Adam Hinds and Anita Walker: Cultural Facilities Fund expansion a Berkshire boost

Adam Hinds and Anita Walker: Cultural Facilities Fund expansion a Berkshire boost

Posted Tuesday, July 10, 2018 4:39 pm
BOSTON — Across Western Massachusetts museums, theaters, music halls, and art studios are among our most cherished icons, centers for creativity and civic life, and engines for our local economies. It's easy to forget that the structures that house these vital nonprofits exist only with a supportive community of philanthropists who believe in their public mission. Thankfully the Commonwealth and its citizens are part of that community through a national model capital program, the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund.

CFF has had an outsized impact in Western Mass. This year the Cultural Facilities Fund brought $875,000 to cultural facilities in the Berkshires. Recently, the CFF helped Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Becket and Shakespeare & Co. in Lenox expand education spaces for our region's schoolchildren, spurred restoration of the Mahaiwe Theatre in Great Barrington, and catalyzed private investment in downtown Pittsfield with timely grants to the Colonial Theatre and Barrington Stage Co. CFF grants have also helped organizations like the Norman Rockwell Museum and Berkshire Historical Society upgrade their historic buildings to become more accessible to adults and children with disabilities.

Since its establishment in a 2007 economic stimulus bill, the CFF has invested $110 million in 853 projects across the Commonwealth. Statewide these organizations already employ more than 7,000 workers, have hired 25,513 architects, designers, engineers, and construction workers for their projects, and plan to add 2,200 new permanent jobs after completing them. In restoring and expanding many of our nation's most treasured historical and cultural landmarks, CFF has driven new tourism, Massachusetts' third largest industry and a key pillar of our Berkshires economy. About 16 million people annually visit these sites across the Commonwealth, with one third coming from out of state. Thank you, New Yorkers!

Ensuring the CFF is sustainable and successful requires bipartisan work, which includes a recent $10 million allocation in the Baker Administration's FY19 capital spending plan for the new fiscal year that began on July 1.

But we must go further. We know that demand for these dollars continues to outpace supply: last year 169 organizations surveyed by Mass Cultural Council reported $114 million in capital expenses — just through next year.

One way to expand reach that is through economic development legislation currently making its way through the Legislature. That bond bill aims to give the Cultural Facilities Fund new life by reauthorizing it at $60 million, or roughly $12 million annually over five years. We will work with the Berkshire House legislative delegation and the cultural tourism sector statewide to support an amendment to the economic development bill to boost the Cultural Facilities Fund reauthorization to $75 million.

Strategic and relatively small increases for programs that bring big benefits to our economy, our communities, and the quality of life we enjoy in Berkshire County are just what we need. That is why the expanding the Cultural Facilities Fund is so critical.

Adam Hinds is the state Senator for the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin & Hampden District in the Massachusetts Senate. He serves as the Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts & Cultural Development and the Senate vice chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies.

Anita Walker is the executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the state agency that promotes excellence, inclusion, education, and diversity in the arts, humanities, and sciences to foster a rich cultural life for all Massachusetts residents and contributes to the vitality of our communities and economy.