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Arts groups get $16.7m from state for projects

Citi Center request is tabled due to concern about its spending

Shakespeare & Company in Lenox will use its grant from the Cultural Facilities Fund to help convert a gym into a theater. Shakespeare & Company in Lenox will use its grant from the Cultural Facilities Fund to help convert a gym into a theater.

In a move hailed by arts leaders across Massachusetts, the state's new Cultural Facilities Fund yesterday allocated an unprecedented $16.7 million worth of grants for building projects to more than 60 arts and cultural organizations throughout the state. But noticeably absent from the list of recipients was the Citi Performing Arts Center.

The grants stem from last year's vote by the Legislature to create the Cultural Facilities Fund to spur economic growth via improvements to the state's cultural infrastructure. Of the 201 organizations that applied for grants, 63 were recommended by an initial panel of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which administers the fund with MassDevelopment, another state agency. Many of the state's most prominent arts and cultural organizations, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Children's Museum, and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, received grants. Only one recommended organization - the Citi Performing Arts Center - had its grant tabled by an advisory committee.

Arts leaders yesterday praised the Legislature for making the allocations. Some in the midst of fund-raising campaigns said the state's endorsement will make it much easier to push for private and corporate donations.

"It makes all the difference in the world to get this grant," said Margaret Murphy, executive director of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. The organization's $205,000 grant will go toward the renovation of the 97-year-old Days Lumber Yard building, which houses a gallery, housing for artists in residence, and staff offices.

Across the state in Lenox, Shakespeare & Company will use its $395,000 grant to help pay for a $5 million project in which it will convert a brick gym on its campus into a theater, with rehearsal spaces and costume and set-design shops.

"That's not small change coming from the taxpayers of the Commonwealth," said Nick Puma, the organization's interim executive director. "I'm ecstatic about it. It really shows that we've put together a wonderful project and they thought that much of us."

Other grants will go to the BSO ($675,000), Worcester Center for Performing Arts ($675,000), Arts Boston ($180,000), Museum of African American History ($420,000), Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum ($274,000), Lesley University ($37,500), and Dorchester Historical Society ($9,375).

The $104,000 capital grant provided to Jacob's Pillow in Becket will pay for renovation of the Ted Shawn Theatre, which was built in 1942. The building's foundation wasn't installed deep enough in the ground, so in the winter, during a frost, the theater shifts, causing the stage to bow. "The work really, really needs to be done," said Connie Chin, general manager.

The initial MCC panel voted earlier this summer to give the Citi Performing Arts Center (formerly the Wang Center for the Performing Arts) $600,000. But in August, after the Globe reported on programming cutbacks, financial struggles, and the decision to give president Josiah Spaulding Jr. a $1.2 million bonus, the Citi Center grant was tabled by an advisory committee.

The effort to create the Cultural Facilities Fund began in 2004, when a Boston Foundation report highlighted the need to make repairs to many of the facilities that house arts institutions throughout the state. The fund was established in 2006, setting in motion the application process that culminated yesterday.

"When you talk about need, heaven knows fund-raising is difficult enough in the nonprofit sector, but when you have to raise money for a new boiler or a new roof or a new septic system, that's hard," said Anita Walker, the MCC's executive director. "No one wants to put their name on that."

Robert L. Culver, president and chief executive of MassDevelopment, said that the fund's review panels, which included members of MassDevelopment and appointees by the governor, made a special effort to distribute grants to organizations of different sizes across the state. He said that the Citi Center grant, which would have been used to update the fire alarm systems at the Shubert Theatre and add accessible bathrooms at the Wang Theatre, was tabled because of concerns over the Citi Center's spending practices.

"If there are such questions out there, we said, let's just suspend judgment until we find out if where there's smoke, there's fire," Culver said, adding that there is a chance the grant could be approved later this year.

The Citi Center, through a spokesman, said it plans to provide more information to the MCC and MassDevelopment.

Though cultural leaders said they were pleased with the nearly $17 million in grants, they're not viewing yesterday's allocations as a one-shot deal. Advocates have formed the Coalition for Cultural Facilities, which includes local business leaders, to push for more support in the future.

"First of all, the law's on the books," said Paul Grogan, president and CEO of the Boston Foundation. "Obviously, funding is never guaranteed, or rarely, and we're going to have to fight for this. But I'm optimistic there will be future funding because certainly the leadership of the Legislature really understood how important it was."

Geoff Edgers can be reached at gedgers@globe.com.

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