October 5, 2022
Celebrating five years of Creative County

Live performances, inspiring speakers and a $2 million funding announcement top the 2022 Essex County Arts and Culture Summit

By Michelle Xiarhos Curran

When the beat dropped during Ana Masacote’s high-energy salsa performance at the 2022 Essex County Arts & Culture Summit, you could feel the room begin to move.

Some of the 350 people in attendance – artists and nonprofit, creative, cultural and municipal leaders – swayed almost imperceptibly in their seats; others danced freely in the aisles. But all of the energy generated on Friday, Sept. 30 at The Cabot – the city of Beverly’s historic and state-of-the-art theatre – was palpable, like some unstoppable force.

It’s a feeling that’s been building and persevering over the last five years – through a global pandemic, racial unrest and unprecedented uncertainty – as Creative County, ECCF’s collaborative initiative to strengthen the arts and culture ecosystem in Essex County, pushes towards a future that is sustainable, equitable and accessible for all. This work, celebrated at the day-long Summit, is taking hold.

Since 2018, 45 partnership and special project grants have been awarded for public art and place-based work throughout Essex County. There’s now a skatepark in Ipswich. A permanent children’s museum is coming to Peabody. Colorful shanties – filled with art – line Newburyport’s waterfront in summer. New festivals celebrating history and diversity are drawing people to Essex County.

Additionally, because of Creative County, more than 2,000 people have engaged through our convenings. More than 30,000 people and 2,000 organizations have benefitted from the scope of the work. Capacity-building and leadership support programs are creating strong and valuable connections. Changes in policies, practices and procedures are spreading throughout the region. And systems – of people, organizations and resources – are growing, and creating sustainability across our cities and towns.

“I have the great privilege of announcing today that the Barr Foundation Board has recognized the impact of ECCF’s work and is committing funding for the next four years in the amount of $1.6 million,” Creative County Program Director Karen Ristuben told the audience, which erupted in cheers.

With ECCF’s commitment of an additional $400,000 in resources, the foundation will essentially double regional arts funding over the next four years. And this funding paves the way for a brand-new round of Creative County resources and opportunities that will continue to elevate arts and culture and move Essex County forward. These include more partnership and special project grants, “last mile fund” grants, racial equity capacity grants and additional funds for leadership support programs like ChangeMakers and for municipal cultural planning.

“This work truly is transformational,” said Stratton Llyod, ECCF’s executive vice president and COO.

Details on these opportunities will be available on CreativeCounty.org in the coming weeks.

Michael Bobbitt, executive director of the Mass Cultural Council and a keynote speaker at the Summit, said he was “impressed as hell” by the work of Creative County. In addition to announcing new funding opportunities from MCC, Bobbitt’s talk centered around the artist’s role in reflecting and mitigating the challenges of modern times.

“All of you here in the creative sector, especially the young people, have everything we need to fix this,” he said. “You, your amazing art, have the gift of imagination. This is why we must support and cultivate art. The world needs you now more than ever.”

Additional speakers at the Summit revealed the ways in which trusted partnerships helped to initiate change in their communities. A panel from Peabody, including mayor Ted Bettencourt and members of the Peabody Cultural Collaborative – moderated by Lloyd – discussed how they were able to leverage the success of pop-up children’s museum CuriousCity and turn it into the permanent North Shore Children’s Museum. Members of a panel from Lynn, moderated by Rosario Ubiera-Minaya, the new executive director of Raw Art Works, revealed how projects like the Hip Hop Wall of Fame and the Lynn Summer Arts Festival have been brought forth through collaboration that is elevating arts and culture in the city.

“The opposite of division is not unity, but collaboration,” said author, singer and songwriter Dar Williams, who spoke and performed four songs at the Summit. “This whole Summit is about recognizing and strengthening the ways we can collaborate with each other.”

Williams, who rose to fame in Boston’s 1990s music scene, has traveled the country in search of how the arts influences community life. To her, ‘difference’ symbolizes harmony.

“To recognize the diversity of our people is to recognize what’s wonderful about our country,” she said. “I’m so excited for what you’re doing. You should talk about your achievements. This is the model the world needs to hear about.”

While outside in the Cabot lobby, Lynn artist Michael Aghahowa painted a new mural, an inspirational performance by Kenyan-born American composer, singer and activist Wangari Fahari and a powerful collaboration between spoken word artist Michelle La Poetica and dancer Lisa Miller-Gillespie rounded out the close of the 2022 Essex County Arts & Culture Summit.

“I hope what you take away from today is that Creative County is a collaborative, long-term partnership effort that is not only making an immediate difference, but it is also helping us to understand, at a systemic level, how we can do better in the future,” said ECCF President and CEO Beth Francis.

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