Advocates Look To Make Arts Part of Governor's Race

By Joe DurwinPittsfield Correspondent
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MassCreattive's Matt Wilson is advising local organizations how to impress the importance of the arts on candidates in this election season.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — MassCreative says it wants to do what it did in the Boston mayoral race on a more statewide level this fall, with a new "Create the Vote" campaign aimed at raising the prominence of the arts as an economic and social issue in the ramp up to the coming gubernatorial election.  
"We have a great opportunity to influence this election," Executive Director Matt Wilson told representatives from about a dozen local cultural organizations at a strategy meeting at Barrington Stage Company's Blatt Center on Wednesday.
Wilson said the relatively new organization, which first presented itself in the Berkshires in late 2012, achieved "unprecedented" exposure for the arts as a Boston political issue in last year's mayoral election, effectively persuading all the candidates to address arts in some way in their respective platforms.
The same tactics, he said, can be employed in regions throughout the state over the next few months to raise the profile of arts and culture, and particularly key funding for it, as a policy issue in this election.  
Wilson advised inviting all candidates to cultural venues and focused meetings with community leaders who would advocate, keeping the issue in front of them and in the media, and using campaign visits and social media to continue to pepper the discussion with questions and statements about the importance of supporting the arts.
"We've got to show them that voters care about this stuff," he said.
The Create the Vote campaign, he said, is a non-partisan campaign not to support any one candidate but to try to raise awareness among all candidates, and voters, of the benefits of budgetary investments such as the Cultural Facilities Fund and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
"Our job over the next seven months is to create a unified voice to make sure the next governor is not only supportive of the arts, but a champion," said Wilson.
MassCreative is developing strategies to keep arts and arts funding in the forefront of elected officials.
Attendees at the forum were still reeling in surprise from the announcement earlier in the day that the House Ways and Means Committee cut funding to the Massachusetts Cultural Council by more than 50 percent, from $11.1 million down to $5 million.
"When I moved to the Berkshires in 1988, what was then the Mass. Council on Humanities & Arts had $22 million a year," said Maureen Hennessey, a grant specialist for the Clark Art Institute. "There was real money then."
Wilson said his organization had taken rapid action to try to remedy this situation by channeling support to an amendment sponsored by state Rep. Cory Adkins proposing $16 million in the final House budget. Within the first hour of a mass email appeal by MassCreative, he said, more than 400 emails were sent to legislators by constituents around the commonwealth, and the bill already has 27 co-sponsors, the first of whom was Pittsfield's Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier. It hopes to get up to a hundred legislators to co-sponsor.
After the 45-minute presentation, attendees broke down into four working groups based on their specialties to examine different components of the strategies suggested.  Some discussion also surrounded followup methodologies for ensuring commitment to these issues after the election.
"The idea is not just to elect an arts champion as governor," Wilson explained. "It's too build our network across the state so we can hold him or her accountable."

Tags: arts initiatives,   election 2014,   MassCreative,   

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Ethics Commission Alleges Conflict Violations by West Stockbridge Chief

WEST STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — The Enforcement Division of the State Ethics Commission on Wednesday filed an order to show cause alleging that West Stockbridge Fire Chief Peter Skorput, a former Select Board member, committed multiple conflict-of-interest law violations, including setting stipends for himself, his daughter and his nephew; voting as a Select Board member to reappoint himself fire chief; and terminating a firefighter who had filed a complaint against him.
According to the order, shortly after Skorput was elected to the Select Board in 2013, a West Stockbridge official contacted the town's counsel about conflict-of-interest law exemptions available to Skorput regarding his serving both as a Select Board member and fire chief. 
Allegedly, town counsel advised the official that Skorput follow the requirements for a particular conflict-of-interest law exemption that would allow him to accept pay for both positions, and this was communicated to Skorput. From the time he was elected until January 2017, however, Skorput did not meet the exemption requirements and violated the conflict of law by continuing to hold his compensated fire chief position after his election to the Select Board, according to the order.
The order further alleges Skorput violated the conflict-of-interest law by participating officially in matters involving his own and his daughter's financial interests. In 2013, Skorput allegedly voted as a Select Board member to reappoint himself as fire chief. Also, as fire chief, he allegedly decided the amount of firefighter stipends for himself each December in 2013-2015 and for his daughter in 2013 and 2014, and as a Select Board member signed the pay warrants for his daughter's stipends. Additionally, at several Select Board meetings in 2015 and 2016, Skorput allegedly participated as a Select Board member in the board's review of complaints about his performance as fire chief.
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