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Mass Cultural Council poised to distribute nearly $75 million to state’s cultural sector

Michael Bobbitt, executive director of the Mass Cultural Council, with OrigiNation artistic director Shaumba Dibingae during a tour of the OrigiNation Cultural Arts Center at Forest Hills earlier this year.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

The Mass Cultural Council is poised to disburse nearly $75 million to the state’s cultural sector this year, a historic investment in a field still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cash infusion comes courtesy of two sources: More than $51 million in one-time cultural sector recovery funds and the council’s annual appropriation, which at more than $23 million represents the agency’s biggest allotment since the late 1980s.

MCC chair Nina Fialkow said in a statement that the funds, part of a larger $85 million spending plan approved Thursday by the MCC’s governing council, would support a sector that has shown “incredible resilience and incredible need over the past two years.”

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“Through this Plan,” she added, “we will see public dollars directed further and more broadly and equitably than ever.”

The one-time relief funds come from a bill approved by Governor Charlie Baker in December that assigned $60 million to the MCC for grant-making. The council has already used some of the money to bolster its Cultural Facilities Fund, and it is also directing funding to the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities for disbursement.

Earlier this month, the MCC opened a pair of grant programs to distribute the lion’s share of the relief funds during the 2023 fiscal year.

The first program, valued at $36 million, will deliver grants of up to $75,000 to cultural nonprofits and businesses. The second, estimated at $15 million, will provide $5,000 grants to individual artists and other cultural workers — everyone from DJs and drag queens, to arts conservators and theater techs.

“We’re really thinking about artists that get overlooked,” said MCC executive director Michael J. Bobbitt, adding the grants are unrestricted. “I want to use this money to reach out to people that haven’t been on Mass Cultural Council’s radar, or people that don’t even know we’re here.”

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Bobbitt, who said it was important to provide a streamlined application process, added that the forms are taking about 10 minutes for an individual to fill out, while grants for organizations are taking about 40 minutes.

“The pandemic has been so hard,” he said, “we shouldn’t make applying for relief money hard.”

In April, the MCC released survey data showing that 1,084 of the state’s cultural organizations had reported more than $780 million in cumulative lost revenue since the start of the pandemic. During that same period, cultural workers reported nearly $32 million in cumulative lost personal income.

Although $60 million in relief funds represents a major increase over the MCC’s annual appropriation, it fell well shy of the $75 million to $125 million the council had originally expected. And while the state officially funneled some $135 million in recovery funds to the sector, arts leaders were sorely disappointed that a significant portion of the funding was earmarked for non-arts-related projects.

Bobbitt, who said he would continue to advocate for more funding, hopes the new grants will help bolster his case by identifying cultural workers who have not traditionally received MCC funding.

“It will open our eyes a bit more to how vast the sector is and how much need there is,” said Bobbitt. “I hope I can use that work to convince our legislators that council support needs to expand, that there are a lot of people in their own districts that are in need.”

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The deadline for organizations to apply for the relief grants is Sept. 28, while individuals have until Nov. 1. The council plans to announce grant recipients in late January.

“Most of the money people lost is gone, it will never be recovered,” said Bobbitt. “But hopefully this money will help.”


Malcolm Gay can be reached at malcolm.gay@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @malcolmgay.