Gov. Deval Patrick announced $14 million in grants on Monday morning in Pittsfield for cultural venues across the state.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Barrington Stage knew in 2012 that it was going to take a lot of work to turn the former Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 448 on Linden Street into a theater.
On Monday morning, the former bar was the setting for Gov. Deval Patrick's announcement of $14 million in grants to organizations like Barrington Stage and others across the state to keep making those types of transformations.
The Massachusetts Cultural Council's Facilities Fund will support renovation costs of buildings for some 127 organizations statewide, including $180,000 for Barrington Stage.
"It is an important part of our economy and it is an important part of our quality of life. If we want to jobs and opportunity, we have to play to our strengths. The concentration of cultural facilities is one of our strengths," Patrick said.
"A dollar of public investment leverages lots of private investors. This isn't about government doing it, but doing it in partnership with private people and private sector."
The Cultural Facilities Fund grant helped bring the former VFW into compliance with fire regulations by installing a sprinkler system. On Sunday, a cabaret show attracted nearly 100 people into the theater's downstairs area.
Another theater space on the main floor of the building will next be made code-compliant using state funds. And it was in 2005, when the company bought its main building on Union Street, that cultural facilities funds were tapped to install steel beams to hold up the balcony, adding more seating to the theater.
"We fill all 520 seats, so the added income that the Massachusetts Cultural Council Facilities Fund gave us is incredible. It is not just fixing a building but it is adding income into the town," said Barrington Stage founder Julianne Boyd.
This year, the state has allocated the most toward the infrastructure of cultural institutions than ever before. The $14 million includes not only the $180,000 for Barrington Stage but also funds for local projects at Hancock Shaker Village, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, the Clark Art Institute, the Bidwell House, the Chesterfield Museum, Jacob's Pillow, the Wilson McLaughlin House, the New Marlborough Meeting House, Norman Rockwell Museum, Shakespeare & Company, Images Cinema, Berkshire Historical Society and Berkshire Theater Group.
"Many of the investments in the cultural facilities fund is for the unglamorous things. They're for compliance, elevators, structural needs of the older facilities," Patrick said. "Those investments of now $70 million over the last eight years have leveraged over a billion dollars in private investment. That's a good return."
Patrick says the funds are targeted toward projects that private donors wouldn't have a "plaque associated" with their names like the sprinkler system. But, "they are essential to your success and prosperity." Beyond that, the state's investment gives donors confidence in their donation.
"Sometimes the presence of the state, the commonwealth, saying we support this is enough to get the private donors to step up. That's why leveraging is so important," Patrick said.
According to Anita Walker, executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, 80 percent of the funds statewide goes to toward the "less glamorous work" but yields tremendous return.
"We pushed a $70 million lever and we found $1.6 billion in the life of this program, investing in more than 500 incredible projects in Massachusetts. We can talk about the 60,000 construction jobs or the 1,500 permanent jobs," Walker said. "But the real legacy is the fact that people can come into this theater and experience the transformational, life changing, experience they can have by coming to a theater."
Building on cultural facilities also helps the community "hold its head up higher," said state Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield. The senator said he remembers going to high school just a few blocks away and he would never have envisioned himself wanting to be in the basement of the VFW. But, when he attended an event recently, he enjoyed what Barrington Stage was able to do.
"Growing up in Pittsfield, we weren't a glass half-empty community. We were a 'someone drank our water and threw the glass at us' community," Downing said. "More and more, Pittsfield and the broader Berkshires, communities that have been through a lot aren't just looking at empty old buildings and saying 'too bad that's empty,' but instead reimagining what those buildings could be."
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier and state Sen. Benjamin Downing both discussed the importance cultural institutions play in the economy.
The city's loss of major employer GE left it with polluted land and empty buildings. Through both the cultural and brownsfields grants — for pollution — the state has turned those economic pitfalls into strengths in Pittsfield, MassDevelopment CEO Mary Jones said.
"Showcases of art and contaminated parcels may seem to have little in common. But with vital assistance from the Legislature and the Patrick administration, MassDevelopment has helped to transform both into rejuvenated economic development centers," Jones said.
"Right here in Pittsfield, the Colonial Theater was able to move forward because of Brownfield site assessment money and then the capital grant from the cultural facilities fund."
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, said when it comes to making decisions in the face of other state challenges, the arts proves to be worthwhile because it pays off in the long run.
"This is investment money that brings more money into our coffers so we can take that and spend it on such things at the Department of Children and Families," Farley-Bouvier said.
While the $14 million is already earmarked for projects across the state, much of Monday's conference focused on the future. Patrick announced another $15 million will be allocated in fiscal 2015 and hopes that MassDevelopment, which oversees the grants, will have the next round of projects chosen by the end of the year.
Many of the speakers talked of Patrick's legacy as he leaves office. The announcement also set the stage for Patrick to rally those in the creative economy sector to continue advocating when a new governor takes over next year.
"I think the point of today's announcement and today's moment of reflection is to ask you to keep it going," Patrick said. "What happens in your government depends on you. It depends on making your voices heard and felt, making your case."
About the Project: The Cultural Facilities Fund awarded Barrington Stage Company $180,000 for accessibility upgrades, installation of a fire suppression and new HVAC system, seating capacity expansion, and roof replacement.
About the Project: The Cultural Facilities Fund awarded Chesterwood Museum and Estate $190,000 for the rehabilitation of the residence and conversion from museum to inhabitable space for artist residencies.
About the Project: The Cultural Facilities Fund awarded the Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute $600,000 for the final phase of its campus expansion plan, which is a complete renovation of the 1973 Manton Research Center, resulting in renovated galleries, new public reading room, and upgraded life safety and HVAC systems.
About the Project: The Cultural Facilities Fund awarded Hancock Shaker Village $80,000 for exterior restoration of nine existing Shaker buildings and one visitor center structure. In addition, one building will receive a new roof, and another will have accessiblity upgrades implemented.
About the Project: The Cultural Facilities Fund awarded the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art $90,000 for roof and elevator repairs, floor refinishing, and upgrades to HVAC and life safety systems.
About the Project: The Cultural Facilities Fund awarded $40,000 to the Friends of the Wilson McLaughlin House to support renovation efforts to create a Monterey Community Center to enhance cultural and artistic experiences in Monterey.
About the Project: The Cultural Facilities Fund awarded the New Marlborough Village Association $60,000 to paint the exterior and interior of the Meeting House, as well as insulate and soundproof the gallery, renovate storage areas, and deepen the curtain drain to protect the facility's foundation.
About the Project: The Cultural Facilities Fund awarded The Norman Rockwell Museum $150,000 for its efforts to install a new security and ADA parking spaces, upgrade plumbing and electrical systems, and the construction of storage areas.
Shakespeare & Company, Lenox Project: Outdoor Education Space Creation & Energy Efficiency Upgrades Grant: $290,000
About the Project: The Cultural Facilities Fund awarded Shakespeare & Co. $290,000 for Phase 1 of its campus-wide facilities initiative, which includes replacing unused buildings with outdoor education spaces, improving energy efficiency of remaining buildings, and securing historic St. Martin's Hall for future use as a campus center.
FEASIBILITY & TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE GRANTS
The Berkshire Historical Society, Pittsfield Project: For needs assessment study and investigation for appropriate spaces to preserve, make accessible and store the Berkshire Historical Society's 7,000 artifacts. Grant: $24,000
The Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge Project: To investigate feasibility of converting an empty 12,500 square foot warehouse into the Berkshire Theatre Children's Performing Arts Center. Grant: $30,000
Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, Inc., Becket Project: For the preparation of architectural plans, site and code review, capital campaign preparation, and operations impact of a new dance studio to benefit community and professional education programs.
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