By JOHN N. GARFIELD JR. AND JAMES RUSSELL
The arts are an essential facet of our daily lives and form a vital component of the local economy.
Recent state and federal grant awards to the whaling museum are a case in point. A recent front-page article in this paper (Oct. 31) announced the Massachusetts delegation’s success in securing $1.5 million in federal funding for the Bourne Building, again engaging local construction services and creating jobs.
The grant was actively supported by Sens. Paul Kirk and John Kerry, Congressman Barney Frank and Mayor Scott Lang. It will be administered through the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park — highlighting the great positive value of having this national park in the downtown.
The museum has directed a state-awarded, $617,000, donor-matched grant to hire a local construction company for a major renovation of the historic Bourne Building. State Sen. Mark Montigny and state Reps. Antonio Cabral, John Quinn, Stephen Canessa and Robert Koczera have actively supported this program through the state Cultural Facilities Fund.
A $147,000 grant from the Federal Institute for Museum and Library Services will allow the museum to hire two additional employees to catalog the recently acquired collection of Merchants Bank records.
For several years, the U.S. Department of Education has provided significant funding through Education through Cultural and Historical Organizations (ECHO), ensuring high-impact educational programming for thousands of local schoolchildren at the whaling museum and New Bedford Oceanarium. And across Bristol County, $347,000 in Massachusetts Cultural Council grants will support 57 schools and cultural organizations, including the whaling museum.
Projects in the cultural sector might not be as visible as highway construction, but each investment by the state or federal government helps build the creative economy and creates jobs here in our community.
None of these investments would have happened without the support of our elected officials.
Government initiatives like these illustrate just how important arts organizations are to the local economy. Investment in the arts and cultural sector pays enormous dividends: It attracts visitors to our community, strengthens our local economy, and enhances the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of local residents.
Residents and businesses in our community value the arts enough to invest countless volunteer hours and millions of dollars in personal donations or sponsorships. In the last 15 years, annual contributions to arts organizations in Bristol County have increased from $4.5 million to an astonishing $19 million. As a consequence, the number of arts organizations in the county has grown by nearly 50 percent.
These nonprofits run on volunteerism, further leveraging their financial investment. For example, volunteer efforts at the whaling museum translate to $336,000 in savings annually.
This, combined with federal, state and local government funding, is where the economic impact starts to be significant. The message we send to our elected officials is that by combining smart government investment with individual philanthropy, we accelerate new economic activity.
And New Bedford has a strategic advantage: Our cultural organizations work collaboratively — with each other, and with local government — finding common ground to mutually support diverse programs and activities for the community.
Government investment in the arts is smart, it is efficient, it creates jobs, and it keeps the fabric of our communities bound together during the worst recession since 1929.
(submitted to www.southcoasttoday.com)