The state budget approved by a House and Senate committee this week covered several urgent big-ticket items: increased funding for the overburdened Department of Children and Families, new money to combat the heroin epidemic, and an increase in state support to cities and towns. But there was also a smaller funding breakthrough made all the more welcome by the fact that it wasn’t precipitated by a crisis: an increase in the annual budget of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, from $11.1 million to $12 million. The bump-up appears to indicate a growing awareness of the importance of arts and culture to the economic health of the state.
As originally recommended by the House Ways and Means Committee, the budget would have actually cut arts spending — by 13 percent, from $11.1 million to $9.6 million. That’s been part of a budget-tightening trend in state funding for the arts from a high of $27 million 25 years ago. Thanks to an amendment by state Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives of Newburyport, the numbers are once again moving in the right direction.
Too often, arts is viewed as a luxury, not a regular function of government. But studies have shown that arts education, for example, improves student academic performance across the disciplines. Moreover, the economic impact of the arts can be quantified in real dollars and cents. A recent report by the non-profit ArtsBoston showed that non-profit arts and cultural organizations inject $1 billion into the local economy every year while supporting 26,000 jobs. The arts audience, according to the report, spent $450 million beyond the admissions price for meals, parking, and other amenities.
State funding for the arts is especially crucial for smaller, more innovative arts organizations that are revitalizing gateway cities, enriching the cultural life of suburban towns, and bringing much-needed youth and vitality to the Boston scene. And the arts are a draw not only for tourists but for new businesses looking to establish headquarters in a stimulating community. It’s good to see the Legislature begin to recognize that the arts not only make the Commonwealth an attractive place to live, but make it economically competitive, as well.