Next Mayor of Medford should lead on the arts.

Next mayor should lead on the arts, by Matt Wilson and Gary Roberts
published October 27, 2015.

In October, the City of Medford celebrates its creative culture with Arts Across Medford. Curated by CACHE in Medford (the Coalition for Arts, Culture, and a Healthy Economy), this year’s festivities include a showcase of works by people living with disabilities; storytelling; poetry; historical presentations; and a four-day workshop on the art of bookmaking. Arts Across Medford comes on the heels of last month’s annual Mystic River Celebration, also organized by CACHE, which drew nearly fifteen hundred attendees to the Condon Shell for a joyous day of music and visual art. These signature events and others demonstrate that arts and culture are an integral part of this city’s community and our economy throughout the year.

In this election season, it is vital that voters have access to the information they need to assess where mayoral candidates Stephanie Muccini Burke and Robert Penta stand on an arts and cultural agenda for Medford. This includes the contributions of arts and culture to the economic health of Medford and the livability of our neighborhoods. It also includes what each candidate believes is the proper role that municipal leaders can play in supporting arts and cultural activities and strategies for increasing local investment in the creative community. (Voters can find the candidates’ answers to the arts questionnaire online at MASS-Creative.org, and here.)

It is clear that state lawmakers, recognizing the power of the creative economy to fuel growth and development, are increasingly looking to tap the cultural resources of cities and towns across our Commonwealth. This year they overwhelmingly supported increasing the budget of the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC), which administers state arts funding, from $10 million to $12 million. And earlier this year, thanks to the leadership of the Medford City Council and Mayor Michael McGlynn, the City of Medford doubled its arts budget from $15,000 to $30,000.

The increased funding being directed toward the arts in Medford, and the state as a whole, is part of a national trend of boosting investment in the arts. MCC is one of 27 state arts councils heading into Fiscal Year 2016 with a bigger budget to support local artists and organizations; 15 of them, including MCC, will benefit from increases of at least 10 percent. This puts Massachusetts in the vanguard of states around the country choosing to invest in the arts to prime local economies for growth, and to build more connected communities.

The value of the arts and the humanities to economic development is unquestioned in policy circles. In Massachusetts, nonprofit arts and cultural organizations support more than 45,000 jobs and generate $2.5 billion of economic activity. Nationally, arts and culture comprises 3.2 percent—or $504 billion of our country’s gross domestic product (GDP). By contrast, travel and tourism accounts for just 2.8 percent of our GDP.

As Medford increases its investment in its creative community, it is important that there be public engagement and deliberate planning aimed at maximizing the impact of the arts on the city’s economy. To that end, the Medford Arts Council will host on November 14 the city’s first Arts and Culture Summit, which will bring together local artists and arts organizations, city officials, representatives from Tufts University, and other community advocates to consider shared needs and aspirations as well as the expanded role arts and culture can play in the city’s economic future and how it can improve the quality of life for the people who live here. This is exactly what the city should be doing at this pivotal time.

Of course, political leaders willing to champion the arts in good times and not-so-good times are also necessary. Medford will elect a new mayor in November. That person’s leadership will be a determining factor in whether or not the city can truly capitalize on its investment in growing the local arts and culture sector. To be sure, he or she will have no shortage of support from Medford’s arts community for achieving this exciting and worthy goal.

Matt Wilson is executive director of MASSCreative. Gary Roberts is chair of the Medford Arts Council.