Some of those areas of potential impact are fairly obvious; Chang-Díaz cites the "Creative Challenge Impact" bill seeking to address arts opportunities in schools. Others are apparent to insiders, such as the way the Economic Development Reorganization bill, recently filed by Senate President Therese Murray, which might threaten the MCC's independence.

Says caucus co-chair William "Smitty" Pignatelli, representative from Lenox: "The Cultural Caucus has an ideal opportunity to get involved with the good, the bad, and the ugly of casinos, and how they affect performing-arts institutions and the creative economy."

Keenan, a caucus member as well as committee co-chair, is certainly looking to push the gaming issue. He created a committee Task Force on Performing Arts, which is set to release its first report this week on the potential impact of gaming.

Representative Mark Falzone, another caucus member, took the lead on that report. "The report is not going to take a position on gaming itself," he says. "It does cover the question, in the event there is gaming, how can gaming and the performing arts co-exist in Massachusetts?"

That may be seen by leadership as an impertinent question — especially coming from a caucus headed by Chang-Díaz and Pignatelli, who have both voted against casinos before.

But standing up against the gaming bill — which House proponents are expected to file with Speaker Robert DeLeo's support in about two weeks — might not be the safest political calculation. Murray is a gung-ho proponent of casinos, and DeLeo strongly favors slots in existing race tracks. Many local officials, including Boston Mayor Tom Menino, also support gaming. And leadership in both houses wants the revenue from gaming to help bridge the enormous budget gaps that have developed in this economic downturn.

Does the new caucus really want to immediately place itself in opposition to the powers that be on such a high-profile issue? And if they do, will that jeopardize its ability to have influence in the future, when it comes time to battle for funding for the arts?

Many arts advocates believe that gaming is exactly the kind of legislative issue in which a cultural caucus should be involved — one that won't go through the arts-specific legislative committee, but has arts implications of which other legislators aren't aware.

A cultural caucus can serve to educate those other lawmakers, propose alternative solutions, and advise the arts community how best to advocate, says Robert Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts in Washington, DC, and former executive director of the University of Massachusetts Arts Extension Service. In other states where legislators have formed similar caucuses, says Lynch, "it's been really, really useful, and helps shape better policy."

The caucus must first get other legislators to understand the threat gaming poses to the arts centers and beyond, says Josiah Spaulding, CEO of Citi Performing Arts Center in Boston. As a nonprofit, he points out, CitiCenter contributes to the local community in many ways, from partnerships with schools and libraries to free community performances. "I believe that destination resorts that contain casinos and performing arts [are] a good thing," says Spaulding, "but not in my back yard."

Jeff Poulos, executive director of StageSource in Boston, goes further, saying that venues driven out of business across Massachusetts will leave communities without stages for local orchestras, dance companies, and other performances. "The implication goes far beyond jobs and revenues," says Poulos.

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