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In North Adams, Massachusetts Cultural Council Approves Two Different Budgets With Cuts In Mind

JD Allen
Anita Walker, executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, is opitimistic the legislators will overturn Republican Governor Charlie Baker's vetoes.

The Massachusetts Cultural Council approved two different budgets at its August meeting Tuesday in North Adams: a flat-funded $15.7 million plan, and another including $2 million in cuts favored by Republican Governor Charlie Baker. The council is optimistic funds could be reallocated after the legislature’s summer recess.

At its August budget meeting, held at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts Cultural Council Executive Director Anita Walker said she is confident funding will be restored to the council once legislators return to Beacon Hill after the summer recess.

“I am an optimist,” Walker says. “And the reason I am an optimist is because I know that legislators – I have an opportunity to talk to them quite a bit – and they can see and feel and experience the difference these small [grant] investments make in the their own community.”

In July, Governor Charlie Baker signed a $39.4 billion state budget including several line item vetoes. The Democratic-controlled legislature had passed a $40.2 billion budget.

The roughly $2 million cut from the Cultural Council’s budget includes a $270,000 reduction in administrative expenses and eliminates cultural district and cultural compact grants. Instead of a scheduled increase, Cultural Investment Portfolio Project grants are level-funded. All other grant programs are cut by 13 percent.

“You know, it’s always hard,” Walker says. “Do you do the deli slice and take it out of every single grant program? Or do you eliminate one entire program? And we have tried those strategies and looked at those strategies before.”

But Walker says it doesn’t always work and leaves out one group altogether: MCC Deputy Director David Slatery says a $25,000 earmark to fund the Springfield Cultural District was vetoed by the governor.

“Last year, he vetoed all of the earmarks as well,” Slatery says. “As a matter of course, I believe he vetoes all earmarks.”

Matthew Wilson, executive director of MassCreative, says Baker’s cuts were irresponsible and will harm cultural programs supported by MCC.

“With all of the uncertainty in Washington, D.C. about support for the arts, we are really looking for the state of Massachusetts to step up and support the arts and provide that continuity that the arts and cultural community needs to thrive here in the Berkshires and across the commonwealth,” Wilson says.

Democratic Western Massachusetts State Senator Adam Hinds, the co-chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, echoed Walker’s optimism.

“We have seen that its ripple effects on the economy are critical,” Hinds says. “This should not be something that we are fighting over for $2 million for a range of programs that have other ripple effects in every town and city that they go into.”

The city of North Adams and the town of Arlington both received cultural district designation distinctions – totaling 43 statewide.

MASS MoCA Director Joe Thompson says this distinction, and possible funding, is huge for the region.

“Arts and the destination cultural tourism that generates is already the second or third largest part of the economy –growing – and it has all kinds of spillover effects,” Thompson says.

The first 10 cultural districts, including Pittsfield’s Upstreet Cultural District, approved by the state five years ago were renewed at the meeting.

Despite not receiving any additional funding along with the new distinction, Mayor Richard Alcombright says North Adams is looking forward to the title.

“It’s just another piece of another, piece of defining moment of where we have been and kind of where we’ve come, and where we are going to be,” Alcombright says. “These affiliations are just so important to help us grow on all, all cylinders.”

The council touted programs in Berkshire County as eliminating socio-economic barriers, including Kids 4 Harmony, which played at a reception after the council meeting.

Kids 4 Harmony, under the social services group Berkshire Children and Families, teaches music to underprivileged youth.

In the same vein, MCC announced its new “EBT Card to Culture” plan Wednesday. It’s a partnership with the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services and Department of Transitional Assistance. Walker, the council’s executive director, says residents will be able to use EBT cards for discounted rates at cultural venues across the commonwealth.

“They already have the card,” Walker says. “It costs the state nothing, because our organizations are stepping up and saying ‘we want you to be a part of our community, and we know that you want to be a part of ours as well.’”

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