Legislators get education on Berkshire cultural community needs
PITTSFIELD -- They represented small museums with hardly any staff, theater companies and orchestras whose economic impact on the Berkshires is significant.
All of these organizations gathered at the Berkshire Museum on Monday to express their needs and desires during a public hearing held by a state legislative committee that was seeking to get a better handle on the Berkshires' cultural economy.
Monday's event was one of several "listening tour" stops the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development is holding around the state this summer.
According to the committee, 30 people signed up to speak during the roughly two-hour session, which also featured remarks from U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
The sessions are intended to pull ideas from the arts, cultural and tourism communities to help the committee craft polices to strengthen those fields in Massachusetts. Tourism is the state's third largest revenue-producing industry and a significant economic engine in Berkshire County.
"I think it's important to visit because to be in this place is to show that we value it. We value every region of the commonwealth," said Sen. Kathleen O'Connor Ives of Newburyport, who chairs the joint committee in the state Senate.
O'Connor Ives said the listening tour stops give legislators the opportunity to hear about success stories and obstacles and challenges "that we in the Legislature might have a role in helping."
Warren arrived roughly halfway through the hearing following a tour of General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems in Pittsfield, and was given a standing ovation by the roughly 100 people in attendance.
She said economic development is accomplished by building on each region's strengths.
"We've got to build on our arts and humanities," she said. "Just the smallest bits of support from the federal government can make a difference.
"It's important for the commonwealth to understand the importance of investing in the arts and humanities," Warren added. "It's says a lot about who we are."
Tristan Wilson, the managing director of the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, told the committee that 50 to 60 percent of the theater company's annual earned income comes from patrons. Barrington Stage raises roughly half of its $3.3 million annual budget, but has a $5 million economic impact on the Berkshires, she said.
Noting that Barrington Stage recently wrapped up a seven-year $7 million capital campaign, Wilson said patrons are beginning to experience "donor fatigue" as the theater company prepares to renovate its Stage 2 performance space on Linden Street.
"We rely on donors to exist in a rural area where people are of modest means," she said. "We need support from organizations outside the Berkshires."
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who was also in attendance, asked Wilson how Barrington Stage reaches out to its donors.
Wilson said Artistic Director Julianne Boyd visits second-home owners that attend Barrington Stage in the summer at their residences in Florida during the winter months.
"It's a challenge," Wilson said.
Referring to the Berkshire's smaller cultural institutions in general, Kinney Frelinghuysen, the director of the Frelinghuysen Morris Home and Studio in Lenox, asked legislators to view them as a group instead of individually when it comes to their economic and cultural impact.
"We don't have the big numbers," Frelinghuysen said. "But if you weigh that against the quality of our experience, we deliver that sense of place, and that is what New England and Berkshire County is."
"Think of us collectively," he said.
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