Funding for Economic Development and the Arts
February 21, 2014 : The Gateway Cities Journal, by Marty Jones and Anita Walker
As independent, public organizations and partners in the Cultural Facilities Fund (CFF), MassDevelopment and the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) have strong and successful track records of investment in Gateway Cities. But the Beacon Hill budget process threatens the ability of these two entities to continue their work effectively.
Co-administered by MCC and MassDevelopment, the CFF supports capital projects at cultural institutions since 2007. In 2013 alone, one dozen Gateway City projects in Fall River, Holyoke, Lynn, Springfield, Taunton, Westfield, and Worcester received $959,581 in grants from the Fund to support sorely needed physical plant upgrades. Governor Patrick’s capital budget tripled CFF funding, and both organizations will in March review applications for the next round of CFF grants.
MCC is a state agency that supports the nonprofit cultural sector to improve the quality of life for residents and contribute to the vitality of our communities. This year MCC will invest nearly $2 million in Gateway Cities through direct grants to anchor nonprofit cultural organizations like the New Bedford Whaling Museum, Essex Art Center in Lawrence, and Springfield Symphony Hall; economic development partnerships such as the Cultural Organization of Lowell and Cultural Pittsfield; and arts education in sites like RAW Art Works in Lynn & Community Music School of Springfield that help at-risk adolescents build skills and confidence through creativity.
MCC has asked the Legislature to increase its appropriation to $16 million for the coming fiscal year to provide the resources and support needed to build more connected communities and a vibrant, thriving economy across the Commonwealth.
MassDevelopment is the Commonwealth’s self-supporting finance and redevelopment authority and has made loans totaling more than $43 million to 45 projects in Gateway Cities through its Gateway Cities discounted interest rate loan program. On the real-estate side, MassDevelopment manages major developments in Springfield (1550 Main Street) and Taunton (Myles Standish Park Phase II) complemented by ongoing technical-assistance work in Fall River, Lawrence, Haverhill, Holyoke, Pittsfield, and Westfield.
The state budget for the last four years has required MassDevelopment to contribute $3 million annually ($12 million in total) to the Massachusetts Cultural Council to avoid further cuts to MCC, whose budget is less than half of what it was in 2002. The $12 million helped MCC avoid deep cuts to grants for nonprofit organizations, communities, school and youth programs, during the state’s latest fiscal crisis. But it comes directly from MassDevelopment’s operating revenues. As such, it seriously impacts both the on-going financial sustainability of MassDevelopment as well as its capacity to make loans to small businesses and nonprofit organizations, and to help communities plan and implement revitalization projects.
Gateway City supporters of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, MassDevelopment, and the Cultural Facilities Fund should join together as we have to urge the Commonwealth fund the Massachusetts Cultural Council adequately and do so with no contribution from MassDevelopment.
- Marty Jones, President and CEO, MassDevelopment