Meet Michael Bobbitt, state’s new arts leader

The life story of Michael Bobbitt is probably very similar to what he would like to replicate for residents statewide as he takes over as the executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

 Bobbitt, as a young boy growing up in Maryland just outside Washington, DC, was exposed to the arts, took a strong interest, and built a career around music, dance, and theater. Now, as the state’s top arts official, he hopes to foster an environment in Massachusetts that would allow similar experiences for young people across the state.

 Joining The Codcast at the end of his first week on the job, the 48-year-old Bobbitt introduced himself professionally and personally. He said he is the father of an adopted son from Vietnam who is now 19 and studying marine biology at the University of Florida. He is also a careful eater. “I only eat vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and grains. Nothing processed, no sugar, no dairy, and no meat,” he said.

 His first performance as an artist came in first grade, when he played Hansel in the play “Hansel and Gretel.” At age 8 he saw the play “Porgy and Bess” and realized white people weren’t the only ones capable of appearing on stage. At about the same time, he was invited into the band room at his school and invited to pick one of the instruments.

 “The trumpet was the shiniest and prettiest to me,” he said of a choice that launched him on an adventure that led to a fellowship with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC, and later a music scholarship to Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. He went on to study classical ballet, participate in musical theater, and write plays. He served as the artistic director of Adventure Theatre-MTC, a children’s theater in Washington, DC, for 12 years, and in August 2019 took the same post at the New Repertory Theatre in Watertown.

 “I’ve always enjoyed all the work I’ve done as an artist. But part of me was always intrigued by the process,” he said. “I always remember being in play practice or rehearsal, and being very intrigued by watching all the people in the room create this beautiful thing. You had the playwright, the director, the music director, the choreographer, and all these artists, and together everyone is using their imagination to imagine what the final product would be like. And that intrigued me so much.”

 Over the last 15 years, Bobbitt said he has learned to be an arts leader, gaining an understanding of fundraising, management, culture, finances, and how government and the arts can work together. He said all those experiences at individual arts organizations have prepared him for his current job at the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

 “Now I get to do that for a whole state of arts and cultural organizations and artists,” he said.

 With COVID-19, It may be the worst of times for arts organizations, but Bobbitt said arts and culture are needed now more than ever – for dealing with the fallout from the disease as well as the inequalities and racism it has revealed. “In many ways, it’s a good time to be coming to this,” he said. “Arts and culture is inherently a social justice medium.”

 He steps into an environment on Beacon Hill that has rarely viewed the arts as a top state priority. Asked if the agency’s $18 million budget is adequate, he politely fends off the question but makes clear lawmakers, once he gets his bearings on Beacon Hill, are going to be hearing a lot from him.

 “I hope they’re looking forward to seeing me in their offices quite a bit,” he said.

BRUCE MOHL

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Gov. Charlie Baker adopts a more conciliatory tone on the climate change bill he previously vetoed, offering compromise language on a 2030 emissions goal and abandoning his insistence on procuring offshore wind power in a new way. Baker gets irked by remarks on dealing with climate change by his undersecretary of energy, David Ismay.

A new call center, which can be reached by dialing 2-1-1, is available to help residents 75 and older book appointments to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Opinion: UMass Amherst political science professor Raymond La Raja says the push for transparency on Beacon Hill could backfire. … Nancy Grossman documents how it takes a whole lot of clicks to find a vaccine in Massachusetts. … Coleman Nee and Rachel Kaprielian say Marty Walsh’s confirmation hearing for labor secretary put disability employment issues in the spotlight.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker is making another attempt to cap the sick pay that state workers can accrue. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Sen. Jo Comerford files a bill to prohibit schools from using Native American mascots. (MassLive)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS 

Boston will reallocate some money from its police overtime budget to help first-time homebuyers. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

An Arlington software engineer home on maternity leave seems to have done what the Baker administration apparently couldn’t — and built a website that provides a one-stop portal to see where COVID-19 vaccines slots in the state are available. (Boston Herald)

Treasurer Deborah Goldberg tests positive for COVID-19. (MassLive)

A large-scale vaccination site with the eventual capacity to vaccinate 600 people a day at Marshfield’s fairgrounds opens today to all Plymouth County residents.

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

House impeachment managers will argue that former president Donald Trump didn’t just incite the Capitol insurrection with his speech that day, but spent weeks fanning the flames of the false story that the election was stolen and that something had to be done about it. (Washington Post

Top Democrats plan to unveil a plan today to send American families $3,000 per child as part of the Biden administration’s economic stimulus plan. (Washington Post

ELECTIONS

Former Democratic state senator and current solar power executive Ben Downing is officially jumping into the race for governor. (Berkshire Eagle) GBH has more on Downing’s decision. 

State Rep. Jon Santiago says he’ll decide in the next “couple weeks” whether to join the Boston mayor’s race. (Boston Herald)

Failed US Senate candidate Shiva Ayyadurai’s Twitter account is suspended. (Associated Press)

Christian Wade of North of Boston Media Group explores what the decision of several major corporations to pause political donations, or stop giving to certain Republicans, could mean in Massachusetts.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Massachusetts Small Business Administration had already distributed $1 billion in PPP loans by the end of January as part of the $284 billion in new stimulus funds directed to the Paycheck Protection Program in December.

EDUCATION

The Framingham School Committee is exploring equity issues raised by the widely varying fundraising abilities of parent-teacher organizations. (MetroWest Daily News)

A 16-year-old girl living in Revere traveled to Colombia to attend a relative’s funeral, lost her green card at the airport, and is now stuck in Colombia because embassies are closed and she can’t get authorization to travel to the US. (MassLive)

ARTS/CULTURE

Performing arts centers have no idea when they will be able to reopen, and some are struggling to survive. (MassLive)

TRANSPORTATION

A MassDOT study says high-speed rail between Boston and Pittsfield would cost anywhere between $2.4 billion and $4.6 billion. (Telegram & Gazette)

Driving was way down last year in Massachusetts, but roadway deaths were not, with faster speeds on emptier roads one possible explanation. (Boston Globe)

A Globe editorial says the state needs a visionary new transportation leader, declaring that Stephanie Pollack’s tenure was “small-bore.” 

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Berkshire environmental activists are pushing to have three fossil-fuel peaker plants — power generating stations that run only when demand for electricity is high — replaced with cleaner alternatives. (Berkshire Eagle

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Worcester police have investigated six past complaints of racial incidents with the department over the past decade, despite claims by the police chief that there is no racism within his department. (Telegram & Gazette)

MEDIA

Two widely heralded New York Times staff members leave the newspaper after past misdeeds or misstatements come under scrutiny. (NPR)

A reporter for The Advocate and Times-Picayune is sued by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry over a public records request she filed seeking copies of sexual harassment complaints against an official at his office. (The Advocate)

Can you guess why the Tampa Bay Times suddenly has a lot of readers in Massachusetts? It might have something to do with a former New England Patriots quarterback who just led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl victory. (Poynter)

PASSINGS

George Schultz, whose wide-ranging Washington resume included secretary state during the waning years of the Cold War, along with secretary of labor and treasury and the first director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, died at age 100. (New York Times

Kay Bourne, who championed Boston’s black arts community as the arts editor for the Bay State Banner, died at age 82. (Boston Globe)