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How does art help build a community? Experts discussed the idea in Lynn.

Lynn, M. 5-21-18. State Rep. Dan Cahill talks at the Arts Advocacy hearing at RAW Art Works, Monday. (Owen O'Rourke)

LYNN — Why do the arts matter in a city like Lynn? How can a region’s arts organizations band together to spread the word and convince legislators that arts and culture deserve increased funding?

These and other topics were discussed Monday morning, when some 30 members of the North Shore arts community convened at Raw Art Works for an Arts Advocacy Gathering, run by MassCreative. Participants connected with colleagues, shared wants and frustrations, and learned how to be an effective arts advocate. Workshops were held to address common concerns.

MassCreative works with creative leaders, working artists, arts educators, and arts and cultural supporters to empower creative organizations and the public with a voice to advocate for the resources and attention necessary to build vibrant, connected and creative communities. Leading the gathering were staffers Betsy Groban, deputy director, Tracie Konopinski, program director, and Emily Ruddock, program advocate.

For Ruddock, it was a return home; she was the first director of the Downtown Lynn Cultural District. Ruddock chaired a Q&A session with State Rep. Dan Cahill and Dulce Gonzalez of State Sen. Brendan Crighton’s staff.

Cahill, who grew up in Lynn in the ’80s and ’90s when the arts were taught in the classroom just once a week, said the city has undergone “a complete transformation. It’s a totally different economy and a totally different city. I can’t think of Lynn today without arts and culture.

“It’s wild to see so many people walking together downtown. They take pictures of themselves in front of the public art, the murals, and start conversations with others doing the same thing,” said Cahill. “It’s similar to being in a museum. It gets people together, sharing an experience and talking about the art.”

Gonzalez and Cahill both said arts and culture is important, especially for kids and young adults, socially and economically. It can help keep kids out of gangs, away from drugs.

Gonzalez said her brother, a sixth grader at Thurgood Marshall Middle School, is a musician. He plays piano and guitar. “One day he brought his guitar to school and played. His classmates were smiling, laughing, having fun, talking with each other.”

Cahill said “arts support in the legislature has never been stronger … People in charge realize ‘This is very important to many communities, my community.’ Look at Lowell, Worcester, Springfield; arts and culture has helped revitalize those cities.” It’s happening in Lynn and other North Shore communities, too, he added.

Konopinski said MassCreative has awarded 6,000 arts grants since its start six years ago, and funding amounts are 60 percent higher today than in the 1980s. In Fiscal Year 2018, said Cahill, more than 100 legislators, both Democrat and Republican, voted to increase arts funding.

Catherine Amidon, who grew up in Marblehead and is assisting Paul Manship Artists Residency + Studio in Gloucester, said it had been years since she set foot in Lynn. In the past few months, however, Amidon, founding director of the Museum of the White Mountains at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, said she’s spent more and more time here and is impressed with how the downtown is reinventing itself.

“It’s interesting to see the renaissance here. I know it’s fairly early in the process, but the Cultural District opening has meant a lot. Gatherings such as the MassCreative event are beneficial to all of us,” said Amidon. “I’m in awe (of the impact an increased arts and culture focus has had) every time I come here.”

“My mom (Janet Amidon) was a very active volunteer here in the ’60s, working with mostly the African-American community, in the Teen City program, and taught for 40 years in Marblehead Public Schools. We lost her two years ago, but she would be very happy watching this community blossom.”

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