NORTH ADAMS -- The arts can no longer afford to be publicly perceived as a luxury or leisure activity if art and cultural organizations want to survive in the future. This was the message MASSCreative Executive Director Matthew Wilson brought to some 42 cultural institutions during an informational meeting at Mass MoCA on Monday.
MASSCreative, which will formally debut Oct. 1 with a kick-off celebration in Wor cester, is a private nonprofit that aims to advocate for funding and legislation for arts and cultural institutions on the federal, state and local levels.
"We need to shift the general public view of the arts from being from nice to necessary; from private entertainment to public necessity; from ‘per taste' to public value," he said, explaining the impetus behind the organization. "When this organization was started 2 1 2 years ago, it was based on the realization that this [arts and cultural] community has a lot of passion, but not a strong political voice."
Wilson, who was hired as executive director five months ago, said his background of campaign and political organization resides in environmental lobbying.
"I remember coming to North Adams when this was an old contaminated building that residents were concerned about. But out of that contaminated property comes this world class arts museum," he said. "We've seen what advocacy can do."
Changing public perception about the arts won't happen overnight,
"That's not enough. Look at the environmental movement. Certainly it had its grasstops, but its real strength came from its grassroots. It came from the Sierra Club's 1 million members. It came from Green Peace's 5 million members. It came from MassPIRG's 50,000 members," he said.
"Ordinary folks said ‘I care about clean water, about open space, about clean air. I'm going to think about this when I vote.' It's that depth of ordinary folks caring that gives the environmental movement strength. It's not just the environmental movement. It's the women's movement. It's the LGBT movement. It's the civil rights movement. That's what makes change."
The good thing, he said, is the arts and cultural community is already one of the most organized and networked.
"We're set up to do it," he said. "I have lists. Our task is to figure out how to start engaging the people on those lists."
To make an impact, MASSCreative has created a draft plan that calls for four initiatives to increase funding and change public perception of the arts.
One initiative will call on state lawmakers to increase funding to the Massachusetts Cultural Council by 25 percent, raising it from $9.5 million to $12.5 million.
"Just 10 years ago, the funding was at $19 million," Wilson said. "We have a lot of politicians that say they are champions of the arts, but when it comes down to it, those who say they are supporters often see arts funding as the easiest thing to decrease.
"We also have a candidate running for president who says he'll cut funding to the National Endowment for the Arts in half," he said of Mitt Romney.
On the local level, he said MASSCreative would ask municipalities to match state allocations to local Cultural Councils.
Another funding goal would be to have the state Massa chusetts Cultural Facilities Fund reauthorized for another seven years and increase its annual funding to $10 million a year.
Berkshire Creative Director Jodi Joseph questioned how the group came to that funding goal.
"When the Cultural Facilities Fund was established, it was expected to give out $10 million annually," Wilson said. "It hasn't. It has given out $5 million a year. We're asking for it to do what it was intended to do."
The group would also advocate for legislation to provide funding or benefits for individual artists and substance for designated cultural districts. It will also call for the state university system to include one year of arts education as a general admission standard.
"They changed the standard for science from one year to three years and it literally reshaped the state core curriculum," he said. "We know of 10 states that already have this requirement."
For more information, visit www.mass-creative.org.
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email email@example.com.