Why Are We Spending $1,000,000 on Art in Worcester?

Logan Rosell, Scarlet Staff

The Greater Worcester Community Foundation (GWCG) recently received a one-million-dollar grant for the arts set to disperse over the next three years. This arts grant will be shepherded by Barbra Fields, the new President and CEO of the foundation. GWCG is the largest philanthropic foundation in the city and gives money to everything from education to food banks. It is no understatement to say that the organization is at the heart of the community and where it puts its money deeply impacts its citizens.

The real question that should be raised about this funding is not if it is a virtuous investment, but whether or not there is something else the foundation should be doing with the money. As mentioned earlier, the foundation does play a large role in critical services such as food banks. Is funding the arts as impactful as feeding people?

President Fields would argue yes. She points out that GWCF is increasingly seen as a community partner, meaning that they play a more active role in the leadership of the community. The goal of any community foundation has always been long-term growth and sustainability. Practically, this means spending money on the hairier issues like inequality or cultural development. Making a massive investment in the arts is exactly that: an active way to engage with the less tangible social elements of a community. This also means that it will be incredibly hard to track and measure the impact of their work.

Many people would rightfully expect that such a vast sum of cash would go a long way to revitalizing a city that hasn’t seen its heyday for decades. Investments in arts in Worcester is not new to GWCF either. Since its founding in the 1970s, the organization has invested in arts of all types. Yet the city is not gleaming. It goes to show that there is no quick fix for a community, and if there was it would be hard to prove. President Fields says that “arts at large are an integral part of building the economy.” Fields responds to questions of how else that money could be spent by explaining that, “I don’t think it’s an ‘either-or,’ I think it’s an ‘and-both.’” For example, the foundation has recently focused on getting kids involved in the arts which Fields says, “leads to better health outcomes.” While this sounds like a positive impact, it may be difficult for the average Worcester resident to see this. How can they feel responsible for these programs which they don’t vote for, and don’t necessarily hear about?

Perhaps there is a natural inclination to question how money is spent by large philanthropic firms on a communities’ behalf because those people who make up the neighbors and small businesses don’t feel as though they have a say. As Clark students and as members of the Worcester community, it is important to understand who is acting in your name. Community foundations represent social experiments at million- and sometimes even billion-dollar scales. Most people receiving this aid don’t know anything about these organizations. Whose money is building your city?