The Night the Arts Met Democracy in Brockton

Last week, I had a first-hand dose of democracy in Brockton.  At a MASSCreative meeting with state representatives and 25 arts and cultural leaders, I saw the potential we all have to make a difference as we work to bring more resources and support to the Commonwealth’s creative community.

Last Thursday night, members of the Brockton creative community met with their state representatives at the Fuller Craft Museum. Artists, cultural leaders, and concerned citizens filed into the small, picturesque museum café to discuss the state of the arts in Brockton. Noelle Foye, director of ArtWorks! and Brockton resident, welcomed Rep. Christine Canavan and Rep. Claire Cronin to the meeting, and opened the discussion with relevant data about the allocation of funding for the arts. She introduced the numbers: the current FY2014 budget allocates $9.6 million to the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC), the group that distributes money to arts organizations around the state. That’s less than half of what it was a decade ago. As a statewide collective, Noelle enforced, we are asking for another $3 million to help regain the budget’s former magnitude.

Looking around the room, the reported numbers and data transformed into more meaningful entities: people and stories of economic struggle.  The citizens in attendance spoke passionately from personal experience in the arts, each adding narrative fiber to the diverse, overarching image of arts and culture in Brockton.  Their stories highlighted the positive impact of the arts and detailed the brockton_meeting.jpgbenefits passed on to the whole community. We heard from Arnie and Donna of non-profit groups like Brockton Arts and local arts venues like Indaba Theatre, discussing the value of their resources and the widespread effect on their considerable audiences. 

Members of the Brockton Cultural Council (BCC) shared their perspective as a central overseer of creative activity in Brockton. When the MCC receives government funding, they divide and distribute the money to local cultural councils all over the state. Given Brockton’s share, council members explained that there wasn’t enough to go around. Virginia Mahoney, described the “anguish… at having to cut these programs” that she felt as a member of the council. “My students have benefited every year from the Big Yellow Bus Program… these programs are essential to help kids get to cultural programs,” she said, speaking to the arts’ role in public programs.

When it came to the representatives’ turn to speak, Reps Canavan and Cronin empathized with the BCC, understanding the difficulty in slashing essential programming. Both representatives expressed that these impactful stories resonated well with them. Representative Canavan listened intently to each attendee, expressing her own love of the arts, and her own intention to advocate for the cause when it was time to vote. Representative Cronin reflected on the impressive group presenting on behalf of the greater community, saying: “It’s so much easier to put the faces to the vote.”

Over the course of the night, the tone grew more serious. All attending shared one mindset: the need for change. After everyone spoke, Noelle asked the big question with unflinching confidence and absolute conviction: Will the representatives represent us and vote to increase the proposed MCC budget by $3 million? Rep. Cronin stated that while she “might have to come in a little lower,” she would do everything she can based on what she had heard that night.  Rep. Canavan was convinced, and gave her commitment to act. At this announcement, the room exploded with applause as everyone realized that their dedication was achieving tangible change.

Ultimately, the members of the creative community in Brockton became more than just supporters: that night, they were champions for the cause. The Brockton community became a model for arts activism all over the state.  The key is to tell our stories, to the right people, at the right time. Last Thursday in Brockton, local grassroots advocacy helped bring democracy to the arts. 

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