Power of Culture Blog
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The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has received roughly $5 billion in state government American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) COVID relief funds from the federal government. Legislators are now starting the process of determining how to invest these funds, while Governor Baker’s plan to spend $2.9 billion of these federal relief funds is outlined in H. 3922.
On July 20 the Joint Committee on Ways & Means and the House Committee on Federal Stimulus & Census Oversight convened a public hearing on the Governor’s plan. Mass Cultural Council Executive Director Michael J. Bobbitt submitted written testimony on H. 3922, urging the Committees to remember the needs of the cultural sector when investing these one-time ARPA dollars.
The following testimony was submitted by Mass Cultural Council to the Joint Committee on Ways & Means and the House Committee on Federal Stimulus & Census Oversight:
July 20, 2021
Delivered Via Email
The Honorable Michael Rodrigues, Chair of Senate Committee on Ways & Means
The Honorable Aaron Michlewitz, Chair of House Committee on Ways & Means
The Honorable Dan Hunt, Chair of House Committee on Federal Stimulus & Census Oversight
Re: H. 3922, An Act relative to immediate COVID recovery needs
Dear Chair Rodrigues, Chair Michlewitz, and Chair Hunt:
I am pleased to submit this testimony on H. 3922, An Act relative to immediate COVID recovery needs, on behalf of the governing Council and staff of Mass Cultural Council.
Mass Cultural Council is an independent state agency that promotes excellence, inclusion, education, and diversity in the arts, humanities, and sciences; fosters a rich cultural life for all Massachusetts residents; and contributes to the vitality of our communities and economy. The Agency pursues this mission through a wide range of grants, initiatives, and advocacy for artists, communities, organizations, and schools.
H. 3922 is Governor Baker’s proposal to invest $2.9 billion of the Commonwealth’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) monies into key sectors to stimulate post-pandemic economic relief. Mass Cultural Council gratefully acknowledges the Governor’s plan includes a $100 million reserve, administered by the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism (MOTT) to “support cultural facilities and tourism assets throughout Massachusetts.” However, it is important to stress that while MOTT is our valued partner and the state steward of the for-profit tourism sector, Mass Cultural Council is the appropriate state agency to disseminate COVID relief funds to the nonprofit cultural sector.
Line item 1599-2026 of H. 3922 creates a $100,000,000 reserve for cultural and tourism assets, managed by MOTT, and provides that “funds may be transferred to the Cultural Facilities Fund for the purposes of this item.”
Mass Cultural Council proudly administers the Cultural Facilities Fund (CFF) with MassDevelopment, ensuring nonprofit cultural facilities can access public support for the acquisition, design, repair, rehabilitation, renovation, expansion, or construction of said spaces. Mass Cultural Council notes with concern that as currently written there is no guarantee that any of the proposed $100 million will be transferred to the CFF by MOTT.
I agree wholeheartedly with Governor Baker, who was quoted last week last week while in the Berkshires as saying, “Massachusetts’ tourism and cultural sectors are vital to the fabric of the Commonwealth, and will continue to be an important part of our economic recovery in the coming months.”
I implore the Committees to remember that while Massachusetts’ tourism and cultural sectors are related in that they convene people, and often contribute to the other’s success, they are, in fact, separate and distinct economic sectors with unique stakeholders.
MOTT’s tourism sector focuses on for-profit activities such marketing to support tourism, conventions, travel, and recreation-related activities in Massachusetts. Mass Cultural Council’s cultural sector is comprised of the arts, humanities, and sciences. Traditionally our stakeholders are artists, teaching artists, humanists, scientists, and nonprofit or municipal cultural organizations. While tourism in Massachusetts is enhanced in part due to the appeal of our cultural assets such as museums, historic sites, concert halls, and theaters, the cultural landscape is about so much more than that. We know the power of culture brings countless benefits to our communities, residents, and visitors. Culture improves education, promotes diversity, and encourages excellence in the arts, humanities, and sciences. Mass Cultural Council’s efforts to bolster the cultural sector help make the Commonwealth a better place to live, work, and visit for all.
There is well-documented need to defend investing ARPA funds into the cultural sector to provide COVID relief. Throughout the pandemic Mass Cultural Council surveyed artists and nonprofit cultural organizations to document and understand the economic impacts of COVID. In March 2021, one year after the pandemic first brought cancellations and closures to Massachusetts, Mass Cultural Council released dire survey data reporting economic crisis throughout the cultural sector:
Mass Cultural Council is not the only state authority seeking relief for the cultural sector. On June 30 the Massachusetts COVID-19 Cultural Impact Commission filed its report, calling for the investment of $575 million in ARPA funds into the cultural sector:
The Commission’s findings and recommendations are a holistic look at the cultural sector’s needs, post-pandemic. Cultural sector organizations were among the first to voluntarily close in March 2020, and they will likely be the last to fully reopen. It cannot be overlooked that the Commonwealth’s economy will not fully recover without robust public investment to rebuild and safely reopen cultural organizations and bolster the economic security of individual artists. These targeted investments will ensure Massachusetts remains competitive as a place to live and work.
I urge your Committees to use these recommendations as a roadmap. Please expand upon the Governor’s plan and truly invest in arts and culture. Doing so will help Massachusetts move past recovery to economic growth. Mass Cultural Council stands ready to launch into action to deploy these investments into the cultural sector with you, equitably and efficiently.
Please do not hesitate to contact me, or Public Affairs Director Bethann Steiner if you require further information. Additionally, I look forward to continuing this important conversation with you and your colleagues and am available to testify at a future hearing if that is deemed helpful.
Michael J. Bobbitt
cc: Tourism, Arts & Cultural Development Chairs Senator Ed Kennedy & Representative Carole Fiola