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As Governor Candidates Meet, A Plan To Make Mass. A National Arts Leader

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How can Massachusetts become a national leader in the arts?

That’s one of the questions being mulled as gubernatorial candidates meet for a public forum at Hanover Theatre of the Performing Arts in Worcester at 6 p.m. tonight to discuss their visions for arts and culture in the state.

Democrats Don Berwick, Attorney General Martha Coakley and Treasurer Steve Grossman; Republican Mark Fisher; United Independent Party candidate Evan Falchuk; and independent Jeff McCormick are expected to participate in the forum, which is organized by Create the Vote, a coalition driven by the arts advocacy group MassCreative. MassCreative reports that Republican candidate Charlie Baker said he won’t be there and it’s “not heard anything from” independent candidate Scott Lively.

Meanwhile the arts advocacy group Massachusetts Artists Leaders Coalition has released its own arts and culture plan that it hopes will help shape the candidates’ culture platforms.

“We’re looking at the whole organism. Nobody’s ever done a [cultural] plan for the whole state,” says Kathleen Bitetti, a Boston artist and co-founder and steering committee member of the group.

Massachusetts Artists Leaders Coalition calls for the next governor “to be a champion for our entire sector.” They call for increased cultural funding, support for arts education, creation of affordable live and work spaces for artists, and promotion of artists rights. (See the whole plan here and here.)

The group also calls for promoting art made here internationally through trade missions, exchanges with the European Union, and public art. “Once you get the nuts and bolts down,” Bitetti says, “it’s the need to push the state to be a leader in the sector.”

Bitetti describes the plan as “an artist-centered cultural policy for the state.”

“That’s the first time it’s being done by artists,” Bitetti says. “The people who are leading our sector are not artists.”

A key aspect of the plan—which would be new at the state level—is support for artists’ rights and fair trade, Bitetti says. “The people that create the culture need to be treated fairly,” Bitetti says. She points to a proposal to create a state poet laureate—with no funding for the job. “They shouldn’t be asked to do it for free. … It’s ridiculous. That’s why we’re talking about fair trade,” Bitetti says. Not paying people makes arts and culture more exclusive by preventing participation by people who can’t afford to do it for free, she says. “Most of us artists have to have other jobs because it’s expected you do the art for free,” Bitetti says. “The whole system is based on the unpaid and underpaid labor of artists.”

Last fall’s Boston mayoral race was a try out for MassCreative’s efforts to boost government support of arts and culture via electoral campaigns. It was a clear success—from candidate participation at the well-attended forums to the platforms the candidates ran on to moves the victor, new Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, has made to support the arts. It helped that key people already in the campaigns—for example, Walsh supporters Joyce Linehan (now Walsh’s chief of policy) and Bitetti—already were longtime, deeply-committed arts people.

The governor’s race seems to be more of an uphill effort for arts advocates—signified by leading Republican candidate Charlie Baker’s decision to not participate in tonight’s forum.

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