Members of the Create the Vote coalition sat down with Boston mayoral candidate John Barros to share our stories and discuss his position on the arts, culture, and creative community in Boston.
Here are the key points and takeaways from our conversation:
Background: John Barros’ parents emigrated from Cape Verde, West Africa - where the arts, particularly music, were integral in all aspects of life. He is trained in the djembe – and is a drummer in his church. At the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), where he has been the Executive Director for 13 years, Barros used the arts as a community builder. In the late 1980s, when youth violence was prevalent in his neighborhood, Barros decided to work to address the public image of youth by creating a community mural. It took 3 years and over 300 young people to complete, yet the outcome was a piece of public art that the community felt complete ownership of, and helped to build a different identity for at-risk youth.
- Barros expressed the need for the next mayor of Boston to articulate a bold new vision for the city. He said, “We need to start thinking about the vision for what the city will look like. So far, we have the ‘Eds’ and the ‘Meds,’ - but to start planning a more inclusive Boston, we need to add other essential pillars: The Green Economy, and The Arts.”
- In realizing this vision, Barros believes that we need strategic, comprehensive planning, and cited the need to develop a cultural policy for the city. Instead of an approach to the creative community in Boston that is tactical and transactional, Barros wants to spearhead a strategic, long-term plan for the arts in the city. He believes that if City Hall leads in this effort, then the rest of the community will follow.
- Barros emphasized his experience in planning and management with DSNI, and the need for the mayor to have a deep understanding of clear operations in order to accomplish these goals. He wants to bring people from diverse backgrounds and sectors together to form partnerships and work within a transparent system, creating staff positions like “Curator-in-Chief” to head operations and an Arts Commission to come up with a strong vision. In his words: “What we need to do is put strong people in place, under clear vision and goals, empower them to do good work, and then get out of the way.”
- Finally, Barros identified three specific revenue streams that he would tap into to actualize his vision:
a) Linkage money from developments –he cited his work in affordable housing that would provide valuable experience in utilizing this untapped resource for the arts.
b) Private Funding – he said “we need to have a mayor that is not afraid to make an ask” to private funders to support integrating creative projects throughout the city.
c) Endow an Arts Foundation in Boston – “look at Ted Cutler, we can get another five Teds” to invest in supporting the arts in Boston long term.
From John Barros' issue page on his website:
On Developing Local Arts and the Creative Economy
Leading an arts and culture renaissance, John will ensure that Boston develops an overarching vision, arts and cultural plan. The plan will lift up Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver and San Francisco as models of cities of like size that have dedicated revenue streams (e.g. portion of hotel or sales taxes) and that made real investment into arts infrastructure and understand the arts as an economic driver. John will:
Address the lack of public art and arts access in Boston through the expansion and use of local arts infrastructure and programs in schools, community centers and non-profits.
Strengthen the local creative economy by supporting more commercial art integration in revitalizing our main streets, including art as a specific driver for economic development in general. Boston can create arts and culture clusters that are marketed to and supported by Boston’s residents and tourists.
Increase the focus on Federal, State and Corporate Investments through more aggressive pursuit of state and federal grants and a stronger relationship with corporate partners in improving the cultural life of the city.