Comparing the Boston Mayoral Candidates' Positions on the Arts

By: Kate Huffman

In 2013, the Boston creative community came together for the first-ever Create the Vote (CTV) campaign to lift up arts and culture in the Boston mayoral election. At that time, then-candidate Marty Walsh was a leader among the 12 vying for the position in the discussion on how to make Boston a municipal arts leader. In the last four years, Mayor Walsh has taken important steps to center the arts in Boston by creating a cabinet-level position for the arts, which he filled by hiring Julie Burros, as well as a Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture (MOAC). In 2016, a cultural plan for Boston, called Boston Creates, was released. Boston Creates is a “ten-year city initiative designed to align public and private resources to strengthen cultural vitality over the long-term and weave arts and culture into the fabric of everyday life.” There have been many advances in supporting the arts in Boston, yet there is still a long way to go if we want to continue to support creativity, community-building, economic advancement, and innovation across the city.

Mayor Walsh is running for a second term. His lone challenger is  Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson (District 7). Both have been vocal in their support of the arts, though differ slightly on the methods of how to deliver financial support, as well as what to prioritize as Mayor. Continuing the tradition of championing the arts, encouraging candidates to take bold stands on the arts, and informing voters, MASSCreative undertook the Create the Vote 2017 initiative for the Boston Mayoral election, as well as Mayoral and City Council races in more than 40 cities across the Commonwealth. 

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Councilor Jackson meeting with local arts leaders.

 In early October, Councilor Jackson sat down with local arts leaders to discuss the importance of arts in education, the economy, and to Boston's identity. In addition to meetings with local arts leaders, Councilor Jackson and Mayor Walsh completed questionnaires compiled by MASSCreative with questions from Boston arts leaders about public investment in the arts, utilizing the arts to build vibrant communities, and supporting the needs of working artists. You can read Councilor Jackson’s responses to the questionnaire here and Mayor Walsh’s responses here. Below is an account of areas where the two candidates agreed and differed on the CTV questionnaire.

Funding the Arts

Diving into questions of finance, the CTV questionnaire points out that Boston invests significantly less per capita government support than other comparable cities. It also asks what dedicated funding stream each of the candidates would establish to fund the priorities set out in Boston Creates and what that level would be. Neither candidate gave a hard number for a budget line.

In answering, Mayor Walsh expressed his pride for the Boston Creates plan, including artists-in-residence programs and grants to individual artists, and noted that one of the city’s most significant and lasting investment in the arts was the launch of the Percent for Art program. The Percent for Art program, included for the first time in the FY 18-22 Capital Plan, designates one percent of the City’s capital borrowing dollars toward public art in new facilities.

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Councilor Jackson cited the economic contributions of the arts, referencing the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s estimate that for every $1 it invests in arts organizations, $5 goes back into the economy. Councilor Jackson also stated that the MOAC is underfunded and that as Mayor, he would raise Boston’s per-capita spending for the arts. He cited the New Bedford lodging tax recently approved by Governor Baker as a possible model for part of a diverse revenue stream for the arts.

In their questionnaire responses, neither candidate stated a number for a budget line for the arts. But on Arts Matters Day (10/27/2017), Councilor Jackson joined arts advocates across the state in sharing an #ArtsMattersDay post, in which he committed to doubling arts funding if elected Mayor. 

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Youth Engagement

Mayor Walsh and Councilor Jackson both lauded the Boston Public Schools’ (BPS) Arts Expansion initiative and each stated they’d like to build upon the success of the program. Mayor Walsh spoke of the initiative's specific successes, including a 43 percent increase in the number of high school students receiving in-school arts instruction between 2009 and 2016, as well as 17,000 more elementary, middle, and high school students receiving arts instruction during the school day than in 2009. He also recognized that Boston Creates identified the need to support out-of-school youth arts programs, and noted the ways in which he has brought together arts and other industry leaders to  support out-of-school arts education providers. Mayor Walsh said he is “happy to continue bringing people together to come up with more ways to support the most crucial needs of the arts and culture sector.”

As Chairman of the Boston City Council’s Committee on Education, Councilor Jackson is a strong education advocate. He stated, “As Mayor, I would work across sectors to reframe arts education from an optional ‘enrichment’ activity to a vital part of each student’s education. This work starts with fully funding the Boston Public Schools. Principals should not have to choose between funding a school nurse and a dance teacher - both are vital to the health of students.”

Creating and Maintaining Vibrant Neighborhoods

When asked about how the candidates would use the arts and culture community to build connections that maintain and support ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, the Mayor shared a current program of the MOAC, the Boston Artist in Residence (AIR) program, as well as a new initiative, the Percent for Art program. The funds collected from the latter program will be used in library renovations, new school construction, and public space reconstruction projects. In addition, the guidelines for this program specifically state that the city should invest in neighborhoods that historically have not had as many public artworks as other part of the city. Guidelines also  require a community process to make sure the city is responding to the needs of that community.

Councilor Jackson responded to this prompt in the questionnaire with a  pledge to disband the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA). Councilor Jackson favors separating the planning and development functions of the city in order to better meet the needs of longstanding residents with Neighborhood Stabilization plans, focused on affordability and transparency.  In his plan, a new planning office, coupled with a well-resourced MOAC, would bring artists into the planning process early to better ensure  that the needs of artists for rehearsal, creation, and performing spaces are met.

Supporting Working Artists and Creating Space to Rehearse, Perform & Operate

In line with his views on making the city more people-centered, Councilor Jackson wrote that he believes that Boston has not fully utilized the potential of creative placemaking strategies, which he wants to build into his Neighborhood Stabilization plans. Councilor Jackson said that as Mayor, he would seek out new and innovative ways to share performance and rehearsal space by building partnerships with non-arts organizations. He also would like to have discussions with the city’s large non-profit non-cultural institutions about PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes), as this could provide another potential revenue stream for the small- to mid- size organizations that fuel Boston’s vibrant art scene. The Councilor also discussed his housing policies that will help artists and all Bostonians struggling to support themselves. He has four-part plan that he would implement city-wide as Mayor, including creating a city-funded housing voucher preventing folks from getting priced out of their neighborhoods.

Mayor Walsh acknowledged that he often hears from artists about the challenges of finding affordable living and work spaces in Boston. In addressing this, the Mayor discussed the positive collaborations and results within City Hall as a result of the MOAC having a seat at the table in housing discussions and planning sessions. Following the release of Boston Creates, the MOAC has been working with the BPDA to include arts and culture in the City’s community plans and in development review, which means the BPDA now has clearer guidelines to negotiate artist housing and affordable cultural space to support creative communities across the city. In addition, during Mayor Walsh’s first term, the city undertook the Performing Arts Facilities Assessment to understand the current and anticipated venue challenges of local performing arts organizations in Boston. The Mayor recognized that the assessment articulates that the supply and demand of performing arts spaces in the city do not match. Knowing this, the Mayor’s office will work with the BPDA to create a policy document that will guide talks with developers who are thinking about big projects in Boston. This strategy has already led to success with the creation of three new theaters in the Seaport area.

The candidates both gave answers to questions on how to best utilize the Chief of Arts and Culture, how to promote the arts and culture in Boston, and where each of the candidates’ “go to” cultural places are in the city. 

Conclusion

Overall, it is evident that both candidates care about the arts and believe they are of vital importance to our city’s economic success, as well as to creative communities, well-rounded education for all Boston students, and empathy-building with one another.

Mayor Walsh’s responses to the Create the Vote 2017 questionnaire highlight the important work he and his administration have accomplished so far in his first term as Mayor. These include appointing a cabinet-level position for the arts and culture in the Mayor’s office, producing the Boston Creates plan, undertaking the Performing Arts Facilities Assessment, implementing an artists-in-residence program, and awarding grants to individual artists. If elected to a second term, Mayor Walsh said he would like to build on these accomplishments as well as to continue to seek out ways to diversify revenue streams for the arts.

Councilor Jackson has stated that he wants to double the current funding levels for the arts and culture in the city. He said that he believes his plan for disbanding the BPDA and creating a people-centered planning department, and his plan for  addressing the city’s lack of affordable housing will greatly benefit Boston’s working artists. He said that he is eager to expand upon current arts resources like the MOAC and to explore new methods for funding the arts, but did not offer specific plans.

It is important for arts advocates to be informed about candidates’ positions on the arts and to continue to ask candidates for answers about where they stand on issues, such as growing the arts budget for the city, in order to make an informed decision at the voting booth. Follow and add to the conversation on social media using the hashtags #CreateTheVote and #ArtsMatter, as well as by liking and following MASSCreative on Facebook and Twitter.

Most importantly, don’t forget to head to the polls on Tuesday, November 7 to vote for the candidate you think would do the most good working with artists and responding to the needs of the creative community in Boston. 

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Boston Mayoral Candidates Submit Create the Vote Questionnaires

BOSTON, October 25, 2017—MASSCreative announced today Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and mayoral challenger and District 7 Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson have each submitted Create the Vote questionnaires with answers to questions about public investment in the arts; leveraging creative communities to build vibrant neighborhoods; and supporting working artists and performance groups with space to live, work, and rehearse.

“Boston’s municipal elections are a time for candidates and voters to discuss the strengths and challenges our city faces. It’s also the time where we, as citizens, can openly debate our vision for the future of Boston and think about what is possible,” said MASSCreative Executive Director Matt Wilson. “A new report by Americans for the Arts has found that Boston’s arts and cultural organizations and audiences generate more than $1.35 billion in economic activity each year. They support 6,129 full-time jobs and contribute more than $7 million in local revenues. The arts sector deserves the same level of attention from our public officials that is given to healthcare, technology, and private industry.”

Create the Vote 2017 is a nonpartisan public education campaign organized by MASSCreative and run in partnership with local arts groups and cultural councils. The campaign raises awareness in mayoral and city council races of the ways that arts and creative expression improve schools, strengthen local business districts, and build vibrant neighborhoods in which people want to live, work, and play. In addition to Boston, robust Create the Vote campaigns are underway in Barnstable, Brockton, Cambridge, Framingham, Holyoke, Lowell, Lynn, Newton, Springfield, Somerville, and Worcester. Create the Vote Newton hosted an arts and culture forum with the two mayoral candidates and nearly 100 attendees. In Cambridge, 15 City Council candidates are expected Thursday night, October 26th for the city’s first-ever forum focusing on arts, culture, and creativity. 

Create the Vote was launched in 2013 during the Boston mayoral campaign. During that race, Create the Vote succeeded in securing a pledge from then-candidate Walsh to create a cabinet level position for the arts, a promise he fulfilled after his election with the hiring of Julie Burros as Chief of Arts and Culture. Create the Vote was a significant presence during 2016 legislative races on the Cape and Islands and in the Berkshires, and in 2015 mayoral campaigns in Fitchburg, Gloucester, Medford, New Bedford, and Worcester. During the 2014 gubernatorial race, Create the Vote hosted six candidates at the first-ever Gubernatorial Forum on Arts, Culture, and Creativity; met with candidates; and publicized the answers to candidates’ Create the Vote questionnaires.

In addition to establishing a cabinet-level arts commissioner in the city of Boston, other municipal action on the arts that have taken place in cities and towns where Create the Vote was a significant presence in local elections include the establishment Recent examples include New Bedford, which now has a dedicated funding stream created by a 1 percent hotel tax and Medford and Medfield, which now invest in the arts through dedicated line items in their budgets.  

Completed questionnaires are available online at Mass-creative.org/ctv2017.

Follow the campaign on the MASSCreative Website Twitter with the hashtag #CreateTheVote. You can also “like” us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @MASSCreative, and visit http://www.mass-creative.org/ctv.

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Mass Cultural Council Budget Restored

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On Thursday afternoon September 28, the Massachusetts Senate voted to override Governor Charlie Baker’s summertime veto to the Mass Cultural Council budget, reversing a 13% cut to the creative community. This unanimous vote in the Senate and the earlier 138-14 vote in the House shows solid bipartisan support and makes a strong statement that arts and culture are public goods worthy of state investment. This vote officially brings the Mass Cultural Council FY18 budget back to $14 million and steers clear of devastating cuts to grants and programs.

Read the Boston Globe Editorial, which praises the override and urges political leaders to invest more in the arts.

This victory is a direct result of your advocacy and engagement. In March, 600 arts and cultural supporters marched to the State House on Arts Matter Advocacy Day to rally for more public investment in the arts. Over the past six months, arts advocates sent thousands of messages to state legislators requesting an override of the governor’s veto. Your engagement and outreach reached every member of the Legislature and resulted in 112 legislators signing onto the Mass Cultural Council Override Letter and committing to the override.

Your legislators need to know that their actions are appreciated. Send your legislators a note, thanking them for recommitting their support to arts and culture.

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Create the Vote 2017

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Elections are a time for candidates and voters to discuss the strengths and challenges of our towns and cities. It is also the time where we as a society can openly debate our vision for our communities and think about what is possible.

While arts and culture play a role in our local economies, our educational systems, and in the vibrancy of our neighborhoods and downtowns, candidates often times do not include arts and culture as part of their platform or vision.

Seeing the need to make arts and culture part of the election debate and dialogue, MASSCreative has launched Create the Vote 2017, a nonpartisan public education campaign to raise awareness and support for arts, culture, and creative expression. With active Mayoral and City Council races in more than 40 cities across the Commonwealth, this non-partisan initiative will highlight the role that arts and culture play in educating our students, building vibrant neighborhoods, and strengthening local economies.

Visit the Create the Vote 2017 to see activities in your city.

“Create the Vote 2017 encourages candidates to develop dynamic cultural policies that support the arts and creative expression and integrate these programs into the thinking of city government. We are excited to work with arts leaders to engage candidates and voters in broad-based public education by holding public meetings and publicizing candidates’ answers to a questionnaire about the arts,” said MASSCreative Program Director Tracie Konopinski.

recent analysis by the National League of Cities (NLC), shows that mayors across the country view arts and culture as an important economic driver that is worthy of investment. NLC’s 2017 State of the Cities report analyzes and catalogues the top issues articulated by U.S. mayors in their annual State of the City speeches. Predictably, economic development topped the list of the mayors’ priorities. Breaking down that issue, NLC noted that arts and culture was one of the top five economic subsets—along with job creation, business attraction, downtown development and employment—that mayors identified as important or of interest in the growth of their cities.

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Reports Show that Arts are Boon to the Massachusetts Economy

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In New England, arts and culture create jobs, boost tourism, and generate government revenue. Arts and creativity are such an important part of the regional economy and need to be supported and resourced in the same way as other economic sectors. 

Two new reports - Americans for the Arts (AFTA) Arts & Economic Prosperity 5, and the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) The Jobs in New England's Creative Economy and Why They Matter document the economic impact the creative sector has here in the Commonwealth.

  • More than 71,000 residents are employed by the creative economy in Massachusetts.
  • In the Commonwealth, the nonprofit arts industry generated over $2.2 billion of economic activity in 2015 - $1.3 billion in spending by arts and cultural organizations and an additional $879.5 million in event-related expenditures by their audiences.
  • In 2015, cultural institutions generated more than $159 million in tax revenue in municipalities and the state.

“The data in these reports confirm that arts matter in Massachusetts. The sector employs as many people as the construction industry. It spurs more than $2 billion of economic activity in Massachusetts alone. It is long past the time for our public officials to show the arts and creative sector the same levels of support given to healthcare, technology, and private industry,” said MASSCreative Executive Director Matt Wilson.

Political leaders need to keep the arts sector in the mix when making important policy decisions. The Commonwealth’s economy thrives when creative workers are trained and supported. Its downtowns and neighborhoods are healthier and more vibrant when public art and design are integrated into development and cultural institutions are well-resourced. And Massachusetts students do better across all academic disciplines when schools offer sequential arts education from K-12.

Through its non-partisan Create the Vote campaigns in 20 cities across the state, MASSCreative is partnering with local arts leaders to encourage candidates for mayor and city council to speak out about the importance of the arts and creative expression. The Commonwealth needs champions of the arts on city councils and mayor’s offices, as communities with vibrant arts scenes are places in which people want to live, work, and play.

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New Era Coming for Arts Education in the Commonwealth

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Backpacks, sneakers, and haircuts aren't the only new things you'll find in school this month. The 2017-18 school year also marks the first-time districts across the state will be operating under new state education guidelines written in response to Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a bipartisan federal education law passed in 2015. 

Last year, a coalition of arts education advocates, including MASSCreative, successfully pushed proposals that broaden student access to "a well-rounded education." Its passage marks a much-welcomed embrace of the idea that the "whole child" should be educated after 20 years of an ever-narrowing curriculum.

The ESSA guidelines adopted by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) prioritize arts education for students across the Commonwealth. Under the new DESE plan, every school district will soon include data on access to arts education on their school and district "report cards." This will make it easier for parents, students, and other members of the community to see what their schools are doing, and compare them with other districts.

In the 2015-16 school year, less than half of high school students in Massachusetts took an arts class. This is discouraging given that an ever-growing body of research shows that arts education contributes to lower dropout rates, improved academic performance-including in math and reading-and higher SAT scores. And 2011's Reinvesting in Arts Education report of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities noted that arts engagement fosters better habits of mind such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and independence.

State education leaders have also committed to revising the Arts Curriculum Framework, which has not been updated since 1999. Curriculum frameworks are the guides districts and schools use to develop local curricula and to determine a quality education in each subject area. This is yet another step toward ensuring all Massachusetts students can reap the benefits of arts education.

Embracing the arts in this way does not mean that we are abandoning the quest to educate students at the highest academic levels. It means that we are furthering our mission to educate students to their highest potential.

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Celebrate #ArtsMatterDay: Oct 27

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Friday, October 27 is the 4th Annual #ArtsMatterDay and we’re excited for you to join this online celebration of arts, culture, and creative expression.

Last year, the creative community took social media by storm to celebrate #ArtsMatterDay, with more than 600 participating groups and individuals sharing 4,000 social media messages. By sharing hundreds of pictures and videos – and of course, art – we showed why arts matter to us.

With active Mayoral and City Council races in more than 40 cities across the Commonwealth, this year’s #ArtsMatterDay gives us a unique opportunity to invite arts supporters, voters, and candidates to share why arts matter to them. With Election Day coming up on November 7, #ArtsMatterDay falls in the final stretch of ‘Get out the Vote’ efforts for candidates. Let’s show them that #ArtsMatter to us and that we vote!

Join us in celebrating #ArtsMatterDay on October 27!

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We’re hiring! Please help us by spreading the word to your networks!

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MASSCreative is looking to fill two exciting jobs to help us build the staffing capacity we need to advocate for a healthy, vibrant, and equitable Massachusetts animated by arts, culture, and creative expression.

MASSCreative's Program Advocate will work with the Program Director to develop and implement public education and advocacy campaigns to bring more resources and support for the arts, cultural, and creative communities. The Program Advocate will build coalitions, engage the field through social media, develop relationships with and lobby government leaders in City Halls and the State House, and help develop policy initiatives for the sector. Candidates for this position should have at least a few years of experience as an advocate, but candidates with more experience as a political campaigner or lobbyist are also encouraged to apply.

MASSCreative's Administrative Assistant will coordinate the organization's administrative systems and manage office operations. This is a great entry-level job, or a job for someone in their first few years out of school. With the staff out organizing, advocating, and fundraising, we are looking for a candidate with a passion for administration who can help keep MASSCreative's financial, administrative, online, and legal house in order.

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You can make a difference! 

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We know you believe that arts, culture, and creative expression are essential ingredients of a healthy and vibrant society.

That’s why we’re talking with leaders of the arts, cultural, and creative community in 20 cities about their upcoming mayoral and city council races. In the next month, through Create the Vote 2017, our unique nonpartisan public education initiative, we’re engaging the candidates and tens of thousands of voters like you in an exciting dialogue about the vital importance of creative expression in our communities. But we need your help.

Your gift of $50 will make all the difference. It will enable us to travel across the Commonwealth and make arts, culture, and creative expression a prominent issue in elections this fall.

DONATE TODAY.

With your help, we can show that arts really matter. Thank you!

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MASSCreative statement on new report about economic contributions of the creative economy

BOSTON, September 25, 2017—Today, the Americans for the Arts, New England Foundation for the Arts, and Barr Foundation held a press conference calling attention to data showing the importance of the creative economy to the local region. MASSCreative Executive Director Matt Wilson offered the following comments in response:

“This data confirms that arts matter in Massachusetts. The sector employs as many people as the construction industry. It spurs more than $2 billion of economic activity in Massachusetts alone. It is long past the time for our public officials to show the arts and creative sector the same levels of support given to healthcare, technology, and private industry.

“That means making public investments in creative projects, such as designated cultural districts that improve downtown economies, and local music festivals that bring neighbors together and build closer, more connected communities. It also means keeping the arts sector in mind when making important policy decisions. Our economy thrives when creative workers are trained and supported. Our downtowns and neighborhoods are healthier and more vibrant when public art and design are integrated into development and cultural institutions are well-resourced. Our students do better across all academic disciplines when schools offer sequential arts education from K-12.

“This fall, MASSCreative is running non-partisan Create the Vote campaigns in 20 cities across the state to raise awareness of these issues among the voting public and candidates for mayor and city council. The Commonwealth needs champions of the arts on city councils and mayor’s offices, because communities with vibrant arts scenes are places in which people want to live, work, and play.”

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