History was made with announcement that there would be a Chief of Arts and Culture in the Walsh Administration

On Jan. 29, 2014, the Walsh Administration announced its plans for reorganizing Boston’s mayoral cabinet. Reporting directly to Mayor Marty Walsh will be the Police Commissioner, Superintendent of Schools, and eight other cabinet officials—including the newly-created Chief of Arts & Culture, who will oversee the library as well as an Arts Commission and Boston Cultural Council.

During the mayoral campaign, Walsh was the first candidate to pledge to hire a cabinet-level arts commissioner, and his fulfillment of that promise is historic. We expect that the city will benefit strongly by having a commissioner of arts and culture at the policy-making table. If nothing else, coordination with other city initiatives related to education, public safety, and economic development that might not have been otherwise possible might now take place.

Other cities that have made arts a political priority by naming cabinet-level arts commissioners have reaped the rewards. In 2008, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter established by executive order a Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy. He also hired a cabinet-level Chief Cultural Officer for the city who reported directly to him. In just five years, Philly’s arts czar brought in federal grant money to Philadelphia for arts and cultural initiatives, and additional private investment, including a three-year $9 million Knight Arts grant. Perhaps most important, Philadelphia’s arts commissioner acted as an ambassador for the arts among other city department heads and helped coordinate arts initiatives in the schools and elsewhere.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has seen similar success with his arts commissioner. Just one year into an arts policy strategic plan overseen by his arts commissioner, the city saw 60 percent of Chicago Public Schools complete Creative Schools Certification, which rates schools based on how well they are bringing arts instruction and opportunities to students. Chicago’s arts commissioner also re-launched the city’s online Cultural Grants Program, which awarded 200 grants totaling $1.2 million. And the inaugural Chicago Theatre week sold 6,200 tickets to 300 performances.

It’s no secret that there are benefits to bringing the arts community to the policy making table. But the practice has never been tried before in Boston. As Ed Siegel of WBUR’s The ARTery wrote last September about the mayoral campaign: There is “widespread agreement among the candidates on several issues that seemed fairly radical not that long ago — the school day should be extended to allow for arts education and training; developers should spend 1 percent of their construction costs on funding for the arts; there should be a cabinet-level arts administrator.” 

We look forward to working with the Walsh Administration and its new Chief of Arts and Culture in bringing strategic arts planning—and of its benefits—to the city. 

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