We’ve got to have art

Our cultural organizations need us because we need them

THE IMPACT OF arts and cultural programs on our lives is not easily quantifiable. Whether we are in a museum, concert hall, or any other venue, enjoying art together is much more than a mere source of entertainment. It’s a way for us to collectively experience the human condition. The value that this brings to all of us, as human beings, cannot be overstated.

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted every facet of life all around the world, and that includes the arts. People across our world, country, and state have been laid off, through no fault of their own, because of the social distancing measures that are necessary to save lives and keep this pandemic in check.

In Massachusetts, the negative impacts on our arts and cultural organizations and the tourism they bring will have ripple effects throughout our economy. For this reason, I was proud to co-file recently two pieces of legislation, along with my Berkshire delegation partner John Barrett, to address the needs of cultural organizations and the food and hospitality sectors they directly support.

The first would establish a COVID-19 Nonprofit Cultural Organizations Emergency Relief fund of $75 million to fund grants for nonprofit cultural organizations that are experiencing financial hardship because of coronavirus. These grants would extend a much needed lifeline to arts and cultural nonprofit organizations across the Commonwealth. The second bill would create a similar $75 million COVID-19 Food Service and Hospitality Worker Relief Emergency Fund to provide grants to restaurant, hotel, and other workers in these industries that have been left unemployed because of the pandemic.

The Berkshires are a hub that people all over the world flock to in order to enjoy our cultural offerings. From the Norman Rockwell Museum to Shakespeare & Company to Mass MoCA to Tanglewood, our cultural organizations bring a vibrancy and joy to life that is unique to this little corner of the world.

However, the Berkshires are not alone in having an arts and cultural sector that is integral is to its character and economy. Arts organizations play an important role across the Commonwealth in shaping the identity of Massachusetts and supporting its economy. From the Berkshires to Boston to Plymouth and Provincetown, travelers from all over the globe come to Massachusetts to take part in the rich history and culture that can only be found here.

For many in Massachusetts, arts and culture are not only a way of life, but they are also a way to make a living. This is also true for the hotels, restaurants, and shops that depend on catering to tourists and visitors who come for our year round and seasonal cultural attractions.

In 2018, the leisure, hospitality, and tourism industry employed 376,000 workers, generated over $28 billion in economic output, and produced $1.6 billion in state and local taxes. An additional 232,000 jobs and $41 billion in economic output were created in other industries that benefit from these sectors. Our economy is an ecosystem with arts, culture, and tourism being significant contributors to its health and well-being.

Providing funds directly to hospitality workers will grant much needed relief to industries that have almost completely shut down for the sake of the greater public health. Though more may be needed in time, these two emergency funds would be a great start towards the relief and long-term stabilization of key sectors of our economy that have been shaken to the core.

Not only would the grants help our local cultural nonprofits cover expenses during this time that the pandemic has caused them to cease operations, this assistance would be a valuable stimulus to allow them to hit the ground running once social distancing measures have been lifted. Every measure we can take to get arts and cultural organizations up and running as quickly as possible, once it is safe, will also go far in providing economic activity for the restaurants, hotels, and shops that depend on the tourism that these organizations bring to the Commonwealth.

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The final benefit cannot be measured in terms of economic output. Once the dust settles and we are allowed to once again meet in person, we will all crave the contact with one another that we have been deprived of during this time of social isolation. We will need to express. We will need to be distracted. We will need to connect. We will need to listen. We will need to be entertained. We will need to laugh. We will need to sing. We will need to cry. We will need to heal.

The arts give us all of this, and we will need them after this pandemic more than ever.

Smitty Pignatelli is a state representative from Lenox.