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Arts Advocates Seek $2 Million From Beacon Hill To Counter Trump's Proposed Culture Cuts

Arts funding march 3/28/2017
Armed with signs, chants and a Sousaphone, demonstrators marched across Boston Common to lobby lawmakers for more arts and culture funding.
Mike Deehan/WGBH News

With the Trump administration aiming to cut federal arts and culture funding, hundreds of Massachusetts artists, art students, educators and patrons marched to the State House Tuesday to ask legislators to make a preemptive commitment of $2 million to help mitigate expected gaps.

That $2 million ask would be added to Gov. Charlie Baker's proposed $14 million arts allocation. The additional funds would buttress a range of activities, from after school programs to local choirs and chamber music groups.

The coalition of arts marchers paraded from the Emerson Majestic Theater to Beacon Hill in true New Orleans fashion, with several Somerville-based "honk" musicians performing songs like "The Saints Come Marching In" alongside brass and woodwind students from Conservatory Lab Charter School in Dorchester.

Members from the Boston Area Brigade of Activist Musicians drummed the marchers along as they climbed the stairs by the historic Saint-Gaudens Shaw Memorial before a final jam outside in the shadow of the looming statue of Civil War luminary Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker.

"Here in Boston itself we're lucky to have state-of-the-art arts organizations like the BSO and the MFA and the Isabella Stewart Gardner and places like that. Those are the big ones and everybody knows that. What we need to think about is how important it is to every little village and every town and every person and every child and every family," South Shore Conservatory president Kathy Czerny said.

This was the second "Arts Advocacy Day" to hit Beacon Hill. The day of rallies, marches and lobbying aims to convince lawmakers to invest taxpayer dollars in the arts, saying the educational, social and tourism benefits make it money a good investment.

State revenues are tight, and that doesn't leave a lot of leeway for lawmakers to increase any particular budget line item.

Beyond expanding the cultural council's budget, the artists want the Legislature to create a public art program for state-owned property and to increase arts education funding. 

President Trump and Congressional Republicans have targeted arts and culture funding as a way to reduce discretionary federal spending. Trump's proposed budget would eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, two organizations that provide funding for cultural programs throughout the nation. (WGBH receives some support from both endowments.)

Eliminating arts and humanities funding would save the federal budget about $300 million a year, according to the New York Times. That translates into significantly less than one percent of the $1.1 trillion sought for discretionary spending.

“At a time when the Culture Wars have been revived in Washington, and the Trump Administration has proposed eliminating funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, we need to look to our local leadership to show support for the arts in Massachusetts,” Matt Wilson, executive director of MASSCreative, said in a statement.

Before marching up to the State House, the group met at Boston's Paramount Center to hear from speakers including Rep. Mary Keefe (D-Worcester) and Emerson College President Lee Pelton. Other figures from Boston's arts, culture and academic sector also spoke, including ArtsEmerson executive director David Howse, Boston Conservatory at Berklee theater chair Sarah Stackhouse, Massachusetts Cultural Council vice-chair Barbara Grossman and Boston Public Schools executive director for the Arts Myran Parker-Brass.

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