Arts + Policy

Arts + Policy

Film tax credit sunset looms

Film tax credit sunset looms

Rodrigues: ‘I still have concerns about the cost’

THE CHAIR OF THE SENATE WAYS AND MEANS Committee sounds as if he is in no hurry to eliminate the sunset provision contained in the state’s film tax credit law.

The tax credit, launched in 2006 and scheduled to sunset on December 31, 2022, has been the focus of a number of attempts to eliminate it or pare it back. All of those efforts failed because they required passing new legislation that was blocked in the House, where support for the film tax credit is strong. But now proponents of the tax credit need to pass legislation to eliminate the sunset provision, and Rodrigues, who has favored paring back the film tax credit in the past, indicated in an interview that his feelings about the credit have not changed.

“I still have concerns about the cost of the film tax credit,” he said. “I still have concerns on whether or not the Commonwealth is getting adequate return on its investments in the film industry.”

The film tax credit offers anyone shooting films, TV shows, or commercials in Massachusetts a credit equal to 25 percent of whatever they spend. The credits can be converted into cash by either selling them back to the state at 90 percent of their face value or by selling them to a corporation or individual with a large tax liability in Massachusetts.

Even though the film tax credit is not scheduled to sunset until the end of 2022, backers say the uncertainty about the credit’s future could lead to diminished investments by movie makers in Massachusetts over the next few years.

David Hartman, director of the Massachusetts Production Coalition, issued a statement saying the film tax credit has created thousands of jobs and supported businesses in 265 Massachusetts municipalities.

“Massachusetts workers and businesses in the state’s film production industry are grateful to the Legislature for their years of support that have helped make Massachusetts a leading filmmaking destination,” he said. “As the looming end date of the production incentive program puts these jobs, and the families that depend on them, at risk, we look forward to working with legislative leaders to protect – and expand – the good-paying jobs and business opportunities that the film industry creates in Massachusetts. With the exponential growth in streaming content produced by Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, Apple TV+, and others, Massachusetts has a critical opportunity to continue to attract multi-year episodic series that will create even more jobs and business opportunities in the future.”

Rodrigues said he continues to have concerns about the cost of the tax credit, but he stressed that the Senate as a whole has not discussed the issue in a long time and no decision has been reached about what to do. He noted the film tax credit is very popular with many members of the House and Senate.

“Remember, a tax credit is like a grant,” Rodrigues said. “The data seem to prove that it’s very expensive, that it does not create many full-time equivalent jobs. There’s a burst of activity during a particular filming and then activity ceases when the film goes away. The credits tend to benefit out-of-state residents.”

Aquarium not making in-lieu-of-tax cash payments to Boston

Aquarium not making in-lieu-of-tax cash payments to Boston

Says no other aquarium or zoo in the US makes such contributions

THE NEW ENGLAND AQUARIUM, suggesting nonprofit cultural institutions like itself are already contributing enough, says it won’t be making any in-lieu-of-tax cash payments to the city of Boston this fiscal year.

In a letter to the city’s assessor, Eric Krauss, the aquarium’s executive vice president, said the nonprofit institution is an essential component of the cultural and economic fabric of the city, providing substantial but “difficult to quantify” benefits. Making cash payments to the city, he suggested, would be a heavy burden.

“Please note that no other nonprofit aquarium or zoo in the United States makes any payments to any governmental body related to its nonprofit operations,” Kraus said. “More than 70 percent of our fellow institutions receive some form of local, county, or state government financial support for their day-to-day operations. On average, government support for those institutions represents one-third of their annual operating budget. We receive no such support.”

Boston’s payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, program was launched in 2012. The voluntary initiative is an attempt to recover some of the cost of city services from nonprofits that are tax-exempt. Every year nonprofits with property in Boston valued at more than $15 million are asked to pay 25 percent of what they would have owed had their properties been on the tax roll. Half of the payment can come in the form of in-kind contributions, the other half in cash.

The city’s cultural institutions always lag behind education and medical nonprofits in complying with the city’s request. The 10 institutions classified as cultural entities in the city’s PILOT program paid a total of  59 percent of the total payments for which they were billed in fiscal 2019, compared to 92 percent for Boston’s medical institutions and 71 percent for its educational institutions.  This distribution has remained consistent through the years.

The PILOT program is a touchy subject for many of the city’s cultural institutions.  Like the New England Aquarium, the Museum of Science, the Children’s Museum, and the Institute of Contemporary Art make no cash payments to the city’s PILOT program. The Museum of Fine Arts contributed 6.4 percent of the cash contribution it was billed this year. By contrast, the Boston Symphony Orchestra has been paying the full 100 percent cash and in-kind contribution billed by the city since the program’s inception back in 2012.  That amounted to $118,000 in cash in fiscal year 2019.

“The Boston Symphony Orchestra is committed to making its voluntary PILOT contributions each year and to supporting the many services so important to the BSO,” says Mark Volpe, the president and CEO.

Vikki Spruill, the New England Aquarium’s president, said in letter to the city’s assessor earlier this year that the voluntary payments requested by the city are too much, given the organization’s small endowment and its limited flexibility on revenues and costs. “Meeting the city’s expectation for PILOT payments would be extraordinarily difficult and could impair planned operations and necessary capital improvements,” she said.

The aquarium was credited with making $231,000 worth of in-kind contributions in fiscal 2019, but it has never made any cash payments to the city.

While both cash and in-kind payments are valuable to the city, cash contributions, which are the city’s sixth largest source of revenue, are the most advantageous, according to officials.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says he recognizes that the cultural institutions play an invaluable role in the life of the city.  “Of course we always want to see improvements in their voluntary PILOT contributions so that we can continue to provide them with the same high level of city services,” he says.

Daphne Kenyon of the Lincoln Institute on Land Policy in Cambridge isn’t persuaded by such arguments.  “I reject their idea that the cultural institutions do a lot for the community and therefore they shouldn’t have to pay, because schools and hospitals do a lot for the community as well and they pay in,” says Kenyon, who has done considerable research on the operation of PILOT programs.

Sam Tyler, the former president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a business-backed group that monitors city finances, supports the cultural institutions’ position of providing less cash and more in-kind contributions.  “I think the city should be flexible in allowing greater than the standard 50 percent credit for them,” he says.  “In fact, in some instances, no PILOT cash payments may be justified.”

DCR begins charging Community Boating rent

DCR begins charging Community Boating rent

Starts at $5,000 a year, rises to $50,000 after 9 years

COMMUNITY BOATING INC., the nonprofit public sailing center located on the banks of the Charles River in Boston, is now paying rent to the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The rental agreement represents the first time the sailing center has ever paid anything more than a token rent to the state agency that owns the land on which the center sits. Indeed, Community Boating operated for the last 10 years under a rent-free agreement that expired in 2010.

The rent under the new agreement starts out at $5,000 a year and then increases over the next nine years until it maxes out at $50,000.

State Auditor Suzanne Bump, who has been critical in past audits of DCR’s lackadaisical management of its leases and permits, issued a statement saying the Community Boating agreement is a “small step toward addressing a big problem. I encourage [DCR] to take steps to ensure all leases are current and, more importantly, put in place protections to ensure this problem doesn’t reemerge in the future.”

DCR, the largest landowner in the state, declined comment on the lease agreement, which was obtained under a public records request.

Charles Zechel, the executive director of Community Boating, said he didn’t know why it took so long to develop a rental agreement, but he raised concerns about imposing financial burdens on a nonprofit whose mission is to introduce sailing to people from all walks of life.

“Anything that makes accomplishing our important mission more difficult is an extra burden,” Zechel said.  “I think we shouldn’t have to pay anything, but that’s just me.”

Community Boating was launched in the late 1930s by Joseph Lee Jr. as a way to introduce the sport of sailing to poor residents of Boston. According to a history of Community Boating written in 2010 by Zechel and two co-authors that was published by the National Maritime Historical Society, Lee was alarmed that the Charles River basin (created with donations from his aunt, Helen Osbourne Storrow) had become a playground of the wealthy.

Determined to open the basin to a larger audience, Lee pushed and prodded a reluctant Metropolitan District Commission, the predecessor of DCR, to allow Community Boating to use state property. He and his boats even squatted on state land initially. After years of political maneuvering, lawmakers in 1940 authorized the Metropolitan District Commission to extend a lease to Community Boating at a cost of $1 a year and build the group a boathouse using funds donated to the state by the wife of James Jackson Storrow.

Community Boating today serves thousands of adult and junior members who pay fees based on income level. According to Community Boating’s website, the organization typically provides free services to youth sailors that would be valued at $200,000 a year.

Artists, gallery owners debate rules of selling art

Artists, gallery owners debate rules of selling art

Provincetown Licensing Board gets an earful

 THE PROVINCETOWN LICENSING BOARD held a hearing this week on who should be able to sell art in town, and the panel got an earful from artists and gallery owners.

About 75 people crammed into the town hall’s meeting room on Tuesday night to hear testimony on whether it’s fair that coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and other establishments can exhibit and sell art without complying with any of the rules and regulations that apply to galleries.

Carol Santos, a member of the licensing board, explained what prompted the hearing. “This meeting originated in June when a gallery owner came before the board to explain how he, and several other gallery owners, consider the sale of art lacks equity,” Santos said. “We also read about this contention on Facebook and heard lots of vitriolic gossip among the art scene players. So, here we are.”

Many members of the crowd complained loudly when board chair Frank Thompson set a three-minute speaking limit for all witnesses but gave gallery owner Ray Wiggs, who came before the board in June, 15 minutes.  Thompson called Wiggs the hearing’s originator.

“Galleries do want art hung everywhere as long as it is legal and not threatening the health of the galleries that once exclusively brought hordes of tourists in pursuit of art,” Wiggs said. “That whining over my getting more speaking time after I made this hearing happen? It shows no respect for long-established, income-generating galleries. It shows the board is dictated by a mob-rule mentality.”

Wiggs and other gallery owners have suggested that retail establishments selling art should be licensed and take no more than a 10 percent cut of any sale. Wiggs also insisted that galleries should sell only “fine art,” while retail and restaurants should be allowed to sell everything else.

Wiggs received no support during the public testimony, which lasted 90 minutes.

Christine McCarthy, the CEO of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, delivered a spirited defense of allowing artists to sell their art wherever they want.

Christine McCarthy of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum.

“The gallery proposal demands that only ‘fine art’ can be shown in galleries and not allowed in unregulated establishments,” she said. “I’m constantly being hammered with the question from artists of ‘How do I get into a gallery?’ ‘What is fine art?’ My answer? I have no idea and I bet the board and the galleries don’t have a clue. This is the hometown of art in America, forget the rules and regulations. Let’s just show and sell it for the artist’s sake!”

Photographer Marion Roth said she needed places to show her work to reach an audience. “Exposure! We must show our work everywhere we can,” she said. “To put it in a place other than a gallery isn’t exploitation, it’s life sustenance to an artist. It’s also keeping our community economically vibrant.”

Artist Peter Hawkins said the town’s policy for a century has been “out of your home or anywhere else in town you’re freely allowed to sell fish and art. That idea should stick!”

Santos said at the end of the hearing that the licensing board will probably decide by the end of the year whether any rules and regulations will change.

Provincetown gallery owners cry foul

Provincetown gallery owners cry foul

Say other venues selling art not held to same standards

Second in a series. To read the first installment, click here.

PROVINCETOWN ART GALLERY owners are rising up to protest what they consider unfair competition from bars, restaurants, inns, coffee shops, and even lawyer’s offices and yoga studios that are selling paintings and other pieces of art as a sideline to their main business.

The gallery owners are sympathetic to the desire of artists who want additional venues where they can sell their work, but they say it’s not fair that the galleries are subject to licensing rules that don’t apply to these other businesses. For example, gallery owners need to acquire an art sales license that restricts what they can charge, where they can be located, and any side businesses they operate.

“If my gallery’s art doesn’t sell, I can’t make extra income from selling food or teaching yoga in my gallery,” said Ray Wiggs, a gallery owner and artist. “Gallery license regulations don’t allow that.”

In exhaustion and frustration over what he and many gallery owners consider an unfair playing field, Wiggs, who has become the unofficial spokesman for the gallery community, went before the town’s licensing board in June to demand the board take a long overdue look at what many gallery owners consider an economic and cultural threat.

The Provincetown Licensing Board is holding a “workshop” Tuesday evening to hear opinions from all sides on whether these other establishments selling art need regulation.

Art is a big deal in Provincetown. About 60 percent of Provincetown’s 3,000 year-round residents are artists, writers, sculptors, playwrights, poets, and musicians. There are currently 20 upscale galleries on Commercial Street, Provincetown’s 3-mile-long main street. Approximately 50 lower-end galleries are in parts of town off the main thoroughfare.

The galleries attract loads of tourists and shoppers, and help make Provincetown the summertime mecca it is. “Art is what supports Ptown’s economy. It’s been that way since 1899 when the Cape Cod School of Art opened here,” Wiggs said.

But the gallery owners say their businesses are being hammered by a wide variety of establishments that are doing the same thing without any of the same rules applying.

Wiggs describes the art interlopers as “piggy-backing” on gallery success. “I’ve witnessed 16 galleries go down because the owners are worn-out by losing income to inns and restaurants and how jewelry stores and craft shops refer to themselves as galleries and hold ‘art openings,’” he said.

According to Wiggs, a pizza restaurant posted 200 signs marketing its art with the line: “We’re cheaper than the galleries.”

Wiggs contacted town officials to let them know about the illegal sign postings, but no action was taken. “However, the town won’t allow any food vending trucks to work the busy summer streets because they don’t want the sales to hurt the restaurant business. What we need is a level playing field,” said Wiggs.

Artists do face some restrictions on where and how they can sell their art. If selling on the street, only six art pieces can be for sale, with one work in progress. Nothing can be sold after 11 p.m.

By law, artists selling on the street or out of a home, an in-town studio, or in a retail establishment need a state seller’s permit and a federal identification number.  Retail establishments selling art must meet the same requirements.

“In the six years I’ve lived here, I haven’t found anyone who has either,” Wiggs said. “But galleries? We can’t open our door without all sorts of pre-paid permits.”

Wiggs said his gallery is not just a business that supports him. He said his gallery is also an economic lifeline for many local artists. “I have worked with and built the income and opportunities of about 1,500 artists,” he said.

Several gallery owners say they don’t want to shut down the other establishments selling art as a sideline. Instead, they want to serve as art curators, soliciting works by artists and placing them in the other establishments. Under the proposal, the establishment would receive 15 percent of any sale while the gallery and artist would split the remainder.

“That way artists can take advantage of lots of places to show their work and lessen the obvious greed that’s going on commercially. It insults and infringes what should remain a viable part of the economy — galleries!” said Wiggs.

Marla Rice, owner of the Rice Polak Gallery, sees no conflict and no need for placing regulations on non-galleries selling art.

“Artists need and deserve any chance they get to sell their work,” she said. “For an artist to make it into a gallery is often a rare eureka! moment. I think most of the non-gallery crowd selling art is doing so to advocate for the artists. Unlike galleries, which usually take about 50 percent of the sale, other businesses take a much lower cut and some, nothing at all.”

Chris Busa, founder and editor of Provincetown Arts, a magazine he launched 35 years ago, agrees with Rice. “You look for allies as an artist. You do what you gotta do. Bottom line, it’s a free capitalist country and gallery art or not, this town truly supports the arts. It’s become a national model rivaling art meccas like SoHo or Santa Fe.”

A side of art with your cup of joe

A side of art with your cup of joe

Coffee shop ‘galleries’ offer opportunity for artists, cool vibe for owners

First of a series

AT CORPORATE COFFEE SHOPS such as Starbucks or Caffe Nero, you’re not going to see much decor other than a few plastic plants or books. But many independent stores are selling art with their coffee, adding some eye-catching paintings to their walls and providing artists with badly needed exhibition space.

Cambridge’s 1369 Coffee House has been exhibiting and selling art for some time, but two years ago owner Josh Gerber took it up a notch, hiring former barista and muralist Emma Leavitt as his arts curator. She looks for art that won’t dissuade customers from eating or drinking — work that is “sad or weirdly violent” — and that doesn’t contain nudity. Leavitt is paid $200 every two months for rotating art through Gerber’s two coffee shops in Cambridge. She takes a 20 percent commission for every piece of art that sells and also collects from the customer and remits to the state the 6.25 percent sales tax.

In 2018, Gerber’s two coffee shops sold $6,000 worth of art. Most pieces sold for between $30 and $150, but a single painting of a boat netted $2,200. The program is selling five times more art than before Leavitt took over. It’s so popular that artists are booked through October 2020.

“They’re coming out of the woodwork,” Leavitt said.

Gerber sees his art program as a win-win for him and the participating artists. “We’re not in the art business; we’re in the coffee business,” he said. “It’s more important to me to create a great environment for the store. We want to support artists. The work Emma does adds a lot of value to the shop.”

Many other coffee shops, as well as a wide assortment of other businesses, are jumping into art exhibition. In Central Square, Cambridge, where 1369 is located, the Greater Boston area and Somerville, stores with art programs include Petsi Pies, Diesel, Darwin’s, JP Licks, and Mariposa Bakery. The growth in art exhibition is occurring as galleries, maker spaces, and art studies are disappearing. Out of the Blue Art Gallery fled Central Square and Green Street Studios is shuttering.

1369 Coffee House curator Emma Leavitt holds up a recently framed artist description while talking about the shop’s art program. (Photo by Sarah Betancourt)

Leavitt doesn’t think the expansion of coffee shop art exhibition is causing the decline in galleries and more traditional art exhibition spaces. To the contrary, she says, retailers selling art from their walls are helping struggling artists who are finding it increasingly difficult to break into the business.

A CommonWealth review of Mass Space Finder, an Airbnb of sorts for artists looking for studios to work in, or work and live in, found very few options. One of the cheapest spaces in Roxbury charges $525 a month, and the space is split between two artists. Another in Jamaica Plain is $200 a day.

An artist space database maintained by the Boston Planning and Development Agency listed 48 art spaces — 28 for living and working and 21 for working only. But many of those spaces have strict requirements – artists, for example, have to obtain a city license, a process requiring expensive gallery showings. For most artists, paying the rent at home is enough, and having a studio to work in is like having a second rent.

Most of the artists exhibited by 1369 Coffee House have a separate full-time job and create art in their spare time. The coffee shop sales are a way to get noticed, gain recognition, and help pay the bills.

“It’s validating to get them their first sale,” Leavitt said. “This is the one place around here where they’re showing their commitment to art.”

Stephanie Cohen, 25, appreciated the chance to exhibit her anatomical work at 1369 Coffee House. She has a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Tufts University and a separate degree from the Museum of Fine Arts. She’s now in medical school, but she hasn’t given up on art. She often studied as an undergrad at 1369, and jumped at the chance to participate in its art program. She sold six pieces for a total of $500 and her work has attracted a bit of a following, including officials from a Cambridge biotech company that is now commissioning her to do some artwork for the firm.

“Libman Sacks Endocarditis,” an anatomical drawing shown at 1369 Coffeehouse, by artist Stephanie Cohen.

Cohen says it’s not easy for an artist to gain exposure. Galleries, she said, often assess fees on their artists and want a huge cut of any sale. They also require a large time commitment from artists. “I’m at a state in my life where it’s hard to be that available. There’s flexibility in spaces like this,” she said, referring to coffee shops.

Showing art elsewhere, like SoWa (South of Washington in Boston’s South End), can be very expensive, Cohen said. “Showing on a regular day on a weekend, just for a booth, it’s $350 a day. A studio is even more than that. It can be hard to break even,” she said. “You don’t have to pay rent to show your work at a coffee shop.”

JP Licks, which is known for the ice cream it sells, also markets locally produced art in 15 of its 17 stores. Artists are found by marketing manager Adele Nadine Traub through connections with the city of Boston, the Somerville Arts Council, JP Main Streets, and other associations.

“There’s a whole page on our site dedicated to artists in different stores. We post on social media and then, in the stores that are big enough, we host an artist reception with ice cream, coffee, and cookies,” Traub said. She said the current artist at the Coolidge Corner location sold nine paintings, while an artist at the South Bay location sold eight. Some, however, sell none. “It’s all over the place,” she said.

JP Licks takes no commission on sales. Not wanting its teenage cashier work force to deal with artwork sales, buyers are told to contact the artist directly and make the purchase.

Traub said it makes no sense for JP Licks to take a $50 commission from an emerging artist who just received $500 for a painting. “We really like being part of each community we go into and this is a great way to do it,” Traub said. “And there’s not enough spaces for artists in this city.”

Jessica TranVo hanging her art with JP Lick’s Marketing Manager, Adele Nadine Traub. (Photo courtesy of Heather Wilczynski)

Mixed media artist Jessica TranVo, a Vietnamese-American, set up her surrealist artwork at the JP Licks on Boylston Street in Boston. She produces collages, using materials from everything from magazines to vintage baking books. Her work contains queer, Asian, and feminine elements.

Five years into her professional career, she’s shown in galleries but is still considered a newer artist by the definitions set by Boston’s art world. “I think I don’t have enough clout to show on Newbury Street. Coffee houses feel more like my kind of space,” she said.

TranVo works full-time at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, but hopes that someday she will be able to work as a full-time artist with her own studio. “I’m lucky I have my space at home right now. Some people are renting studios with three to four other people,” she said.

At Mocha Maya’s in Shelburne Falls, co-owner Bruce King has had a program for artists since the Franklin County coffee house and pub opened in 2005, with art rotating every six weeks.

Photographs by artist Luke Scalise hanging in Mocha Maya’s. (Photo courtesy of Bruce King)

“We’ve had afghans on the wall, this one guy made a series of masks…this other woman showed art made out of used teabags–it’s all been really cool,” said King, who does the curating himself and takes a 20 percent commission, which until recently he and his brother, working with the artists, donate to charities. Now the commission is going toward an expansion of the space.

Last year the shop sold over $3,600 worth of art during just one exhibit. The art came from a couple that buys paintings through a fair-trade exchange with artists in Guatemala, and resells them in Massachusetts. The shop also lets the Academy at Charlemont, a nearby private middle and high school, host an annual student art night where the art is actually sold.

“It changes the room every time we get art up, like a new vibe,” King said. “Some people have come in to look at art and not even look at our menu. Kinda’ made me feel good ’cause then we’re not just a coffeehouse.”

The art of family reunification

The art of family reunification

Pilot program uses art spaces for foster child meetings

THE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES and the Massachusetts Cultural Council – two agencies that would appear to have little in common – have launched a pilot program with the goal of using art to make supervised meetings between foster children and family members living in separate homes more enjoyable.

The pilot grew out of conversations between the two agencies initiated by Lauren Baker, the governor’s wife. Officials from the two agencies sat down to explore whether they could help each other, and their focus eventually shifted to siblings and family members who are living in separate foster homes, and how best to keep them in touch. They zeroed in on the actual meetings themselves, which typically take place across a desk in a gray government office.

“Everybody’s lightbulb went off in their head,” said Anita Walker, executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council. “We were, quite frankly, appalled to learn that these sibling reunions very frequently take place in the DCF conference room, one just like the one we were sitting in, which was very cold and sterile and unfriendly.”

After some brainstorming, officials from the two agencies decided to explore whether these meetings could take place in more artistic settings, such as museums and theaters.

Rep. Paul Donato, who was a foster child himself and recently learned about the pilot, said it makes sense to him. “Now not only are they going to have an opportunity to commiserate with each other, but more important they’re in a setting that is not just a DCF office where they have to sit down in a chair and look at each other and start talking,” he said. “Now you’re in a setting where, whatever the setting may be, you’re more comfortable, and you’re talking about not only what is important to you as a family, but – just as important – some of the things in the surrounding area.”

The pilot launched in July, and so far there has been a lot of enthusiasm but little action, except at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, or MASS MoCA, which jumped in with both feet, again at the urging of Lauren Baker.

The gigantic museum in North Adams now hosts “Sibling Saturdays,” where children in the foster system can meet in Kidspace, a child-centric gallery; receive guided tours; and make art of their own.

MASS MoCA has also hosted more than a dozen supervised visits between parents and their children who are in foster care, and there have been some powerful responses to that, according to Jodi Joseph, the director of communications.

Last week, a boy who was on a school field trip at the museum was delighted by what he saw, and returned that night for a supervised visit with his parents, whom he excitedly led around the museum, according to Joseph.

Tim Okamura. Expectant Guard. Oil on canvas, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

In another instance a mother who was pregnant went to the museum for a supervised visit with her two children, and was struck by a painting by Tim Okamura called Expectant Guard, which is part of an exhibit called “Still I Rise,” showcasing women of color through history. The painting depicts two visibly pregnant women, one with her hair in an Afro and the other in braids, holding samurai swords, wearing camo pants and looking out toward the viewer. When she saw the painting, the mother, who is a woman of color, stopped in her tracks and said, “That’s me,” according to Joseph.

Funding for the MASS MoCA program comes from a grant from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, according to Joseph.

According to many of the participants in the early discussions, the idea for blending art and foster care started with a conversation between Lauren Baker and Nina Fialkow, the chair of the Cultural Council and a filmmaker. Falkow won a Daytime Emmy in 1994 for her work on This Old House, and she has produced some notable documentaries about current events, including The Great Hack and The Fourth Estate.

Fialkow and her husband David are friends with the Bakers, and in the years between his unsuccessful 2010 run and his victorious 2014 campaign, Charlie Baker worked as an executive-in-residence at David Fialkow’s venture capital firm, General Catalyst.

Lauren Baker, a board member of the Wonderfund, a non-profit that helps children in the care of the Department of Children and Families, facilitated the introduction between the two state agencies and then backed off. Walker said that Baker “became our bridge,” helping to arrange a meeting in Springfield last October that convened Cultural Council staff, social workers, and the people who run local arts institutions to come up with ideas for how to serve children in state care.

There was a second meeting this past February with cultural institutions and DCF staff, and then the launch of the pilot in July. The Cultural Council plans to evaluate the pilot this winter and then again at the end of 2020.

To participate in the program, cultural institutions must have ample space and activities, flexible availability, and a point-person at the institution to coordinate with DCF social workers, according to an outline by the Cultural Council. The social workers and families would be responsible for transportation.

Jane O’Leary, director of the playwright mentoring program at the Barrington Stage Co. in Pittsfield, attended the meetings about the pilot program and is excited about the possibility of hosting a meeting. O’Leary uses theater as a way for youths to write through and process their trauma, and she said it is easier for them to write lines for a scene than to speak more straightforwardly about the difficulties they are experiencing.

As O’Leary envisions it, the theater campus would offer more than just a space for foster children to meet with their family members. The theater, which puts on a range of performances in addition to the youth program that O’Leary runs, would also offer foster children a theatrical experience, such as tickets to a show.

O’Leary likes the concept. “It seems very doable and kind of the first step in partnering with these families that so deserve support,” she said.

Haymarket artwork mystery solved

Haymarket artwork mystery solved

Sculptures safely stored, dinged up a bit

THE MYSTERY OF the missing public artwork at Haymarket is solved: It was dug up by a contractor, but it’s now safely stored nearby and state officials plan to contact the artist to determine what should be done with it.

Mags Harries, the sculptor, was kept in the dark for more than a week after the public art was jackhammered out of the ground, and she was pleased to learn Friday that her sculptures weren’t trashed.

For years, the artwork titled Asaroton had been part of the streetscape in the area a couple blocks from City Hall that is host to a pushcart market for discounted fruit, vegetables, and fish on Fridays and Saturdays. The work consists of pieces of bronze sculptures in the shape of the detritus of the time and place – a piece of lettuce, the plastic rings of a six-pack, a comb. Harries said the work, which was first installed in 1976, was inspired by Roman mosaics depicting the scraps of food that would be tossed on the ground during a feast.

The installation had been removed in the early 1990s to make way for the Big Dig, and then a new version was installed in roughly the same location in 2006 once the highway tunnel project had been substantially completed. Harries has already made new sculptures for the third installation of the public artwork, which is being done with the support of a hotel developer constructing a six-story Canopy by Hilton on one of the last remaining parcels left over from the Big Dig.

Separate from that hotel project, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation paid contractor A.R. Belli $3.6 million to fix up the sidewalks across the street from the Rose Kennedy Greenway to bring them into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The contract called for the construction crew to “R&S,” or remove and stack, the bronze pieces, and that’s what A.R. Belli did.

“Normally if you have something on a job that’s of historical significance, there’s a lot more detail as far as handling them and everything. This was just a note to remove them and stack them,” said Bill Keaveney, general manager of the construction firm, who said he is now curious about the significance of the pieces. “We’ll keep them until told what to do with them.”

Plans in a contract provided by MassDOT direct workers to “R&S” or remove and stack the bronze artwork.

The crew used jackhammers and saws to pry the bronze pieces from the hardtop, and they are currently stored in buckets toward the back of a storage container cluttered with other stuff. The container is sitting on a sidewalk less than a block away from where the pieces were removed.

The work crew removed nearly all of the bronze sculptures in one spot on Hanover Street, but at the installation’s second location on Blackstone Street, the bronze pieces are still in the ground.

A couple of the dug-up pieces were “dinged up,” said Keaveney. “I think there was a couple that got twisted a little bit. You have to understand these were embedded in a hardscape product, so it’s not like you’re just taking them up with tweezers. We did the best we could.”

According to the hotel developer, the artwork was removed on September 26, and Keaveney said that timeline sounded pretty accurate, but he said the work took place over a number of days.

Earlier this week MassDOT acknowledged that a contractor had removed the artwork as part of the sidewalk upgrade, but officials wouldn’t say who had been hired to do the work or where the pieces wound up. MassDOT provided the name of the contractor on Thursday.

“MassDOT has asked: ‘Do we have them? Where are they? Are they in your lockbox? Can you send us a photo?’” Keaveney said. “We’ve actually written back to them asking for direction on where they want them to go because at this point we’d just as soon pass them off to somebody else.”

The disappearance of the artwork surprised the artist and dismayed passersby who appreciated the bronze sculptures of discarded food scraps and trash.

“It’s sad. It was a piece of history,” said Emily Robertson, who used to work in the area.

“It’s not a place where you normally see artwork,” said Amanda Quinlan, who lives nearby in the North End. “It’s really disappointing.”

A spokesman for the state Department of Transportation said Harries will be contacted to determine what should be done with the artwork. “No one’s called me,” Harries said Friday. “They do have an obligation to contact me.”

State agency offers $500,000 in place-making funds

State agency offers $500,000 in place-making funds

MassDevelopment matching crowd-sourced money

MASSDEVELOPMENT IS OFFERING a total of $500,000 in matching grant money over the next 3 ½ months to municipalities and nonprofits seeking to launch creative place-making projects across the state.

The money is part of a nearly four-year effort by the authority to revitalize downtowns and commercial districts by combining state and crowd-sourced funds. MassDevelopment is accepting applications in this latest round through January 15 and approving them on a rolling basis.

The initiative, called Commonwealth Places, has provided funding for the second Beyond Walls festival in Lynn, the POW! WOW! public arts festival in Worcester, and the PROVA! venue in Brockton. In all, 67 projects have received a total of $4.1 million in funding – $1.8 million from MassDevelopment and $2.3 million from local, crowd-funded donations via the website Patronicity.

“Projects must demonstrate that they will activate a new or underused space that is open to and accessible by the public,” the MassDevelopment website says. “It is important that these projects have established public awareness and local momentum. The project should be located in a downtown or commercial area and enhance the public realm at the pedestrian scale.”

The MassDevelopment website provides a sampling of possible projects, including streetscape improvements, pocket parks, pop-up parks and retail establishments, farmers’ markets, bike paths, and community theatre rehabs.

To be eligible for MassDevelopment funds, the project must require a minimum of $10,000, with three-quarters of the money going for capital costs. Preference is given to projects that leverage additional funding. Participants must be backed by a municipality or a nonprofit and must reach the crowdfunding goal in 60 days. No more than $10,000, or 35 percent of the funds raised, whichever is less, can come from an individual donor.

The program has no geographic restrictions, but the MassDevelopment website indicates preference is given to projects that help low-income populations. Projects in communities with a median household income equal to or less than the state median household income can qualify for matching grants up to $50,000.  The topping out point is $25,000 in communities where the median household income is between 100 percent and 120 percent of the state median. Communities with median household income anywhere above 100 percent of the state level can qualify for matching grants of up to $50,000 if the project has a “direct and significant impact on low-income populations,” according to the website.

Despite the restrictions, a number of organizations in relatively well-to-do communities have won matching funds. A group in Newton earlier this year received a $7,500 matching grant from the agency for a program to stamp the words of 10 poems on to city sidewalks. Groups in Cambridge got $25,000 for a mural project in Central Square and $30,000 for math learning installations at a city park. A Somerville group got $50,000 to refurbish the Bow Market Plaza in Union Square and a group in Dedham won a $50,000 matching grant to turn the auditorium of a former elementary school into a performance space.

Matching grants have been awarded to a number of lower-income communities, including Lynn, Salem, Lawrence, Haverhill, and Pittsfield.

Haymarket art hauled off with no warning

Haymarket art hauled off with no warning

Artist’s bronze ‘garbage’ sculptures removed amid roadwork

WITH NO NOTICE to the artist, a groundbreaking work of public art was ripped out of the ground in Boston’s Haymarket last Thursday and carted off.

The art consists of bronze depictions of some of the castoff scraps from the city’s long-running pushcart marketplace – green beans, lettuce, newspapers.  A contractor working on crosswalks for the state Department of Transportation tore up the roadway, including the bronze artwork, and hauled it off.

“I don’t know where it’s gone,” said Mags Harries, the sculptor.

Officials at the Department of Transportation, which is having work done on the sidewalks and crosswalks to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, acknowledged on Wednesday that the art was removed but didn’t say where it was taken.

Harries originally installed her sculpture in 1976 as part of the nation’s bicentennial celebration.  It’s titled Asaroton, and it references a style of Roman mosaic that depicts the detritus from feasts on tile floors. Harries said that Boston powerbrokers were aghast four decades ago when her sculpture of garbage was selected, but Harries said it was not meant to be disparaging, but rather a tribute to the market, and a snapshot of the era as seen through what is discarded.

“What happened to my art?” asked Mark Jaquith, a Cambridge resident who works nearby the installation and noticed Tuesday that it had been torn up. “I thought it was one of the awesomest things. Where else are you going to get a memorial to garbage that’s actually historically significant?”

A bronze glove is one of the few remaining bits of public art remaining in a street-crossing that was torn up and replaced by MassDOT. (Photo by Andy Metzger)

Haymarket is open for business on Fridays and Saturdays. Nestled between City Hall and the North End, it is a free-wheeling, cash-operated, open-air market with bargain-basement prices on fruit, vegetables, and fish.

“I loved the Haymarket. I went there every Saturday – got my rotten fruit,” said Harries, who said her sculpture was the city’s “first site-specific” sculpture.

About a decade and a half after the sculpture was first installed, it had to be removed to make room for construction of the Big Dig highway tunnel project. For about 10 years, the sculptures were displayed at the Museum of Science. Harries now owns those old pieces of bronze from the first installation, she said.

In 2006, after the new highway tunnel opened, new bronze sculptures were embedded in the cement around the Haymarket site, but Harries said it was a “shoddy job,” and the pieces took more wear and tear than she had hoped.

Harries said she had known for some time that the sculptures would eventually be removed again for roadwork, but she expected to be notified when it happened.

“There were a few pieces I wanted to keep,” she said.

Working with the developer of a Haymarket hotel, Harries plans to install new replacements next fall, and she said the new location will be an upgrade. The new sculptures are finished and in storage.

The new Haymarket hotel is a six-story Canopy by Hilton that will provide some amenities – water, power, and trash-service – to the pushcart vendors, according to Yvette Tetreault of CV Properties, one of the developers. The site of the hotel is one of the last parcels left over from the Big Dig, and Tetreault said construction should begin in a couple weeks with the hotel expected to open in the spring of 2021.

Until last Thursday, Sept. 26, the bronze statutes were located in two locations, on Blackstone Street and on nearby Hanover Street, according to Tetreault. Someone working for MassDOT ripped up nearly all of the installation on Hanover, but the artwork on Blackstone is still there.

MassDOT didn’t say who it hired to do the work, but officials said they knew the artist had already recast the artwork. State officials said the artwork embedded in the sidewalk is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the new artwork will be installed next to a crosswalk on Blackstone Street.

Jon Calleva, owner of JPC Masonry, said he is a subcontractor doing work reinstalling bricks on a sidewalk nearby but he was not involved in removing the artwork.

Neither Harries nor Tetreault know where the chunks of art-embedded street were taken. “It would be great to find out,” said Harries. Apart from the sculptures’ artistic value, “the scrap value of the bronze is huge,” Harries said.

As the aphorism goes, one person’s trash is another’s treasure. Although she is not happy about how the artwork was ripped up without any notice to her, Harries said she put it in the street for a reason.

“It’s very hard with public art because you put it out there, and it gets the abuse. And I chose to put it in the street,” said Harries. “I think it’s important to think about history as burnishing over time. And I really had wanted the piece to get more abstracted over time and be worn away by car tires and people’s feet. It’s really a commentary on how we perceive history, but also a celebration of the place.”