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Cultivating the arts; 67 artists and organizations in city win grants.

Byline: Thomas Caywood

WORCESTER - Caitlin McCarthy is making a name for herself as a screenwriter, with a number of writing awards to her credit and one of her scripts in the hands of a development producer looking for financing to turn it into a film.

The promising author has an idea for a new screenplay, perhaps her most ambitious project yet, a historical drama set in Nova Scotia during the tumultuous deportations of Acadians by the British governor beginning in 1755. The only problem had been how to pay for the necessary travel and research on a teacher's salary.

But her screenwriting career in general and the Acadian project in particular got a welcome financial boost this year when Ms. McCarthy was selected to receive a $5,000 fellowship grant from the Worcester Cultural Commission.

Every artist needs a patron at some point, and for dozens of promising painters, writers, musicians, photographers and other struggling artists in the city, that patron is the Worcester Cultural Commission.

The commission, a volunteer group charged with nurturing arts and culture in the city in part by awarding thousands of dollars in state grants, this year will distribute more than $114,000 in awards to 67 artists and cultural organizations in Worcester.

This year's crop of grant recipients ranges from individual artists such as Ms. McCarthy, to ethnic festivals, to city schools, to the Worcester Cultural Commission itself, which set aside $15,000 for the popular Art in the Park sculpture exhibit in August.

"These are things that breathe life and activity into a city," said Deborah McNamara, chairwoman of the commission.

Ms. McCarthy, 38, an English teacher at Worcester Technical High School, said she plans to use part of her fellowship money to travel to Nova Scotia this summer to research the Acadian expulsions in local archives and at a family reunion of Arsenaults, a prominent Acadian family.

"I wouldn't be able to do this without the fellowship," Ms. McCarthy said this week in her Worcester Tech classroom. "As a teacher, you don't have the unlimited funds that some other professions have, so this grant is just tremendous."

City playwright Marc P. Smith also received a $5,000 fellowship grant from the commission this year, which he put toward the research and writing of a play about Jan Karski, a member of the Polish resistance during World War II.

Mr. Smith, 75, has been in Los Angeles this week meeting with that city's Polish consul as well as with producers working on a movie treatment of the Jan Karski story. The play recently debuted in Worcester at the Hibernian Cultural Centre, and Mr. Smith expects to stage the production in Poland in August.

"For me, the grant was an incredible encouragement, and I really feel very gratified to have the community support for my work," Mr. Smith said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles.

"I tell people that the city is behind this kind of project," he added. "I think it helps the city and the city's image as a place where an important piece might originate. It gives encouragement to others to start something in Worcester."

The commission - which is set up for nine members, but currently has three openings - typically gets between $80,000 and $100,000 from the state to hand out as arts and culture grants in the city, Ms. McNamara said. That level of funding, however, soon may be a thing of the past with current versions of the proposed state budget contemplating a 57 percent cut to the Local Cultural Council grant program.

Like the other members of the commission, Ms. McNamara is a volunteer and fits in the work between family commitments and her job a chief underwriter at Unum Group. The commissioners seek input from residents about what kind of arts and culture they would like to see in the city, although such meetings aren't always very well attended, and then use the recommendations they gather to help them make decisions about how to distribute the state money, Ms. McNamara said.

"Every dollar goes back into the community for cultural events the community wants," she said.

The Worcester Cultural Commission is separate from, although often confused with, the similarly named Worcester Cultural Coalition. The latter group, also affiliated with the city, is made up of cultural attractions and is intended to help draw visitors to the city and to the member attractions. While the coalition performs a culturally based economic development function for the city, the commission serves as its adviser on arts and culture.

Administering the state arts and culture grant program is a major component of that mission.

The types of projects this year's round of Worcester Cultural Commission grants will support include dance, photography, design, theater, music, literature and crafts. Most of the grant amounts range between $1,000 and $2,000.

For example, Mechanic's Hall got $1,800 to support an organ concert series. The Worcester Arts and Humanities Educational Collaborative got $2,500 to produce William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" for ninth-graders. The commission also awarded $450 for a two-person play called "Love Letters" to be staged at the Worcester Senior Center.

This year's largest grant by far is the $15,000 for Art in the Park.

"Some people may feel intimidated going to Worcester Art Museum, but they're in Elm Park all the time with their kids or walking their dog," Ms. McNamara said. "So we're bringing art out into the public spaces again, where they have to respond to it."

Ms. McCarthy, the screenwriter and English teacher, said she first heard about the grants through a city e-mail that went out to school department employees as well. She applied last October and found out in December that she had been selected for one of the two available fellowships, which are different from the typical grants in that they are intended to support the artist's overall work as opposed to a specific project.

"I was thrilled. I would have found some way to do the research for this new script, but this just makes it so much easier," Ms. McCarthy said. "I don't have to worry about that now. I'll be starting the research as soon as the school year ends."


PHOTOG: (1) T&G Staff/JIM COLLINS; (2) T&G File Photo/TOM RETTIG

CUTLINE: (1) Caitlin McCarthy, an English teacher at Worcester Technical High School, received a $5,000 fellowship grant from the Worcester Cultural Commission to work on a screenwriting project. (2) Playwright Marc P. Smith, center, is shown earlier this year working with the actors who performed his play "Karski." Smith also received a $5,000 fellowship grant.
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Title Annotation:ENTERTAINMENT
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:May 22, 2009
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