One way to judge a government agency's worth during perpetually difficult economic times is by assessing how much it gives back to the community. In the case of the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC), through its support of Berkshire cultural organizations and youth groups, that give-back is considerable.

Fifteen representatives from local schools, theatrical groups and museums gathered at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts in Pittsfield Monday to help make the case for the MCC's request for an additional $5 million in funding the coming fiscal year. State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, a Pittsfield Democrat, told those assembled that she supports the initiative to increase its spending from $11.1 million to $16.1 million beginning July 1.

Of that increase, $2 million would go toward arts education during and after school and to the YouthReach initiative for at-risk teens. Michael Vincent Bushy, arts educator at the Hillcrest Education Centers, said Monday that his students, primarily with autism, benefit from instruction in the visual arts. Shirley Edgerton, director of the Youth Alive Step Team and Drum Corps, observed that her group and other Berkshire-based youth organizations provide structure and a supportive environment for young people who may not find either anywhere else.

As arts programs are usually among the first to go when public schools are forced to cut budgets, MCC funding for arts education would provide significant benefits. The same can be said for at-risk teen initiatives at a time when communities are desperately working to steer young people away from drugs and keep them focused on getting a good education.

While the proposed funding increase appears to be dramatic, the MCC's annual budget was $26 million about a decade ago before a recession and stock market collapse caused the MCC and other agencies to take a serious hit. That funding request also includes an additional $2 million in funding for nonprofit cultural organizations and local cultural councils, and considering the importance of cultural tourism to the Berkshires, that money would be extremely well-spent in the county.

"It's worth the investment," said Ms. Edgerton in reference to Berkshire youth-based organizations. That applies as well to cultural organizations. We urge the entire Berkshire delegation to not just vote for but aggressively support the MCC's funding request. This is an investment that would pay off in many ways.