Tuesday July 10, 2012

The Massachusetts Cultural Council has to fight annually to at least maintain its budget, and it has taken some painful hits. Unfortunately this is not unusual across the country or in Washing ton, where arts funding is always being cut or threatened with annihilation. The cultural funding grants for the Berkshires announced last week by Governor Deval Patrick demonstrate how a relatively modest amount of funding can provide long-term benefits.

Six sites in Berkshire County received matching grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund designed, according to the governor's office, to facilitate improvements and expansions. A $38,000 grant to the Berkshire Historical Society in Pittsfield will fund repair work and upgrades at Arrowhead, the home of Herman Melville, in a year when his great work "Moby-Dick" is being celebrated by the Call Me Melville festival. Like the $176,000 awarded the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield to build a handicapped-accessible public elevator and interior accessibility ramp, this money will long pay dividends by attracting visitors, local and tourists alike, to cultural facilities that are attractive and up to date.

In a different vein, the $30,000 granted to North Adams for design development and planning at the Mohawk Theater will help the community make better use of its version of Pittsfield's Colonial Theatre. Similarly, a $15,000 grant to the Berkshire Arts Center of the Hilltowns will pay for a market analysis to enable it to become a larger part of the local cultural scene. A $16,000 grant to Images Cinema in Williamstown will allow the movie theater, by adding a digital conversion system and upgrading sound, to respond to the demands of movie audiences. The Sandisfield Arts Center will be able to purchase light and sound equipment and install a handicapped-accessible life to the main performance area with its $12,000 grant.

According to the Massachusetts Cultural Council, organizations across the state that received past grants were provided more than 11,000 building jobs to carpenters, engineers, contractors and architects and created more than 1,100 permanent jobs. Cultural funding makes up a small portion of the state budget but it pays off in many ways, particularly here in the Berkshires, where cultural groups are of critical importance to the economy.