Local Cultural Councils are municipal entities comprised of volunteers appointed by the community's chief elected official. This network of local agencies is unmatched anywhere in the country. Each council works to ensure that it funds cultural projects that benefit their community to the greatest extent. Working with its municipality, councils can build a relationship that can be beneficial in many ways – from helping pay administrative costs, to advocating for arts and culture in the community.
Local Cultural Councils are a part of local government and should be supported with the same access to basic resources afforded other government bodies. The MCC has developed the Municipal Guide to Local Cultural Councils (PDF). This guide is meant to acquaint appointing authorities with the LCC Program. In August 2009, it was emailed to municipal officials across the state. Councils may also download it and print a copy to use as a resource with their city/town officials. The MCC encourages municipalities to support their LCC with in-kind or reduced cost services and resources whenever possible. Municipalities may be able to support council work in the following ways:
Funding: A municipality may provide cash to support staff, program or other expenses to enable the LCC to better serve the community.
Liaison: Many municipalities assign an official municipal liaison to the LCC, such as a member of the select board, a city council member, or other official. The liaison might periodically attend LCC meetings, assist by providing access to other town officials when needed, help address issues and be a general advocate for the LCC. Such a liaison can also promote the LCC as a participant in larger civic discussions.
Administrative resources: Along with the need for public meetings and filing space, the LCC benefits from access to a phone, computer, photocopier and other office equipment. Many municipalities assume photocopying costs at free or reduced rates through in-house services; municipal privileges are often extended to cover mailing costs. Basic supplies may be available at reduced or no cost through the town's procurement officer.
Staff support: The town clerk's office is often a distribution and/or drop-off point for application forms. Because an LCC is an all volunteer body whose members may be working during the day, it can be a great service to the community to have a town phone number that people can call regarding basic questions (e.g., deadlines, where to get application forms, etc.)
Publicity and promotion: In-house bulletins, newsletters and other communication vehicles may be available for routine and special announcements about LCC activities. Press contacts may also be shared.
Program support: Some municipalities pitch in to assist councils in mounting special programs. For example, public works departments have assisted with trash removal, electrical wiring or hanging banners for festivals; town engineers have helped ensure structural soundness of outdoor public artworks and police have helped with traffic control for an outdoor event.
The combined expertise and teamwork of the LCC and other town leaders can increase the impact the LCC has on the community. The fewer expenses the LCC must cover from its allocation, the more it can invest in the community's cultural programs. The more the municipality knows about the LCC, the more likely it will be to offer support for council work. Keeping the municipality informed about council activities can help to develop a good working relationship with them, and it can also help when problems arise.
Occasionally a problem can arise between council members and local government officials. This is usually because officials don't understand how councils operate. It may help to give the municipality a copy of the Municipal Guide to the LCC Program. Councils can obtain a copy from the MCC. If problems do arise, use the following procedures:
- Put a grievance in writing and date all correspondence.
- Work through the system - start with the person responsible and give them the opportunity to understand and resolve the conflict.
- If unsuccessful, contact the person’s supervisor and explain the situation. Refer to correspondence that documents the grievance.
Feel free to ask MCC staff for assistance to think through a solution or to intervene on the council's behalf, particularly if the steps above have not resolved the situation.
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One of the best-attended programs at a local cultural council convening was a panel discussion about maintaining good relationships with municipal leaders. Below are some tips from former Agawam Cultural Council Chair Mike Granfield, former Acton-Boxboro Council Chair Susan Richmond and Lawrence Mayor, Michael Sullivan.
BUILD CONSENSUS FOR THE VALUE OF YOUR WORK
Susan Richmond, former chair, Acton-Boxboro Cultural Council
There are four basic steps to working successfully with your community:
- Heighten your council's visibility: Hold open workshops at high-profile venues, announce council actions publicly, and establish a presence at other community events and activities.
- Give the town a stake in your work: Collect input about your work from individuals and various town organizations and respond to the needs they identify.
- Create partnerships: Think strategically about which community members and organizations might benefit from your efforts and vice versa - then look for collaborators.
- Solicit feedback: Collect evaluations about your work at council-sponsored events. Pass out surveys. Talk to neighbors and constituents. Listen to what they have to say.
IDENTIFY THE LEADERS YOU NEED TO REACH
Michael Sullivan, Mayor of Lawrence
- Keep at it: It might be difficult to track down the mayor, the town planner or a city council member, but don't get discouraged, keep trying. These folks have a lot on their plates. The people who tend to get their attention are the ones who keep at it.
- Don't be afraid to speak your piece: Your municipal contact might not seem sympathetic to your cause or project at first, but remember there are many demands for city resources and you must convince him or her that your activities warrant support. You must speak compellingly and with passion about the projects your council carries out.
- Demand a spot on the docket: Talk to the town secretary to learn how to get on a town meeting agenda.
WHAT TO DO ONCE YOU'RE IN THE DOOR
Mike Grandfield, Chair of the Agawam Cultural Council
When meeting with your municipal leaders, you should:
- Be prepared: Have an agenda prepared ahead of time. Be specific about the purpose of your meeting and what the intended results are. Be ready to account for how you spent local and state funds. Read local newspapers and go to public events in your town or city to learn the issues your officials care about. Think about how you can tie the value of local cultural programming to issues that the mayor, town finance committee or Board of Selectmen are already committed to.
- Acknowledge previous actions: Begin the meeting by thanking municipal officials for their previous and ongoing support of local cultural programming. Supplement the privately expressed "thank-yous" with public ones - thank officials at town hall meetings or in letters to the editor.
- Be inspiring: The most successful ways to inspire others are to display your own passion and commitment, and share success stories about LCC-funded programs. Talk about projects that contributed to the quality of life in your town or city. Think about projects that provided services where none existed, that celebrated or showcased community assets, or that used art to address important social or civic concerns.
Once you have selected a few projects to highlight, think about what kind of documentation exists about these projects. Do you have any high-quality photographs or videos of these projects you could share with your municipal official?
- Demonstrate your strength in the community: Show a clear plan for your council based on feedback from the community. Describe activities that highlight or promote a sense of vision or pride in the community. Talk about services provided and hours volunteered through LCC activities and projects. Mention other community groups you've worked with.
- Make specific requests: When hearing your request for monetary support, municipal officials need to understand exactly what your LCC wants. Don't necessarily take "no" for an answer. If he or she says, "That's nice, but the money is tight," be persistent about how you spend public money wisely and get a good return on their investment. If you determine that "no" means "no," ask for some other kind of support. Prepare in advance a list of in-kind contributions that you need.
- Keep the conversation going: Remember, it's the relationship between people that develops trust and fosters a willingness to take action on your behalf. Keep the relationship with your municipal official ahead of your goal. Acknowledge any concerns he or she has. Direct the conversation back to the value of supporting local cultural programming. At the end of every meeting, review your discussion, clarify next steps on the requests and make specific arrangements to follow-up.
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