Power of Culture Blog
Looking back and acknowledging how far this work in communities has come
With their FY23 grant-making mostly behind them, we asked members of Mass Cultural Council’s Community Initiative Team to reflect on their experiences of the power of culture at work in cities and towns across the Commonwealth.
Timothea Pham: Something that gives me hope is a collective effort to focus on and prioritize diversity and inclusion within the cultural sector. Specifically, I have seen Local Cultural Councils try to ensure that voices and experiences from various backgrounds are represented and amplified, creating a richer and more vibrant cultural landscape. Some of these efforts include working with new partners to publicize and create relationships with new grant applicants, adjusting grant criteria to more accurately reflect issues related to social justice and equity, and making space for new, cultural festivals and events to happen in their towns/cities.
Hanako Brais: It’s very exciting to see towns and cities exploring Cultural District designations! In my visits, I was heartened to see how this designation encourages entities and organizations that aren’t explicitly in the arts to work with the local creative community and to think more intentionally about how to incorporate arts and culture in sustaining the vitality of their communities.
There are critical conversations happening in the arts and culture sector about how we can better support the diverse communities in the Commonwealth. I’m grateful to the many folks who have come to us and engaged us in conversations on how we can better serve their communities.
Ricardo Guillaume: What gives me hope is the idea of grant funding for sustainability and what that looks like.
Ricardo: It’s just optics if you only invite artists and leaders of color to be a part of the conversation. They need to have decision-making power.
Timothea: I’ve learned from multiple local arts and culture leaders that it is important to take care of yourself and your team. Prioritizing your well-being is a concept that is sometimes overlooked, especially with the volume of demanding daily tasks you may have. Looking out for yourself and for those that help support your work is crucial.
Guelmi Espinal: I learned this from my work at RAW – thank you, Jason Cruz – to ask and listen when you want to help. It’s easy to feel like I’m doing my job well if I walk in, tell you what to do, and leave. But the reality is the best way to do my job is to help you in any way I can. You know what your community needs. I may have some experience that will be helpful, but I’m not going to pretend that I know what’s best for your town more than a whole council of volunteers!
Hanako: I feel so fortunate to be in a position that support the arts, culture, and local communities. Art unlocks the potential in all of us to see each other’s humanity, and it creates space for a multitude of voices, perspectives, and stories to be told. It brings us together, challenges us, makes us kinder, and allows us to center joy — creatives are essential, and I’m so grateful to be able to support them.
Ricardo: I’m grateful the Agency’s pandemic relief grants were able to put money in artists pockets without the obligation of them to do a project. That kind of sustainable support is needed more than ever.
Timothea: Given the nature of the world over the past few years, being able to connect cultural workers and help foster creative problem-solving within the cultural sector is something that I am grateful for. There are so many new and creative perspectives out there to consider and I’m deeply appreciative of supporting such passionate individuals and groups.
Timothea: A powerful experience I had this year was being able to visit Holyoke with our Cultural Districts Program Officer, Carolyn Cole, to explore the potential of a Puerto Rican cultural district in the heart of the city. We were able to learn that Holyoke has one of the largest Puerto Rican populations in the US, the city hosts several annual festivals such as the Holyoke Puerto Rican Parade and Festival that draws an international following, and is home to several cultural institutions and community organizations like Nueva Esperanza whose mission revolves around community engagement and service. Additionally, there are a large number of placemaking and public art projects that highlight the diverse history and culture in the area.
Hanako: Even more so than previous years, I was particularly moved when attending the incredible summer and holiday festivals, open studios, and live performances happening across the state. Recovery from the devastation of COVID will still take many years, but I was struck by the power of gathering in person and the joy of sharing in cultural experiences.
I’m amazed at the work of the Local Cultural Council members, who truly are arts leaders in their communities. In my visits with LCCs, I was inspired by the work that they’re doing to build strong relationships with their town/city committees and local organizations to support their local arts and culture community.
Guelmi: The one that still stands out in my mind comes from early in my start at this job. Passing by Framingham for their “Many Cultures, One Heart” to check out some of the heart art works sponsored by the Local Cultural Council. I went with my partner, and she ended up purchasing art from the chair of the LCC before we all knew each other. It was striking to feel connected to Framingham for the two hours I was there. I am no expert on living there, but I feel like I learned a little bit of what makes them special. And every town/city in Massachusetts has their own spirit that makes them special, too.
Timothea: I encourage local arts and culture leaders to think continuously about collaboration at every level. Building strong partnerships and including new voices can help you reach diverse audiences, combine resources, and create more impactful projects for the communities you serve.
Also, take a look at how your demographics (your audiences, constituents, etc.) are changing and seek out those opportunities to work with individuals, organizations, businesses, the municipality that you have not worked with before.
Guelmi: Don’t be afraid of connecting with local schools! Students are an excellent source of creativity, inspiration, and a way to keep in touch about what their peers feel is important. College students may be able to able their time on a council as volunteer hours or community service. And getting youth involved can show them how fun your towns can be. Out-of-state students can struggle with connecting to their new, local area.