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Boston Common: MASSCreative’s Matt Wilson

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.

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

MASSCreative empowers creative organizations, individuals, and the public with a powerful voice to advocate for the resources and attention necessary to build vibrant, creative, and connected communities across Massachusetts. Through its advocacy program, MASSCreative works to increase public investment in the creative sector, ensure all youth have access to quality arts education programs, and to advance policies that support the work of individual working artists.

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

For the past 30 years, I have worked as a campaign director and community organizer to build social movements for change. I have worked to organize neighborhoods around environmental issues, organized nationally with Moveon.org to stop the Iraq war, campaigned statewide to promote comprehensive health care policy, and served as the campaign director to elect a progressive candidate from Massachusetts to the US Senate.

My job as the Executive Director of MASSCreative is to develop campaigns that will result in greater public investment in the creative community, and use of the bully pulpit by local and statewide leaders to support the arts, cultural, and creative communities.

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

MASSCreative recent accomplishments are due to the work of its 128 organizational members, a social media network of more than 5,000 people and the more than 9,000 individuals who have engaged in campaign activities over the year.

- In June, Massachusetts lawmakers increased the state’s investment in local, creative communities by allocating an additional $1.6 million to the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s $12.5 million budget. This 17% increase in funding was the first significant increase to the council in seven years. And it came as a result of a strategic, MASSCreative-led advocacy campaign that generated more than 5,000 petition signatures to the Governor, and 2,000 emails, phone calls, and letters to lawmakers from artists and citizens passionate about the arts. Many artists and institutions have already received budget increases for the year.

- MASSCreative convened the Create the Vote Coalition—a collaboration of more than 100 of Boston’s arts, cultural, and creative institutions—to injects arts and cultural issues into the Boston mayoral campaign. The coalition hosted the largest public debate of the primary campaign by filling every seat in the Paramount Theatre for the Boston Mayoral Candidate Forum on Arts, Culture, and Creativity. We collected questionnaires from the candidates and publicized their views on arts and cultural issues through our blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, and by generating media coverage of arts issues. Throughout the six-month campaign, we nurtured vigorous discussion of what would constitute a mayoral arts champion. As a result of our efforts, Boston Mayor-elect Marty Walsh has pledged to lead an "Arts Renaissance" and to appoint a cabinet-level arts commissioner to his administration; create a cultural affairs office; invest in the arts; and create and implement a strategic cultural plan that integrates the arts with other city priorities including education, economic development, public safety, housing, and transportation.

The Boston Mayoral Candidate Forum on Arts, Culture and Creativity at the Paramount Theatre. Photo by Kat Waterman.

- In November, Governor Deval Patrick tripled the state’s investment in the Cultural Facilities Fund from $5 million to $15 million. These funds will be used to repair and rebuild cultural venues around the state that help create connected communities and vibrant, thriving economies. Governor Patrick’s investment came after MASSCreative’s "Invest the Rest" campaign generated 1,200 emails, phone calls, and letters to the governor urging him to increase the state’s investment in the Commonwealth’s Cultural Facilities Fund. At least 200 of these communications came from mayors and other community leaders, and executive directors and board members of arts organizations around the state.

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.

Here is our draft program and platform for 2014, which details our upcoming campaigns. To help us on our campaigns, we need the creative organizations to become members of MASSCreative to provide us with the political and financial resources we need to effectively run these campaigns.

Creativity is a necessary, public good that benefits the entire community. MASSCreative works to maximize state, federal, and municipal investment in the creative sector. Specifically we are looking to increase direct state investment in local, creative communities by increasing the FY2014 Massachusetts Cultural Council budget and encourage municipalities to support their local creative community by matching the state allocations to their Local Cultural Councils.

All Massachusetts youth deserve the chance to discover their individual passion and creative talents. It can literally be a life-changing experience. MASSCreative advocates for quality arts education and youth arts programs for each student. We are campaigning to support one year of high school arts education as an admission requirement to the Massachusetts state university system, while ensuring access for students from low income communities and encourage investment in arts and cultural programs that benefit youth in need.

Marty Walsh and Joyce Kulhawik at a Create the Vote Public Meeting. Photo by Drew Esposito.

Artists and creative entrepreneurs all need places to create and share their talents. MASSCreative works to provide the public resources to refurbish the old and create the new spaces for creative activity. We are working to reauthorize the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund for an additional five years at $75 million and maintain the annual outlay of that capital funding at $15 million.

Individual artists of all disciplines and creative entrepreneurs often need support and resources to have the capacity to do their work. MASSCreative advocates for programs and initiatives to support creative individuals throughout the Commonwealth. We will be working to implement policies to preserve, develop the access and affordability of live/work space.

What advice do you have for someone looking to follow in your footsteps? What do you wish you knew when you first started out?

If you want to be a campaign director or community organizer, work at an organizing group that can provide you with the training you need to learn the skills to effectively recruit, train, and manage volunteers.

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

Boston is in the bottom five among major cities for investment in the arts and cultural community. We need to correct this with dedicated revenue streams. After raising the issue several times in conversation with mayoral candidates throughout the Create the Vote campaign, the new mayor has committed to creating a line item in the city budget for the arts. As Mayor-elect Walsh begins his transition phase, the Create the Vote coalition is ready to work with him to help him develop a stable and adequate funding source for the arts line in the budget.

The mayoral candidates at the Boston Mayoral Candidate Forum on Arts, Culture and Creativity at the Paramount Theatre. Photo by Kat Waterman.

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?

Our friends over at the Boston Children’s Chorus are making outstanding contributions to the community. We wrote a blog post about the organization’s commitment to youth in Boston neighborhoods and shared some of the young participants’ compelling narratives. The BCC recently received a well-deserved National Arts and Humanities Youth Program award from the White House.

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