Lenox —The weather on the last day of May felt like a recapitulation of the weather all month: clouds, sunshine, clouds, a spatter of rain, more sun, more clouds, but the large gathering at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre at Shakespeare & Company was quietly, consistently sunny. Standing stage left of a set for the company’s first play of the year, Massachusetts Cultural Council Director Anita Walker introduced U. S. Rep. Richard Neal, a steadfast supporter of the NEA, who,while standing in front of the kitchen for “Morning After Grace,” announced this year’s National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grants totaling $328,000 for arts organizations in Berkshire County. The audience gleamed with education and cultural icons, with nonprofit artists and leaders, and with state and local arts supporters like State Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli of Lenox, and a representative sent by State Sen. Adam Hinds’ Committee on Tourism, Arts & Cultural Development on Beacon Hill.
Congressman Neal told the applauding crowd that when the dust had settled from a struggle to eliminate the NEA and other federal cultural agencies this year, the arts agencies not only survived but a slight increase in arts spending overall was put into the Omnibus Spending Bill.
The 2018 grants include: $20,000 to support Shakespeare and Company’s Fall Festival of Shakespeare program for high school kids in Massachusetts and New York; $35,000 for the North Adams Public School District’s Kidspace contemporary art gallery and art-making studio; and $10,000 for Pittsfield-based Barrington Stage Company to support the development and world premiere of “The Royal Family of Broadway.”
Other organizations that received NEA funds were Becket-based Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, which was awarded $78,000 to support a training program for medical professionals who will examine how the arts can be used to address challenges in the medical field, and $50,000 to support The Pillow’s free online platform; the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which will get $50,000 for its Festival of Contemporary Music at the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox; and Great Barrington’s Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, which was awarded $10,000 to support a jazz performance project.
The City of Pittsfield will receive $75,000 to assist in the design of landscaping and architecture for a waterfront park that will allow safe public access to the Housatonic River, and the Community Music School of Springfield will receive $20,000 to support Sonido Musica, a music education program in partnership with the Springfield Public Schools.
Congressman Neal reminded his audience that arts organizations in Berkshire County have consistently stabilized their communities. The arts currently create upwards of 4,000 year-round jobs here, and even more seasonally, all of which support other jobs. “The arts have a profound effect on the health of our country as a whole,” Neal said. Pointing out the overall advantage of arts investment, he noted that “for every $1 invested, $10 is returned to the general fund.” Arts companies invigorate us. They revitalize our downtowns. They take our children — from those at risk and those in trouble to the shining lights of their families and schools — and expose them to ideas, beauty, history, emotion and self-discipline. “Every student,” he told me later, “should be introduced to Shakespeare.”
Finally, the artists and their champions moved into the lobby with its huge windows letting in more and more light as the lunch hour passed. They talked eagerly over sandwiches and salads, table-hopping and exchanging ideas. Gradually, they began to leave to go back to their season opening labors. They seemed buoyed by the day’s opportunity for connectedness and by their gratitude for community support. One man pushed the main door with his shoulder because his arms were full of cans of soda “for the kids who couldn’t get away from the work.”
A great deal had been said of the “practical” value of the arts, but as he, too rushed out, Kevin G. Coleman, Director of Education at Shakespeare & Company cheerfully reminded everyone within earshot that “the byproduct of the work equals joy.”