Berkshire youth-based groups lobby for increase in state arts funding
PITTSFIELD -- For 21 years, Youth Alive Step Team and Drum Corps has been a performing arts outlet for city youth that has helped them stay in school and out of trouble.
Youth Alive director Shirley Edgerton says a boost in state funding will help her and other youth-based Berkshire organizations and programs continue to be a positive influence on area young people.
"Being in a supportive environment with structure ... provides them with opportunities they might not get," she said. "It's worthy of the investment."
Edgerton was one of 15 representatives from local schools, theatrical groups and museums who on Monday afternoon lobbied state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier for her support of a $5 million increase in state arts funding for fiscal 2015. The Pittsfield Democrat told the gathering at the Lichtenstein Center she backs the Massachusetts Cultural Council's request to increase its spending from $11.1 to $16.1 million, starting July 1.
The MCC's proposed hike includes $2 million toward an at-risk teen initiative and arts education during and after school.
Farley-Bouvier said members of the local cultural community have proven they are a worthy investment.
"Nobody does collaboration better than the Berkshires, and the cultural organizations are a fine example of that," she said.
While the MCC's 45-percent spending increase proposal is a "bold move," it's warranted according to Tracie Konopinski, representing the nonprofit arts advocacy group, MASSCreative.
"We know the state has recognized the arts culture before funding it at $26 million," she said after the event. "Yes, it's bold, but just what the communities need."
MCC provides grants directly to cultural organizations across Massachusetts and funnels state funds to 329 local cultural councils who distribute the money to community-based arts programs and events.
Bolstering the MCC budget would help organizations expand programming, such is the goal of the Berkshire Historical Society, located at Arrowhead on Holmes Road; one-time home of famed American author Herman Melville.
The nonprofit currently has activities aimed at third and fourth graders, but wants to start working with older students, according to society member Peter Bergman.
"We want to give middle-school kids a chance to curate eight exhibits this summer," he said. "We want them to stick their hands in history."
For some youth, "art is a means of survival," according to Michael Vincent Bushy, arts educator at the Hillcrest Education Centers. Bushy says his students, primarily with autism, often show improvement if involved in some form of visual arts.
At Barrington Stage Co., the nationally recognized Playwright Mentoring Program helps dozens of at risk youth learn how to freely express themselves on stage, often acting out life-experience on stage. The six-month program is another example of cultural organizations who are invested in the Berkshires, according to Barrington Stage managing Director Tristan Wilson.
"We are all connected -- truly an arts community," Wilson said. "What you see [gahtered] here is the payoff of past investment."
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