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Rep. Neal Celebrates Federal Funding For Berkshire Cultural Groups

Josh Landes
Congressman Richard Neal at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal travelled to Shakespeare & Company in Lenox today to announce new grants for area cultural institutions.

Neal, a 15-term Democrat from the 1st district, tinged his presentation on new National Endowment for the Arts grants with the bitter reality of a divided Washington.

“Even though just a few months ago, the NEA was on the proposed chopping block, we actually increased spending for the NEA in the omnibus spending bill,” said Neal.

But the meat of his talk in Shakespeare & Company’s Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre brought a smile to the faces of the assembled representatives from local cultural institutions.

“The good news today is that there’s $350,000 here for the Berkshires, and many of the extraordinary things that you do here," said the congressman. "You actually have established a national and international reputation.”

Neal, speaking at a podium on an empty kitchen set in the theater, praised the work of the Mass Cultural Council in establishing Berkshire County as a vital component of the global arts scene.

“So with the almost $2,341,000 now for the state council on the arts, that’s a great testament to the advocacy that you do every day,” he said.

With that, Neal highlighted the Berkshire institutions — and their representatives — that would be receiving grant money.

“So, Jacob’s Pillow — Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Shakespeare & Company, North Adams public schools — and I know that the good mayor is here, as well, and you couldn’t have a better advocate than Representative Pignatelli, I can tell you that — and we also have the Barrington Stage Company, and the City of Pittsfield is receiving assistance," said Neal. "And two good grants to the Mass Cultural Council and as well to the New England foundation.”

Neal reflected on the pleasures of reading about Berkshire artistic excellence while in Washington.

“This is a terrific day for all of you in the Berkshires," he said. "You’ve helped establish a reputation that I think is unparalleled in a small community across America. You’ve done it right here, and it’s because not only of the advocacy but because of the quality of the work that you do. Congratulations from the United States of America.”

State Representative Smitty Pignatelli ended a presentation with a reflection on how much the Berkshires have come to rely on its arts community, noting that the very room he was speaking in was part of that change.

“How many people remember this was a skating rink 40 years ago?" asked Pignatelli. "I do. Not many hands went up!”

He characterized Shakespeare & Company as a stabilizing force on downtown Lenox before turning his gaze to the representatives of North Adams’ cultural resurgence present as well — Mayor Tom Bernard and Joseph Thompson.

“I’m grateful to see Mayor Bernard here as well, and Mister Thompson from MassMoca," said Pignatelli. "Who would have thought of a Museum of Contemporary Art in North Berkshire County 30 years ago? But that helped transform what we are here today in the Berkshires.”

Pignatelli thanked Neal for coming, and closed with a single request to his fellow Democrat: “Keep the money coming.”

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