Arts Have Ally in Cultural Council

            After watching an excellent television program on the public broadcasting station, a viewer might sit and watch the credits roll. Somewhere near the bottom, it says the program was made possible by… any number of charitable agencies, endowments or entities.

            When it comes to the wide variety of locally-based or locally beneficial arts events and projects, the Rochester Cultural Council is such an agency.

            Established in 1998, the council is made up of several members appointed to three-year terms by the Board of Selectmen with the mission to serve as a clearinghouse or judgment committee for applicants seeking funding from the state.

            The Massachusetts Cultural Council decides the amount allocated to each town, then that local affiliate deliberates over each application, and upon a majority vote makes the awards. Rochester expects an annual allocation of approximately $5,000. Award amounts generally range between $200 and $600 and are distributed by town administration in keeping with the local Cultural Council’s determinations.

            “If the project or the event is going to be most beneficial to the age groups in the Rochester and surrounding areas as well including New Bedford and all over, as a group we decide how many people will be able to partake, benefit from whatever that project is. And that gives weight to how much we award them,” said Rochester Cultural Council member Nancy Sparklin. “In each application, they list what else they’ve applied to… that also comes into play.”

            And in a positive manner, says the council, which is not likely to reject an application because they are barking up other trees and may not need the funding as much as an applicant with all its eggs in one basket. The council sees aggressive fundraising as ambition.

            “The Rochester Cultural Council’s priority is to benefit the people in Rochester,” said Chairperson Randall Elgin. “One of the first things (we ask) will be, ‘Will the people in Rochester enjoy it?’ It might happen in the Tri-Town area. The symphonic band, New Bedford Symphony comes to Rochester and goes right into the schools so we support that.”

            People across the region have gotten to know Vinny Lovegrove and the Toe Jam Puppet Band in part thanks to the Rochester Cultural Council.

            Member Sue Kowalski said in an email that the council interacts with a great group of people, those who organize and run events and are willing to volunteer their time and effort to present something that benefits their community but lack the means to make it happen without funding.

            “We have the benefit of being able to help them realize their goal and it is generally a very positive experience all around,” she said.

            Kowalski said it’s important that people know the wide variety of events or projects that the Rochester Cultural Councils supports, including music, arts, and sciences. “Weather stations, anything to do with science we actually fund, and also the age groups from school-age kids to seniors… Sometimes sponsoring a senior group going to the Boston art museums and they need some funding. We consider that a worthwhile event.”

            Kowalski said that last year the Rochester Cultural Council received 25 applications for 2020 projects and made 21 awards, noting that the council strives for fairness and an effort to spread the money equitably and as broadly as possible.

            The Rochester Cultural Council is a member of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the coordinated mission being “to promote excellence, access, education and diversity in the arts, humanities, and sciences, in order to improve the quality of life for all Massachusetts residents and to contribute to the economic vitality of our communities.”

            As is the case with other towns’ cultural councils, members discuss each application, seek a consensus, then vote – a majority rules.

            “That’s the state-handed process,” said Sparklin, noting that applications are made online through the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

            It’s been a strange year for the Rochester Cultural Council with so many events and programs hanging in the balance due to state guidelines and restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

            “We had a handful of people who managed to get their programs in before the end of March, and then there are virtual (events and programs). Some are waiting, especially the ones that are going to be outdoor gatherings,” explained Kowalski, noting that the Onset Chalk-fest was canceled. “The Massachusetts Cultural Council certainly understands the COVID issue, and are giving the 2020 grantees until 2021 to use the money. They can also apply for 2021 if they so need. They all got their checks done.”

            “Massachusetts Cultural Council has been very proactive in coming forth with guidelines in how to handle the COVID-19 situation, and all the cultural councils are supportive,” said Elgin.

            The Rochester Cultural Council has begun advertising and press releases and will accept applications from September 15 to October 15. By December 30, the council will have made its decisions and announce who has won the awards. 

            The council is also interested in gaining new members. For more information, email or visit

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