Alexandra Kennedy & Matt Wilson: Massachusetts must restore investment in arts, culture

Last modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2014

AMHERST — Do you remember your first exposure to visual art? Chances are it was the first time a parent, teacher, or librarian opened up a picture book and read to you.

Perhaps you were mesmerized by the post-snowstorm stillness expressed in Ezra Jack Keats’s watercolors in “The Snowy Day,” or enchanted by the brilliantly colored butterfly that emerges from the pages of Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” Maybe you were frightened and fascinated by the surreal nightscapes of Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.”

Every day at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, founded by Eric and Barbara Carle, we see how art and reading ignite the imagination of children and inspire their creative expression. These are formative experiences that can set them on the path to educational success. Studies from organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts and Johns Hopkins University have shown that art education improves performance across all disciplines.

These are benefits we should keep in mind as state representatives debate next year’s budget. The budget proposal put forth by the House Ways and Means Committee this month would cut funding for the Massachusetts Cultural Council by more than 50 percent, from $11.1 million to $5 million.

It’s a short-sighted move. In addition to their educational value, arts and culture are economic drivers. The National Endowment for the Arts, working with the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, has repeatedly demonstrated the economic benefits of investing in the arts. In Hampshire County, for instance, arts and cultural organizations generated nearly $21 million in economic activity in fiscal year 2011, according to the Massachusetts Cultural Data Project, a nonprofit that tracks the financial and programmatic impact of cultural organizations.

Hampshire County arts and cultural organizations provide important full- and part-time jobs. Close to 345,000 people attended arts and cultural events in the region in 2011.

Despite this, the commonwealth’s investment in the creative community has declined nearly 60 percent over 25 years. In the late 1980s, the state invested approximately $26 million annually in arts and culture through the cultural council. Today, the agency’s budget stands at $11.1 million. In fiscal year 2015 we are urging lawmakers to fund the Massachusetts Cultural Council at $16.1 million, which would bring the state’s investment in arts and culture back to where it was about a decade ago.

Massachusetts enjoys significant private and foundation funding of the arts, but public support for the creative sector is critical — particularly in less populated areas like Hampshire County. Public investment ensures that access to the arts is distributed across geographical regions and socioeconomic groups.

It encourages long-term sustainability because state grants require the documentation of sound fiscal and planning practices. Public investment connects people to theater, music, visual arts, film, history, literature and the natural environment. It builds communities that are far more connected than they would be otherwise.

Since its opening in November 2002, The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art has welcomed more than 500,000 visitors — including more than 30,000 schoolchildren — mounted more than 80 exhibitions and held more than 100 workshops for educators.

It’s tremendously exciting to open the wondrous world of picture books as both an art form and an educational mainstay.

But what’s even more exciting is that the museum is just one of hundreds of arts organizations across the state that is leveraging funds from the Massachusetts Cultural Council to educate and inspire our youth, improve the economic vitality of our communities, and enhance the quality of life for all of our residents.

We think that’s an investment worth keeping.

Alexandra Kennedy is the Executive Director of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Matt Wilson is the Executive Director of MASSCreative.


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