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With a Little Help from Town Friends

Ricardo Guillaume, Program Officer

Local Cultural Councils Share How They've Gone After Municipal Monies

7 smiling people standing in front of a mural
Members of the Worcester Arts Council pose in front of the mural, “Amor Hasta la Muerte” by Victor “MARKA27” Quiñonez

So, you just finished the FY22 Local Cultural Council (LCC) Program grant cycle, what-are-you-gonna-do next?!

Once your LCC’s annual report is submitted, approval letters are in inboxes, and grantees are granteeing, the non-grant cycle months are a vital period to strengthen relationships with community partners and seek support from your municipality.

Hear from a few LCCs on how they get by with a little help from their friends for super heroic arts advocacy:

Cape Crusaders

Bill Burton is a former Chair and current member of the Provincetown Cultural Council on Cape Cod and they just received supplemental funding from the Town of Provincetown (affectionately known as P-town) to add to its Mass Cultural Council allocation.

Burton was a part of P-town’s committee to get funds for the AIDS memorial – which raised over $70,000 in donations – and knew they had the capital to build it with cash left over. He got curious and asked if the surplus could be applied to the LCC’s municipal account. The worst they could say was no, right? Well, they did.

“We found out that that money could not be transferred since the account was set up to fund anything to do with the memorial and could not be used for any other purposes,” said Burton.

That didn’t deter him from asking more questions. Soon the secretary to the select board suggested coming to the next town meeting to apply for an article seeking additional LCC funding.

“We had to explain why we needed additional support and show who we might have funded if we had additional money,” said Burton. “We showed examples from the last three years where we had received anywhere from 19 to 27 requests asking for grants totaling between $19,000 and $27,000 per year. Of them, we were only able to fund approximately 40% of the applications [and of that 40%] only about 35% of what was asked for by the applicants.”

The LCC asked the town to provide $10,000, arguing that with the increased investment, they could have a greater impact supporting more cultural, arts, and educational endeavors. When Burton gave the numbers at the meeting and asked the select board to support the article, they voted unanimously in favor of it.

“I would encourage any LCC to approach their governing authority on this,” said Burton. “We are very excited that this coming year, we will be able to support more individuals and organizations to a greater extent than ever before.”

Staying in Barnstable County and heading down to the Lower Cape, Clare O’Connor-Rice is the Chair of the Brewster Cultural Council. Knowing the importance of fostering strong relationships with their municipality, the LCC held the eligible 20% of their Mass Cultural Council allocation to collaborate with other Town of Brewster departments.

“We set aside some money to support town events, and approached the Brewster Chamber of Commerce to see what might be possible to support for the annual Brewster in Bloom Festival this spring,” said O’Connor-Rice.

During a strategy lunch at a local eatery, Brewster Chamber of Commerce Executive Director S. Kyle Hinkle mentioned how the chamber releases a printed guide and offers pages for town committees and departments to talk about what they are doing. O’Connor-Rice knew it would be a great publicity tool.

“The publication gets sent to every home and is available for visitors as well,” said O’Connor-Rice. “We also worked with the Brewster Conservation Trust to encourage them to add something to their annual Conservation Day and guided them to the Mass Cultural Council Festivals grant application, which they successfully received. Exciting!”


Mark Levitan is the Chair of the Carlisle Cultural Council in Middlesex County. Levitan recognized the opportunity to advocate for the LCC back in July of 2021 after attending a MASSCreative webinar on COVID relief funding sources.

“I immediately contacted two of our five select board members to start a dialogue,” said Levitan.

At a January 2022 meeting convened by Mass Cultural Council staff Levitan was inspired again and followed up by contacting select board members, who introduced him to the Town of Carlisle American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) committee. He sent the committee a proposal to allow the council to re-grant funds.

“The deadline for submissions had just passed so we had no idea about our chances for success. Our applications were for two separate programs: Money to fund a supplemental grant program similar to the LCC Program and money to help fund an LCC-sponsored music program at Carlisle’s Annual Old Home Day celebration,” said Levitan.

In March, Carlisle’s ARPA committee made its first round of recommendations to the select board, and not only approved both submissions but approved more funds than the LCC had requested.

“Carlisle is a small town with many residents who participate actively or passively in cultural activities. Several of our LCC members are well known in town from other volunteer interests that they have,” said Levitan. “Having prior relationships and visibility with key players in executive government positions helped tremendously when this opportunity arose.”

In addition to maintaining regular communication with cultural organizations in town, here are Carlisle’s recommendations for LCCs:

  1. Promote LCC work through local and social media
  2. Send press releases about grant funding and LCC programs to each Select Board/City Council member, Mayor, and Town Manager/Administrator
  3. Proactively get involved with requesting ARPA funds. There shouldn’t be any question that cultural funding is eligible. Focus on funding that assists the economic recovery of cultural practitioners
  4. Rather than invite the select board to an LCC meeting, invite them to an LCC grantee reception
  5. Ask for town budget funding going forward. We feel that we’ve proven the value we provide through the ARPA process. We will likely ask for unrestricted funds to match our Mass Cultural Council allocation for FY24 (ARPA covers us for FY23)

Worcester Avengers

Last year the Worcester Arts Council (WAC) in South-Central MA applied for an ARPA grant distributed by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and received $250,000. They’re also hiring someone to help them create their sub-granting process. Lisa Malo is a member of WAC and their social media savant. She emphasized WAC’s fortunate situation of having love for arts and culture already engrained in the heart of the Commonwealth’s identity.

“Here is the truth,” said Malo. “There is already a lot of support for arts and culture in Worcester – from people in the community, from local artists and arts organizations, and from our city government. We have a Cultural Development Office that includes a Cultural Development Officer. Like, for real step one might be: ‘Get your city/town to hire a cabinet-level Cultural Development Officer’.”

That Cultural Development Officer role – served for 18 years by Mass Cultural Council alum Erin Williams – is a cabinet-level position in Worcester’s municipal government. The city even has its own version of Avengers known as the Cultural Coalition, which lends staff – like Nikki Erskine, Special Projects Assistant at City of Worcester – to WAC, ensuring city and council are assembled in arts lockstep.

“It feels like we may have a ‘head start’ compared to some other LCCs on this,” said Malo. “I know not everyone has the current level of support we already do – which is thanks in large part to others who came well before us.”

WAC has also done significant work over the last four years to build its reputation through marketing, community outreach, and engaging Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. Here are their recommendations for LCCs:

  1. Understand the gap between the Mass Cultural Council allocation vs. how much folks applied for over the last 2-3 years. This is powerful. Arm yourself with that info. Bring it up every time you talk to anyone about funding.
  2. Municipal employees can be stretched thin, make it easy for them to say “YES!” If you’re seeking a portion of the ARPA funding already allocated to your city/town, explain how this will be simple for them – your LCC is already built for sub-granting! If you’re applying for a separate grant (like the NEA grant), tell your municipal body that you will do all the legwork – then do it. When WAC applied for the NEA grant, we did have city staff to help us in some cases, but council members did a significant amount of the work on both the application and the follow-up materials.
  3. Engage in your city/town’s community input process for ARPA funding (if they have one). Get all your LCC members to fill out any surveys your city/town may have or attend community meetings they may host. If your city/town doesn’t have a community input process for its APRA funding, reach out to your municipal contacts and provide your input anyway. If your LCC is active on social media, share news about your city/town’s process with your followers and ask them to speak up, too. Write a formal letter if needed. In WAC’s experience, “formal letters” to its city government get attention and action.
  4. Believe in your LCC’s work and worthiness to receive this funding. When WAC first learned about the NEA grant opportunity from Mass Cultural Council, there were people who said things like: “You should apply, but the chances you’ll get funded are small since it’s nationwide,” or “That’s great! Just don’t get your hopes up.” This could have been discouraging, but we persisted. Most of us felt more like: “Why NOT us? Better us!” Your LCC is worthy of getting this funding! Have confidence in your work, and your ability to put together a compelling application. Almost no one on WAC had experience applying for grants before this. So, if we can do it, anyone can.

It just goes to show that you never know what kind of support and funding your municipality may have available to your LCC. The first step is to ask. Speaking of which, every city and town in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts received ARPA funds and LCCs are eligible to apply for them. Shelburne in Franklin County and Wellfleet in Barnstable County are two LCCs that are doing their homework on what may be available to them as well.

So, you just finished the FY22 Local Cultural Council Program grant cycle, what-are-YOU-gonna-do next?!

The Local Cultural Council Program is the largest grassroots cultural funding network in the nation. Led by municipally-appointed volunteers, LCCs award over $4 million every year, supporting more than 6,000 cultural programs that include everything from field trips to lectures, festivals, and dance performances. Find your LCC.

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