Arts and culture have long proved to be a vital component of the Massachusetts economy and social identity, generating more than $1 billion in annual spending and enhancing the state’s reputation throughout the world. But apparently Governor Charlie Baker didn’t get the memo. His vetoes for fiscal year 2017 chopped the Legislature’s proposed $14.1 million budget (flat from fiscal 2016) for the Massachusetts Cultural Council by more than half, to $6.5 million. This would be the council’s smallest appropriation since 1994. It’s imperative that the Legislature vote to override the governor’s veto and restore his cuts.
The cultural council is the Commonwealth’s mechanism for distributing funds to nonprofit arts, humanities, and science organizations. It supports nearly 400 such organizations, including educational programs, art galleries, theater groups, and commissions for individual artists. All told, these council-supported groups provide 32,889 jobs and pay $36 million in payroll taxes. The governor’s cuts are especially ironic, and painful, given that the cultural council announced last week an ambitious development program in partnership of the London-based Future City group, with support from the Boston Foundation, for regional development projects in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield.
Study after study has shown that arts education — which the Massachusetts Cultural Council is integrally involved in throughout the Commonwealth — improves student performance across the disciplines. It’s also been shown that arts organizations enhance neighborhood property values — and neighborhoods. And that, of course, is at least part of reason companies like GE want to move here.
A report by the Boston Foundation earlier this year served as a cautionary tale. It pointed out that the high economic profile of the Greater Boston arts sector was disproportionately supported by cultural giants like the Museum of Fine Arts and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Small and medium-sized nonprofits, meanwhile, are struggling, with little to keep the area’s many visual artists, musicians, theater professionals, and other cultural players here as permanent contributors to the health of the state. Overall, the report said, Greater Boston showed poorly in per capita government and foundation support for the arts when compared with cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Philadelphia.
In 2015, the Legislature overrode another of Baker’s vetoes of arts funding. This one, says cultural council executive director Anita Walker, will cut many of the agency’s core programs “to the bone,” putting Massachusetts in the realm of Nebraska and South Dakota in terms of per capita support. Given their role in the state’s quality of life and fiscal and social welfare, the arts should be as central to long-range economic development as a biotech startup or a Fortune 500 company. If Governor Baker doesn’t see that, the Legislature should show him the way.