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Mass Cultural Council Seeks $27.4M for Arts & Culture in FY23 State Budget

Bethann Steiner, Public Affairs Director

Charting a path for Massachusetts to match the state’s record-high investment made in 1988

The FY23 state budget process is underway! On March 1, 2022 Mass Cultural Council Executive Director Michael J. Bobbitt testified during the virtual budget hearing convened by the House and Senate Committees on Ways & Means.

The Committee was seeking feedback from state agencies on the Governor’s H. 2 FY23 budget proposal. Mass Cultural Council used its time to thank the Baker-Polito Administration for recognizing the importance of the power of culture in its FY23 spending plan, as H. 2 recommends funding arts and culture at $20.4M, a modest increase from our current state operating appropriation. We are grateful to note that this is the first time, during the Administration’s eight years, that the Governor’s budget did not recommend a funding reduction for Mass Cultural Council!

Mass Cultural Council’s FY23 funding request is $27.4M. This amount equals the historical high-water mark in state budget appropriations supporting the cultural sector, set in 1988. With inflation, $27.4M in 1988 is now worth more than $65M today.

During his presentation Executive Director Bobbitt wondered how, given the robust revenue picture, it is possible that state support for the cultural sector was higher by more than 7M dollars 34 years ago? And how might we get back to 1988’s $27.4M appropriation today?

By increasing Mass Cultural Council’s appropriation to $27.4M, which is roughly $7M more than H. 2 proposes, the Agency will in turn invest more into the sector. We will make more – and larger – grants to individual artists, provide more operating support for cultural organizations and arts education, and invest more into every Massachusetts city and town through the Local Cultural Council Program.

During the months of March, April, and May Mass Cultural Council will be meeting with legislators in the House and Senate to build support for this budget request. Cultural sector stakeholders can do the same – by emailing their legislators to request that they make Mass Cultural Council’s line item a budget priority. Our advocacy partners MASSCreative and Mass Humanities will also be coordinating with us to build support for this request.

The House of Representatives will debate their budget in April; the state Senate will follow with their debate in late May. Fiscal Year 2023 begins on July 1, 2022.

A copy of Mass Cultural Council’s FY23 Budget Hearing testimony is below.

Read the FY23 State Budget Request


Testimony FY23 H. 2 Budget

March 1, 2022 Joint Ways & Means Hearing

Michael J. Bobbitt, Executive Director, Mass Cultural Council

Good afternoon, Chair Lewis, and Chair Ferrante, and through you to the Members,

For the record, my name is Michael J. Bobbitt. I am the executive director of Mass Cultural Council, and I am delighted to be with you today. I am joined by my Deputy Director David Slatery, and Public Affairs Director Bethann Steiner.

As you know, Mass Cultural Council is your state agency tasked with promoting excellence, inclusion, education, and diversity in the arts, humanities, and sciences. We work to foster a rich cultural life for all Massachusetts residents, and bolster a vibrant cultural sector that both contributes to the vitality of our communities – and the state economy. We do this through a wide range of grant programs, initiatives, and advocacy for our cultural sector stakeholders, including artists and cultural organizations.

It is truly remarkable to be able to appear before you today and thank the Baker-Polito Administration for their Fiscal Year 23 H. 2 budget proposal. As you know, Mass Cultural Council’s annual appropriation in the state operating budget represents the Commonwealth’s primary investment into arts and culture. While this marks my second budget cycle at Mass Cultural Council, my staff notes that this is the first time in the Administration’s eight years that the Governor’s budget does not propose a reduction to our line item. In fact, today’s appropriation in H. 2 is 25.1% higher than what the Governor proposed a year ago, in H. 1!

H. 2 funds us at $20.4 million ($20,382,378 to be exact). Currently, Mass Cultural Council’s state operating budget is $20 million, excluding $1.375M in FY22 earmarks. As such, the Governor’s budget proposes to increase our operating budget by 1.9%.

We are very thankful that the Administration has recognized the Power of Culture, and the importance of the sector here in Massachusetts in its final spending plan. We hope that at minimum the House and Senate will retain this figure in the final FY23 budget.

However, I’d like to outline a larger vision for you. And if I might, I’d like to “Take you back to 1988”.

Do you remember the late 1980s? The big hair, the bright fashion. Back in ’88, the highest grossing movie was “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” The biggest single was George Michael’s “Faith.” And our Governor, Michael Dukakis, was running to become the President of the United States!

You know what else happened in 1988? The Commonwealth funded arts and culture with a total of $27.4 million in the state budget for our predecessor agencies, the Massachusetts Council for the Arts & Humanities, and the Massachusetts Arts Lottery Council.

I’m here today to ask you – how can we work together to make Massachusetts’ FY23 investment into the cultural sector match 1988 levels?

With inflation, $27.4 million in 1988 is now worth more than $65 million today.

I won’t presume to ask the Committee for $65M in FY23 – although certainly, two years into this pandemic the economic need exists, and we could easily spend it on grants supporting artists and organizations. But I wonder – given the robust revenue picture, how is it possible that state support for the cultural sector was higher by more than seven million dollars 34 years ago? And how – how can we get back to 1988’s $27.4 million appropriation today?

By increasing Mass Cultural Council’s appropriation to $27.4 million, which is roughly $7M more than H. 2 proposes, the Agency will in turn invest more into the sector. We will make more – and larger — grants to individual artists, provide more operating support for cultural organizations and arts education, and invest more into every Massachusetts city and town through the Local Cultural Council Program, all of which you will see and feel the direct impacts of in every legislative district.

Mass Cultural Council prides itself on its transparency and access – and I believe we may be one of very few state agencies that can boast about making awards to recipients in every city and town, every single year.

A year ago, we celebrated our $21.4 million appropriation as the “largest state investment since the late 80s.” While Mass Cultural Council is still working to make additional FY22 grants, here is how we’ve invested those state funds, to date:

  • We doubled our budget for Artist Fellowships, increasing the award size and the number of artists honored. This year we are on track to award more than $1 million to 150 Massachusetts artists, who display artistic quality and creative ability in Choreography, Poetry, Traditional Arts, Drawing/Printmaking, Fiction & Creative Nonfiction, and Painting. Further, we will award $100,000 to a dozen Traditional Arts Apprenticeships, preserving cultural and folk-art traditions.
  • We provided more than $6.7 million in unrestricted operational support and funded cultural projects and programming at 520 cultural nonprofit organizations through the Cultural Investment Portfolio (CIP).
  • We supported the creative economy and our vibrant Massachusetts communities through the Festivals grant program, the Cultural Districts Initiative, and the Local Cultural Council (LCC) network.
  • I am very proud that in FY22 we tripled the size of our Festivals grants, from $500 to $1,500, and awarded 99 Fall/Winter community festivals a total of $148,500. Our Spring/Summer festival awards will be announced in March.
  • 47 Cultural District Investment grants were given to state-designated Cultural Districts in communities, located in every region, both small and large, investing $352,500 into programming that stimulates local art and cultural activity and economic activity.
  • In FY22, our LCC network – the largest public grassroots cultural funding network in the nation – will make thousands of local grants, totaling nearly $4.8 million, supporting art projects and initiatives in every city and town in the Commonwealth.
  • And, this year Mass Cultural Council provided key support to Arts Education and Creative Youth Development (CYD) programs by awarding $1.2 million to schools to support 244 STARS Residencies, which deploy teaching artists right into the classrooms for hands-on learning, as well as $1.6 million to 73 YouthReach grant recipients who work with CYD programs to provide youth-driven arts, humanities, and science opportunities during out-of-school hours.

In total, to date, Mass Cultural Council has awarded more than $10 million dollars from our FY22 state appropriation, through 1,105 grants to artists, cultural organizations, schools, and communities in FY22. And we will continue to make additional grants through the end of this fiscal year. Our spending plan charts a path for Mass Cultural Council to use 89% of our FY22 state appropriation to make almost $18 million in grants.

Mass Cultural Council relies upon state investment to bolster the cultural sector. And the sector relies upon us. Most of our organizations are nonprofit – they do not exist to make money, but to serve their community. Our grants help them succeed, and Massachusetts residents and communities benefit from their services.

On Feb. 1, one month ago, I marked my 1-year anniversary at the Agency. I’m so proud of what our team has accomplished to date:

  • Together, we launched our first Racial Equity Plan, deliberately setting a path to invest our financial, programmatic, and informational resources equitably across the cultural sector.
  • We adopted recruitment goals, choosing to intentionally identify and find individuals and organizations engaged in cultural work who have not engaged with us in the past and encouraging them to do so now.
  • And with you, our partners on Beacon Hill, we secured the largest one-time investment into the sector – $60.1 million – which we’re preparing administer through pandemic recovery grant programs in the coming months.

I want to caution against using this one-time pandemic relief money to not support Mass Cultural Council’s FY23 spending request. Those pandemic recovery programs – so necessary and timely – are not annual. Today’s conversation is about increasing the state’s investment into Mass Cultural Council, so the Agency can increase its support of teaching artists and students in K-12 schools through STARS Residencies and Creative Youth Development programs; local projects and initiatives through the LCC Program, the Cultural Districts Initiative and the Festivals Program; artists with our Fellowship and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship programs; and cultural organizations with our operating support programs.

These programs are necessary. Arts and culture are core to Massachusetts’ economy. In 2019, prior to the pandemic, the cultural sector contributed $25.5 billion to the state economy, representing 4.3% of the state’s GDP, 142,578 jobs, and total compensation of $13.6 billion.

Mass Cultural Council’s FY23 state budget appropriation will support grants to the sector, which is very much still rebuilding. And every cultural job added, every performance given, every piece of art created and sold and enjoyed, will not only contribute to the Commonwealth’s economy, but to the Power of Culture in Massachusetts.

While I know that you are already aware of the economic impact of the cultural sector, I want to share with you some other benefits associated with a cultural sector that enjoys robust public support. One of the ways to build on the Commonwealth’s competitive advantage and attract more business, students, residents, consumers, and tourists is by celebrating, stabilizing, and growing the visibility of the sector.

Additionally, exposure to creativity as a curious participant, practitioner, or consumer expands minds to the creative process, allowing us more access to ideas. Ideas that can assist in solving some of the numerous problems that may exist in Massachusetts and the world. The business community thrives on creativity and ideas. Massachusetts stands to have a competitive advantage by more investment in the cultural sector. Philosopher Richard Florida says, “to stay innovative, we must continue to attract the world’s sharpest minds. And to do that, we need to invest in the further development of its creative sector. Because wherever creativity goes—and, by extension, wherever talent goes innovation and economic growth are sure to follow.” Let’s not leave money on the table. Let’s double down on our investment and turn a proven commodity, the Commonwealth’s cultural sector, into one of the state’s top assets. The Commonwealth’s cultural sector is filled with many of this nation’s firsts, only’s, longest running’s, premiere, historic, and world-renowned organizations. Together, we should celebrate and continue to invest in these assets.

Culture is a dynamic force for enriching communities, growing the economy, increasing accessibility, and fostering individual creativity. Culture is intrinsically valuable and unique in its ability to lift the human spirit. Through the state budget, Mass Cultural Council invests in, cultivates, and harnesses the Power of Culture for the benefit of everyone living, working, and visiting Massachusetts.

Mass Cultural Council wants to go back to ’88. We are requesting $27.4M in the FY23 state budget, and if we cannot get to that figure this year, we’d like to work with the Committee, and all your colleagues, our partners on Beacon Hill, to chart a path forward reaching this goal.

Thank you for your time today. Please let me know if you have any questions.

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