, $15 million in matching grants through the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund supported the maintenance, repair, and rebuilding of the Commonwealth’s cultural facilities. For FY17 and FY18, Governor Baker allocated $10 million to the Fund. At what level do you suggest the Commonwealth fund this program?

We need to restore funding to higher levels because systems begin to fail and buildings fall into disrepair if we are unable to prioritize a capital investment in maintenance and repair of our facilities.

What steps would you take to develop or dedicate a revenue stream to provide a sustainable and stable funding stream for the arts, cultural, and creative community?

I feel that there’s not a lot of specific actions a new Senator can do until they are chairing a relevant committee or reach a leadership position, which I would certainly pursue. I would rely on MASSCreative to work with me on a plan and then develop it to introduce legislation that could be passed, if MASSCreative would want me to pursue that direction. I support MASSCreative’s initiatives and lobbying efforts and would co-sponsor bills that support its goals and vote in favor if any come up in my committee or on the floor of the Senate.

6. Creative Placemaking

Public art helps build vibrant connected neighborhoods and the arts community plays a vital role in the development of cities and towns. Twenty-eight (28) other states have a Percent for Art Program to fund public art in state construction projects. Filed in both the House and the Senate (H.2717 and S.1897), the Massachusetts Public Art Program (MPAP) would invest one percent of the new capital budget for state buildings (approximately $2 million a year) in the creation and preservation of public art on Commonwealth-owned properties. What will you do this session to help get the Massachusetts Public Art Program to the finish line?

I think it’s a great idea because I have seen the value public art can have in providing the public with inspiration for reflection and to build vibrant, connected communities, as well as to fuel social movements and the activists that transform our world. I know a lot about this because for five summers I created, developed, and delivered a transformative summer arts enrichment program for underserved children and youth in Boston’s South End. The program was an initiative of the St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church community in the Villa Victoria neighborhood. While students worked on creative enrichment for English Language Arts and Maths in an effort to avoid “summer slide”, I provided hands-on art and music education: creating their own percussion accompaniments, B&W and color photography, Chinese brush painting, and brainstorming with the kids on two outdoor murals for the church courtyard, and a closing art and performance exhibition.

As of this writing, the bills mentioned above are still in committee. If there is a hearing, I would be happy to testify.

    • I can also speak in favor with the committee chairs, Rep. Cory Atkins and Sen. Adam Hinds.
    • If MASSCreative is ready to push this and advocate, I would like to connect them with members of my statewide networks to bring them into the conversation and would be happy to convene a meeting or sponsor a briefing for colleagues on this issue, while distributing fact sheets and talk about it with colleagues.

Thank you!

Thank you for the opportunity to address some of the issues and concerns of MASSCreative community! 

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