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Happy Holidays from Michael Bobbitt

Michael J. Bobbitt, Executive Director

three men smiling together in front of their Christmas tree
The Bobbitt Family (left-right): Sang Bobbitt Hanna, Michael J. Bobbitt, and Steve Miller

Hello, friends! For many, this is a special time of year. This month my family celebrates Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and we are looking forward to Tết later this winter. This can also be a reflective time of year and as I begin to reflect on 2023, I feel a tremendous sense of pride in all our sector accomplished. Mass Cultural Council infused nearly $60M into the creative and cultural sector through our two pandemic recovery grant programs and celebrated that investment with many of you across the state. We saw a more robust return by audiences to theaters, festivals, and concert halls, and we began to see and experience the incredible work artists were inspired to create during the three challenging years that came before this one.

Now, as we look towards 2024 and contemplate the adventures that lie ahead, I am delighted to introduce this new monthly communication on our Power of Culture blog. In this space, I will share news, observations, accomplishments, and lessons I encounter as Mass Cultural Council pursues the goals outlined in its new strategic plan. One of those goals is to build relationships that “advance the creative and cultural sector.”

What does “advancing the creative and cultural sector” mean? What does it look like? Why does it matter?

Simply put, I think our sector is incredible, it is why I have devoted my life to this work. The sector is rich, unique, thriving, diverse, impactful, and all the other words we love to use; we know how great we are, right? Yet, I think we struggle to take things to the next level and turn all this magic into something not only solidly sustainable, but something seen as an essential component in the lives of those in Massachusetts outside the sector.

When our new strategic plan was implemented in May, my staff colleagues and I began the work of building new relationships and establishing a presence in the rooms where you don’t typically see the arts. And friends, I cannot count the number of times I arrived at a meeting or event and heard, “Oh! Hello! Why are you here?” A perfectly good-natured greeting and a valid question! Because the arts are not typically in the room when the lodging industry is having its annual meeting. We are not typically one of the first groups to meet with a newly appointed Secretary of Transportation. We haven’t historically found ourselves in the same room as the Secretary of Housing and Livable Communities twice in one week. I believe it is imperative for us to not only be in these rooms, but to learn about the work of other sectors and how to speak their language, and to establish a strong voice in every room we enter. Each of these sectors has a direct connection to our work and can be enhanced by it.

I can imagine dozens of ways for the creative and cultural sector to work with transportation, housing, developers, workforce development, and planners. One example of a cross-sector partnership includes our work earlier this year to grow our Arts on Prescription program and raise awareness of how creativity is a powerful tool for combating social isolation and mental and physical health challenges. I also think of the work we are supporting in schools that is helping to reduce truancy and improve grades, and our recent support of the Department of Children’s Services and its desire to combat recidivism.

It’s time for even more.

I want to encourage all of you to join us in advancing the creative and cultural sector. Perhaps this begins with a change in mindset. Here is what I mean by that: connecting with fellow artists, creatives, and arts administrators in affinity groups has value. It feels good and at times comforting, and it allows us to share best practices, successes, and challenges with people who “get it” especially as we all continue to move beyond the pandemic. But I ask you, is this the only way to move forward? Does only talking to each other help us with our challenges? Are we missing our chance to be seen as essential because we lack relationships outside of our sector? Perhaps we can learn from and build relationships with colleagues from other sectors with a dual-purpose in mind.

As creative people, we are naturally curious. I invite you in this coming new year to become curious about the work being done in other sectors and to discover how that work can support you, and how you can support it. It begins with relationships. We know that “people do business with people they know.” These new relationships could garner contracts, jobs, partnerships, or new revenue streams. So, get to know your town’s health department. Let them know about your offerings and how participation in the arts can have incredibly positive impacts on individual health. Attend that public meeting to discuss the new development in your city and let municipal leaders know how your work as an artist will be impacted and can potentially enhance the project. There are so many opportunities.

Over time, I believe we will create an important shift. I believe other sectors will consider us first as opposed to last or not at all. I believe we can officially leave behind the notion that the arts are a nice, leisurely part of life and firmly establish creativity as essential. I believe we will generate more revenue and see a deep infusion of arts and creativity on the walls of hospitals, businesses, and hotels, in public spaces and on roads, and perhaps most importantly, in the quality of the life for people struggling with challenges ranging from health and housing to learning and employment. Maybe they need a little art.

Each month I will use this space to share what we are learning at Mass Cultural Council as we continue to implement our strategic plan and build relationships that will advance the creative and cultural sector. I am excited to have you join us in this work and eager to see what we can accomplish together. For now, I wish you a peaceful end to the year and I thank you, deeply, for all that you do.

photo of 3 men making silly faces in front of their Christmas tree
The Bobbitt Family (left-right): Michael J. Bobbitt, Sang Bobbitt Hanna, and Steve Miller

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