This is a sponsored post supported by the Essex County Community Foundation’s Creative County Initiative.
To mark five years since the the launch of the Creative County Initiative from the Essex County Community Foundation, more than 300 arts leaders from the 34 communities in the county on Boston’s North Shore gathered at The Cabot theater in Beverly on Sept. 30. It was the organization’s first in-person Arts & Culture Summit since 2019 and the outbreak of the covid pandemic.
The news? Essex County Community Foundation Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Stratton Lloyd announced that the Initiative would be offering two new grants—Last Mile Fund Grants beginning in December and Racial Equity Capacity Grants starting in January. The Last Mile Fund supports small capacity-building grants for individual artists and groups to fund workshop attendance, responding to calls for art or writing, and other ways to access knowledge or opportunities.
Creative County Program Initiative Program Director Karen Ristuben said the initiative had already funded $2.3 million in new arts and culture programs and served more than 2,000 organizations and 30,000 people through grants and other programs. She announced that the foundation would put an additional $2 million into arts in Essex County over the next four years with help from $1.6 million in additional funding from Boston’s Barr Foundation and the Essex County Community Foundation pledging to raise $400,000 more for the arts.
“Five years into this [our goals] are even more ambitious,” Essex County Community Foundation Trustee Richard Sumberg told the audience.
Creative County was launched as part of the Barr Foundation’s Creative Commonwealth Initiative, which partners with “community foundations to build local networks for arts and culture, and to help the creative sector become more sustainable, equitable, and accessible statewide.”
Barr Foundation Arts & Creativity Director San San Wong praised Creative County’s “systems approach,” involving grants, regional meetups, working across sectors, building government support for arts, its Changemakers Cohort leadership training and networking, and an online events calendar and directory of artists and cultural organizations at CreativeCounty.org
“In these divisive and sometimes hopeful times, artists and the arts are more critical than ever,” Wong told the crowd. She said she looks forward to moving “beyond problem solving and into the possibility dreaming that our society so urgently needs.”
Videos and presentations showcased Creative County’s accomplishments. It has funded a planned “Wall of Fame” mural honoring hip hop artists in Lynn, spotlights to illuminate the falls in Methuen at night, festivals in Lynn and Lawrence, an art installation of signs placed around Ipswich’s Crane Estate imagining the future damage of global warming, and a skatepark in Ipswich surrounded by reproductions of art. And out of the initiative has come passage of an ordinance in Methuen requiring the community to recognize Hispanic Heritage Month, Ristuben said.
“All of it inspires me to open up the state’s wallet and dump even more money into the arts,” Mass Cultural Council Executive Director Michael Bobbitt quipped. He summarized the state arts agency’s grant programs, then said, “art is inherently a social justice tool. You give voice to the voiceless. … You and your creations can help us see a different point of view … can change minds.”
A Creative County success story was the highlight of one panel: The North Shore Children’s Museum from the Peabody Cultural Collaborative, a nonprofit coalition including the public library, Peabody Historical Society, two banks, the city’s community access television center, and others.
A Creative County Initiative Partnership Grant helped fund an initial pop-up tryout children’s museum called CuriousCity at the George Peabody House Museum in 2019. Tim Brown, Director of Innovation and Strategy for Northeast Arc, one of the partners in the collaborative, said covid shutdowns allowed the organizers to pause day-to-day operations and focus on developing a longterm venue in a former bank at 10 Main St., which is scheduled to open on Oct. 15.
Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt said the popup museum provided evidence of audience interest and how the budget would work, which fostered enough City Council support for the community to actually create a new city museum department to manage the project. In addition to being educational, he said the museum would be a “great tax benefit” to the city by bringing business to downtown.
“For a long time, Peabody struggled to create a downtown identity,” Bettencourt said. “We wanted to create an identity, a destination spot. We think this will be that for us.”
Anther panel discussed the cultural ferment in Lynn—including the city government hiring its first arts and culture planner, LaCrecia Thomson. Since the covid pandemic began, Lynn Museum / LynnArts Executive Director Doneeca Thurston said, she’d seen less siloing by Lynn cultural groups and more “willingness to collaborate.” Lynn Public Art Commission Chair Tia Cole noted a “shift in leadership” with more people of color running cultural efforts in the city, which she said was reducing “nepotism, white supremacy and classism” in the city’s cultural community.
In between the presentations were performances by the Steve Lacey jazz trio, dancer Ana Masacote, singer-songwriter Dar Williams, poet Michelle La Poetica and dancer Lisa Miller-Gillespie, and singer Wangari Fahari.
“What’s next?” Essex County Community Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer Beth Francis asked the crowd near the end of the summit. Her answer: Advocating for more government and philanthropic funding for the arts. “They should be funded at a level like everything else that’s important in our communities.”
If this is the kind of coverage of arts, cultures and activisms you appreciate, please support Wonderland by contributing to Wonderland on Patreon. And sign up for our free, occasional newsletter so that you don’t miss any of our reporting. (All content ©Greg Cook 2022 or the respective creators.)