The following is written by Ellen Sturgis, the executive director of Amazing Things Arts Center and Matt Wilson is the executive director of MASSCreative:
Local elected leaders recognize how important opportunities for creative expression are for building strong communities. The National League of Cities, which provides resources, training, and support for municipalities, recently released a report showing that mayors across the country view arts and culture as important as employment opportunities and economic investment to a city or town’s health.
That’s obvious to anyone who has enjoyed a jazz concert or lingered over an art exhibit at Amazing Things Arts Center or seen their child’s creativity sparked by an art workshop at Danforth Art during school vacation week or learned about the Civil War in Framingham at the History Center.
With historic campaigns for mayor and city council in full swing, it’s important that we hear from the candidates on arts and cultural issues. Do candidates have a cultural policy plan? Can they articulate their belief about the role that municipal leaders can play in supporting arts and cultural activities? Do they have strategies for increasing local investment in the creative community? Can they explain how they intend to integrate arts policies into city government initiatives impacting education, public health and safety, and economic development? Elections are when we hear candidates’ best ideas for meeting the challenges our city faces.
Given how important arts and culture is to the economic health of Framingham and the livability of our neighborhoods, we want to hear from candidates on these issues!
The ongoing debate about the future of the Danforth, our most iconic cultural hub, is a perfect example of why our elected leaders must actively engage with the community on these issues.
Mayoral candidates—including finalists Yvonne Spicer and John Stefanini—largely spoke positively about the role of arts and culture during the preliminary election and articulated the need for the city to grow and capitalize on its arts and cultural scene.
Likewise, at-large city council candidates, have also offered hints about their views on candidate questionnaires.
But voters need, and deserve, to hear candidates more thoroughly flesh out their positions.
Hopefully, they’ll get that opportunity during a Nov. 2 mayoral forum at Ken’s Steak House from 7:30 a.m.-10 a.m. that will focus on economic issues.
In the meantime, voters can learn about our mayoral and city council candidates’ views on the role of arts and culture in our neighborhoods, through Create the Vote Framingham, an effort by local arts and cultural organizations, artists and arts leaders aimed at creating dialogue about how political leaders will harness the power of the arts to make change.
Here in Massachusetts, arts and cultural businesses and organizations support more than 128,000 jobs, which is more than those generated by transportation and utilities combined. You might be surprised to learn there’s a similar impact here in Framingham. Using data from just four arts organizations in Framingham, which is home to roughly 250 creative enterprises, Americans for the Arts’ economic impact calculator estimates that the arts support 148 paid positions in Framingham and contribute $6.5 million to the local economy. Imagine what the impact is of all 250 groups?
Just as important (perhaps more important) are the ways that creative expression builds connection among families and friends, and the broader community. The Lifelong Learning Lecture Series and weekly storytimes at the public library; the MetroFest arts and foodtruck festival, the summer Concerts on the Green series, and other cultural events that encourage residents and visitors alike to patronize local businesses are among the most powerful examples. This is the stuff that makes Framingham a place where people want to live, work, and play—and none of it happens by accident.
Arts and cultural programs thrive, and their impact scales dramatically, when they enjoy the support of our local leaders. That’s why it’s so important to talk about these issues with candidates. Going forward, we should maximize our investment in creative endeavors to get the most from them. To do this, we need public engagement and deliberate planning, as well as leadership from our mayor and city council.
Ellen Sturgis is executive director of the Amazing Things Arts Center in downtown Framingham.
Matt Wilson is the executive director of the statewide arts advocacy organization MASSCreative.