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What We Heard at the Legislative Listening Session

Anita Walker, Executive Director

What impressed me most was its speed, its content and its power. The first-ever virtual hearing by the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development was pulled together in a matter of days, attracted more than 220 members of the public and told the stories behind the numbers of revenue loss, layoffs and hardship affecting the cultural sector in Massachusetts.

We’ve all had to exercise our agility, adaptability and technology skills since the coronavirus hit Massachusetts. Our legislative champions Senator Ed Kennedy of Lowell, and Representative Paul McMurtry of Dedham did not hesitate when asked to spend an afternoon gathering firsthand reports from the field, using unfamiliar technology, in order to fully understand the impact of this crisis on people and organizations.

In just the first couple of weeks of the coronavirus the losses have been staggering. A Mass Cultural Council survey reports nearly $56 million in lost revenue and thousands of lost jobs. One by one, cultural leaders from North Adams to Boston to the Cape spoke of the people represented in those numbers.

Joe Thompson from Mass MOCA called the situation “grim” as he had to let more than 100 people go. Matthew Teitelbaum of the MFA said the art museum would be $14 million in the red by June 30. Organizations that make the bulk of their income during the spring and summer months are facing unprecedented losses. Music schools are struggling to teach ensembles without the software they need for group instruction. Teaching artists have seen their income dry up completely with schools closed.

More than a dozen people were able to speak during the hour-long session, and others submitted their testimony online.

After the hearing, several people contacted me to say it was the most compelling and meaningful hearing they’ve attended.

The Mass Cultural Council will continue to gather the data. We have a new economic impact survey going out to cultural nonprofits this week. Please send us your information.

We also need you to continue to tell your stories. Send them to Bethann Steiner and we will make sure our elected leaders receive them.

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