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Boston Common: Kathleen Bitetti

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As part of our continued effort to foster strong communities, we’re rolling out a new interview series, called “Boston Common.” In it we will highlight the people and organizations that shape Boston and New England’s cultural sector by going straight to the source to find out who they are, what they are doing, and how and why they do it. We hope that the series will champion some of the exemplary work being done, shed light on neglected issues facing our arts scene and community, build connections among individuals and organizations, and expand the networks on which we’ve come to rely. In this installment, we talk to Kathleen Bitetti, an artist, curator, and public policy expert. She is a co-founder of ArtistsUndertheDome.org and the Massachusetts Artists Leaders Coalition (MALC).

What’s the mission of your organization? How does it serve its immediate and surrounding community?

The Massachusetts Artists Leaders Coalition and ArtistsUndertheDome.org both work to empower Massachusetts Artists of ALL Disciplines to be at the policy making table. They are not Boston centric but are statewide. Both are all-volunteer efforts and are not nonprofits or businesses. They don’t solicit or earn money for their efforts. Nor do they endorse candidates for office.

Here are their two missions in detail:

ArtistsUndertheDome.org:

ArtistsUndertheDome.org, the website, was launched in October 2007. It is an artist-run website and is run by in kind donation of artists’ time and resources. This website strives to inform Massachusetts artists of the State House Artist Working Group’s efforts and also helps to keep artists informed of statewide efforts and public policy initiatives that may impact their livelihoods. The site acts as a resource and tool for individual artists of all disciplines and strives to follow and inform artists on the State’s policy, legislative & regulatory actions. Our goal is to empower individual artists to become more engaged with the democratic process and public policy making. AUD does not endorse candidates for office.

MALC:

Founded in 2008, the Massachusetts Artists Leaders Coalition (MALC), its meetings, and connected working groups are designed to bring together artists leaders of all disciplines and artist(s) run organizations, initiatives, and businesses around key issues facing Massachusetts artists working in all disciplines. Though participants may have different perspectives on how best to address the issues facing our community, we are all committed to improving the social and economic position of all Massachusetts artists. The overall goal is to empower our community, support our artists leaders, and to mentor new artists leaders.

Membership for MALC is FREE and open to Massachusetts individual artists of all disciplines and to Massachusetts artist(s) run organizations/businesses/initiatives (artist(s) run means the following: for those with a board structure the majority of the governing board must be comprised of working artists, and for a business/organization without a governing board structure it must be run by an artist or artists).

MALC works very hard to ensure that Massachusetts artists of all disciplines have a voice in public dialogs, decisions, and key public policy initiatives that impact the artists’ community and the creative economy. MALC works to ensure that artists have a permanent place at the policy making table. MALC does not endorse candidates for political office.

Kathleen Bitetti at deCordova

Tell us about your background: how does it equip you for your current job?

These are two volunteer efforts, so they are not jobs per se. I am a total policy nerd, so I guess that is what equips me for this type of work.

For over twenty years, I have been advocating and advising on local, state, and national levels for artist’s rights, first amendment and intellectual property protection, access to affordable health care & health care reform, arts funding, small business issues, the creative and cultural economies, and the development of free or low-cost resources/services for artists working in all genres, small arts related businesses, cultural nonprofits, and grassroots organizations. I have helped to craft state and national legislation and regulations, have organized, served on, and moderated panels on policy issues, and have given numerous lectures, talks, and trainings on advocacy and public policy methods. I was also the project leader and the co-author of the Fall 2009 report, Stand Up and Be Counted, the first statewide survey of Massachusetts artists of all disciplines on their work lives, socioeconomic status, access to healthcare, and medical and non-medical debt.

So bonefide total policy nerd. Click here for more info on my policy wonk adventures.

Brag about some recent accomplishments, please! Tell us how you achieved your goals and how you measured your success.

For ArtistUndertheDome.org, I would say that our annual event at the State house is a huge accomplishment. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts invites Massachusetts artists working in all disciplines (visual arts, literary, performing, crafts, new media, etc.) to the State House annually to thank them for all they contribute to our state’s economy and quality of life. It is is done in collaboration with the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, The Massachusetts State Treasury, the Massachusetts Artists Leaders Coalition, the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Businesses, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and the State House’s Cultural Caucus. We are the only state in the country that has this kind of event. Last year was our 7th one!

For MALC: We have done so much as a coalition, helping to pass and craft important legislation and regulations, but also to stop bad legislation. Each year, MALC works with others to stop bad anti-coop legislation from being passed on a state, and now Boston, level. We stopped it last session in the city council, but we expect it to be filed again this session in the Boston City Council.

When either MALC or ArtistsUndertheDome.org send out calls for action/advocacy please act as they really do matter and help!

What are you working on now? Please tell us about the resources you need to complete your current project, and what challenges you’ve faced thus far.

For ArtistsUndertheDome.org: We constantly monitor state legislation and the state budget. Right now we are watching the state budget process. Click here to see what we are following this legislative session.

For MALC: We are also watching legislation and the state budget process. We are up for a budget battle to preserve and hopefully increase the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s (our state arts agency) budget.

Other big news is that MALC released a major policy paper on February 11th, for the 2014 Governor’s race, outlining the key needs of our sector. It is MALC’s hope that all of the candidates for governor will review MALC’s recommendations while crafting their arts, culture, and creative economy policies.

MALC Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy policy recommendations: Web, PDF and Press Release PDF.

Kathleen Bitetti’s For You art project

What advice do you have for someone looking to follow in your footsteps?

First and foremost, find out who represents you on a local, state, and federal level and reach out to them and more importantly to their staff about the issues you care about. A democracy only works if the people take part in it.

Click here to find out who represents you, here to join Artists UndertheDome.org’s listserve, and join MALC if you have time, and here to like MALC on Facebook.

What do you wish you knew when you first started out?

How much banana bread I would have to bake as part of my advocacy work!
Click here and here for some tips that might be helpful to those just starting out to advocate.

Name one challenge that the Boston cultural sector faces, and how you’d suggest fixing it.

I will say that anything we face on a state level also impacts the Boston cultural sector. See MALC’s policy brief, that we just released, to see what needs to be done.

Tell us about one cultural event/exhibition or organization/individual (other than you or your organization) that has exceeded your expectations recently. What work are they doing, and why is it important?

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is just knocking it out of the park with those he has hired for key positions! His cabinet head for economic development, John Barros is a musician, his chief of staff, Daniel Arrigg Koh, is a performing artist, and his chief of policy is the legendary art ninja Joyce Linehan! I mean dream team for our community! And this not counting the cabinet level commissioner for arts & culture who has yet to be named!

(Full disclosure: I headed up Mary’s election arts and culture team, wrote that policy, and I am on his transition team for arts and culture, so I knew he was going to be great, but he deserves a shout out!)

 

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