Task Force Proposes Agenda for State's Cultural Groups

May 10, 2004

Boston – A significant investment in the state’s cultural facilities – in its theaters, historic houses, museums, and arts centers – is the greatest need of the cultural community, according to a report released today by a group of leaders from the state's corporate, nonprofit, public and philanthropic sectors.   The group behind the report, the Cultural Task Force, called for a sustained state investment in a capital grants program, which would leverage even greater funding by the private sector.  The report states that, based on a statewide survey, more than $1.1 billion is needed for the repair, improvement or expansion of existing cultural facilities, and for new building projects currently planned by cultural organizations throughout the Commonwealth over the next five years.

The report is called Culture Is Our Common Wealth: An Action Agenda to Enhance Revenues and Resources for Massachusetts Cultural Organizations.  The report’s findings and recommendations describe how, through collective action, greater public investment, and targeted private and corporate giving, our communities will be able to provide better support for our cultural organizations.  The work of the Cultural Task Force also highlights the need for widespread engagement in ongoing advocacy on behalf of our cultural assets. The report is available online at www.tbf.org/culture.  The web version contains the entire report, a link to the Boston Foundations Arts Fund, and links to related online resources.

In addition to the need for significant new state investment in cultural facilities, the Task Force highlighted two other high priority changes that would have a substantial impact on the cultural sector.  Cultural tourism holds enormous potential for creating new jobs and generating earnings growth and new tax revenues in the Commonwealth.  When cultural organizations are able to join forces with travel-related businesses and government agencies, working together to attract the cultural tourist, the results will be enhanced performances for everyone involved.  The third recommended action step calls for an increased investment in the service and advocacy organizations serving the cultural sector with programs such as management and fundraising assistance, to enhance the sector’s cohesion, impact, and management capacity.

“As this report makes clear, the Commonwealth has to come up with a sustained capital grants program to respond to the capital funding needs of the cultural community,” said Paul S. Grogan, President of the Boston Foundation.  “This sector now has direct annual spending of over  $1 billion, including payroll and local vendors.  It’s time we begin making an investment to keep this sector healthy and growing. The report outlines a range of possible ways the state could fund these program, but the important thing is to recognize that now is the time for action – and for a new level of investment.”

The report was released at an event at the Boston Center for the Arts, with a keynote address by Robert Lynch, President and CEO of Americans for the Arts, a national advocacy organization that advances the arts.  Co-chairs of the Cultural Task Force, Ann McQueen, the Boston Foundation’s Program Officer for Arts and Culture, and David W. Ellis, President Emeritus of the Museum of Science and Senior Fellow at the Boston Foundation, presented the Task Force findings.

The Boston Foundation convened the Cultural Task Force at the urging of the cultural community to respond to the findings of the Foundation’s earlier report, Funding for Cultural Organizations in Boston and Nine Other Metropolitan Areas, released in February 2003.  The earlier report documented a local cultural sector that rivals that of larger cities, but also noted that our cultural organizations suffer from a lack of support from corporate, foundation and government sources.

While the earlier research described the problem, this report describes solutions.  The Cultural Task Force members, made up of 64 leaders from the nonprofit, philanthropic, academic, community development, corporate, and public sectors, met from April 2003 through March 2004.  Their goal was to identify the strategies with the greatest potential to support all parts of the cultural sector, from smaller arts organizations to major cultural institutions, and to set forth an action agenda for changing how government, corporations, individuals and private philanthropies invest in our state’s cultural assets – to develop a blueprint for action and for lasting change.

The Task Force conducted its work through five committees.  The Collaboration committee explored ways to leverage current resources by deepening alliances within the cultural community and developing cross-sector partnerships.  The Philanthropy committee considered numerous ways to increase giving to the cultural sector.  The Facilities and Travel/Tourism groups explored key areas that are prime for action and change.  And the Public Policy committee applied a legislative lens to the issues explored by all of the committees in order to identify areas in which policy and practice can be improved to enhance the operating and funding environment for cultural nonprofits across the state.

The committee focused on Cultural Facilities conducted a statewide survey, cosponsored by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Massachusetts Advocates for the Arts, Sciences and Humanities (MAASH), and the Boston Foundation, to determine how great the need was for repaired, expanded, and new facilities.  The web-based survey identified 123 cultural organizations across the state that are planning to spend $1.1 billion over the next five years for the repair, improvement or expansion of existing facilities and for new building projects.  A significant portion of this total – almost $303.5 million, will be needed to cover the expenses of deferred maintenance, repairs, and code compliance.  The report states that the maintenance and deferred maintenance needs alone of the state’s cultural organizations statewide is likely to exceed $1 billion.

The positive benefits of realizing these projects are illuminated through the success of MASS MoCA, where an investment of state funding led directly to jobs, economic growth, and increased community pride.  Without early state dollars for this contemporary art museum, North Adams would likely still be a dying town, not the thriving destination for visitors, center of job growth, and great place to live and bring up children that it is today.

The Facilities committee noted that there are roles for numerous players in improving Massachusetts’ cultural facilities, including state and municipal leaders, the cultural community itself, individual donors and funders, commercial and nonprofit developers, architects, and other concerned citizens.  Increased philanthropic giving, as well as the implementation of state and local laws and policies that support the development or adaptive reuse of cultural buildings, were said to be key to fully realizing the potential of large and small cultural organizations.

To ensure that cultural facilities are safe, affordable and accessible, the entire Cultural Task Force called on the state to take the lead by providing a significant pool of investment dollars.  “A substantial, sustained state investment in a capital grants program is crucial to providing a portion of the funds required for planning, repairs, code compliance, expansion, and new construction,” noted Ann McQueen.  “New state funding for cultural facilities will leverage increased private support and will be an investment in jobs, economic growth, and community vitality.”

The committee focusing on the potential synergies between the cultural sector and the Travel and Tourism industry began by examining the impact of cultural institutions on travel and tourism.  In 2002, Massachusetts’ historic and cultural organizations and programs attracted more than 26 million visitors who spent $11.7 billion.  Tourist visits to the Commonwealth, however, have decreased since September 11, 2001, a trend that is not mirrored in other cities.  The fact that visits to Philadelphia increased in this same time period drew the committee’s attention to that city’s collaborative planning and marketing efforts, which have resulted in more than $300 million in public and private investments.  Similar findings were noted in Seattle and Washington, DC.

Noting the importance of collaborative planning, programming and marketing, the Travel and Tourism committee recommended focusing on two key, interlocking ingredients for success – collaboration and market research – to leverage Massachusetts’ significant cultural assets into a stronger cultural tourism economy. It pointed out that open lines of communication between cultural and travel industry leaders across the sate could set the stage for long-term collaborations.  It also suggested that the two sectors could develop new and productive ways to collect, share, and disseminate market data that could sserve as an action platform for joint marketing, programming, and advocacy.

The Collaboration committee reviewed best practices across the country, identifying two principal types of collaboration among cultural organizations: programmatic and functional.  The report emphasized that successful collaborations are grounded in a clear understanding of all partners’ skills and assets, and an awareness of sector trends.  The report provided examples of the need for donors to be supportive, especially in the planning stages, of the staff time needed to develop effective partnerships.  The committee also recognized the potential for high visibility, high impact partnerships with the public sector – cities, towns, and even federal agencies – that could leverage access to sites for extraordinary public performances and exhibitions.  When successful, the report noted, collaborations can create stronger organizations, a unified sector, enhanced public programs, improved local economies, and stronger communities.

The Philanthropy committee highlighted the importance of diverse sources of funding to the fiscal health of cultural nonprofit organizations.  Since the average cultural organization earns about half of its annual budget from shop and ticket sales and facility rentals, the balance must be contributed by individuals, foundations, corporations and government.  The committee conducted a survey to better understand donors in Massachusetts.  Released in December 2003, the UMASS poll found that 78% of respondents wanted to live in communities in which corporations and local businesses actively support arts and cultural organizations, suggesting that nonprofits can make a compelling case for increased corporate support through a strong ‘return-on-investment’ argument.  The survey also found that 85% of individual donors prefer to give anonymously, a habit that is also practiced by some foundations.  The committee noted that this practice doesn’t encourage additional giving by others as much as gifts that are acknowledged publicly.

The Philanthropy committee also noted that although public sector support is, on average, only about 11% of any given cultural organization’s budget, it is crucial to the overall mix of funding.  Along with providing a ‘seal of approval,’ state support, through the Massachusetts Cultural Council, stimulates and leverages additional giving with grants that must be matched by other donations.

Pointing out that the support, development, and maintenance of our cultural resources are community responsibilities, the Public Policy committee suggested they be balanced between government at all levels, business, and individuals. "Arts and culture make substantial economic, social, and educational contributions to our communities," said Dan Hunter, Director of the Massachusetts Advocates for the Arts, Sciences and Humanities.  "Our public policy must capitalize on our cultural resources for the benefit of all of the people of the Commonwealth."

The committee recommended that the state work with the cultural community to develop significant sources of public and private funding for investment in cultural facilities through capital grants for repairs and improvements, building code compliance, and new and expanded facilities.  It suggested that state and local governments should adopt legislation and regulations – such as the Charitable Contribution Tax Deduction – to enhance the operating environment, as well as expand revenue and resources, for all segments of the cultural community.  The report also called on governments to invest in infrastructure projects, such as roads, sidewalks, parking, and signage that improve public access to cultural organizations, and to advocate for laws, policies and regulations, including zoning and building codes, that support the development of safe, affordable cultural facilities.

In addition, the Public Policy Committee called for public support for increased investment in arts education for K-12 students in school, and increased after-school opportunities.  The state can assist in achieving these goals by assessing arts learning, making the arts a graduation requirement, and providing professional development for educators in the teaching value of the arts.

The Task Force also yielded an unexpected dividend.  “There was one outcome that was not really expected.  At the beginning of the project, as might have been anticipated, there was a certain amount of ‘what's in it for me’ on the part of participants,” said Task Force co-chair David Ellis.  “But, as we watched, the conversation changed, and we began to recognize some significant themes.  We saw that the cultural sector was beginning to have a new sense of itself as a whole, as a sector or industry with common concerns, and an understanding that no matter the size or the programmatic focus of the organization, we all operate in a common social, fiscal and regulatory environment.  Again and again, people around the table articulated the need to link the cultural sector to issues such as cultural tourism, economic development, and affordable housing.  And, finally, we heard a growing understanding of the need to tell the story of each cultural institution and of the aggregated impact of the cultural sector.”

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The Boston Foundation, one of the nation’s oldest and largest community foundations, has an endowment of almost $650 million, made grants of  $48 million to nonprofit organizations, and received gifts of $38 million last year. The Boston Foundation is made up of 750 separate charitable funds, which have been established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes. The Boston Foundation also serves as a civic leader, convener, and sponsor of special initiatives designed to build community. For more information about the Boston Foundation and its grant making, visit www.tbf.org, or call 617-338-1700.