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.
The ideas and requests expressed by the arts community at the Jan. 25 public hearing before Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s Arts and Culture Transition Committee were as diverse as the cultural community itself: open a public library in Chinatown; shut down Boylston Street and hold a Duck Boat parade for Tony Award winners; foster collaboration among all artists with jazz musicians; include artists with disabilities in the planning process; preserve industrial space for artists; support small theater companies; begin planning for the 250th birthday of the founding of the nation; and treat artists as entrepreneurs.
But several clear themes emerged from the testimony, which took place over two-and-a-half hours in the Robb Auditorium at the Boston Public Library: a call for public funding of the arts; increased access to arts education for all students in Boston; streamlining the permitting and licensing process; a show of support for the arts from Boston City Hall via attendance at art events and exhibiting work at City Hall and in other public spaces; and creation of a cultural plan for the city that is coordinated with all city initiatives.
Speaker after speaker made the case for public investment in the arts. When Fort Point artist and inventor Steve Hollinger stated, “We need an arts budget” and referred to the public support of arts and culture by cities like San Francisco, the audience erupted in applause.
On Saturday, January 25, Mayor Walsh's Arts and Culture Transition Committee held a public hearing as an opportunity for the creative community to share what they want to keep, implement, and dream up for the sector.
The community came out in droves, ready to ask the important questions and share their invaluable insight in this public process. In the room and online, the energy was overwhelming. Twitter was so abuzz that the event's hashtag, #bosarts, trended up to the number 4 spot nationally.
Relive the action from the public hearing, captured in event highlights by our Storify piece.
As we await the fulfillment of newly-minted Mayor Marty Walsh’s campaign pledge to appoint a cabinet-level arts commissioner, another appointee has already given the arts community reason to cheer: Joyce Linehan. In one of his first mayoral appointments, Walsh appointed the arts PR maven, indie record label exec, and politically-wired Dorchester native to be his chief of policy. (Linehan was a former board member of MASSCreative; she resigned after Walsh won election as mayor.)
By putting Linehan in the driver’s seat on City Hall policy initiatives, Walsh has the potential to create a more cohesive, vibrant, community-oriented arts scene and jumpstart a true creative economy.
If you’re not already familiar with Linehan, this recent Boston Magazine profile will tell you all you need to know, and it will probably make you giddy.
In particular, this passage toward the end of the article spells out how Linehan, a close friend and inner-circle campaign advisor, schooled Walsh about the importance of the arts as a cultural and economic driver during his campaign:
“She pushed me on the issue,” he said. In some cases, Walsh would wonder why he wasn’t meeting with a big crowd in Dorchester or South Boston rather than with four or five people from the arts community downtown. But he began to see the arts as part of the identity of the city, an avenue for economic growth, and a way to create opportunities for young people. He found that when he began to bring up the arts at some of these larger community forums, heads in the audience would nod in agreement.
Walsh’s championing of the arts became a keystone of his campaign — which had the effect of underlining Linehan’s influence. After the election, Walsh quickly committed to creating a cabinet-level “arts czar” position, and also pledged to earmark a percentage of city revenue to arts funding. Even before Walsh set foot in City Hall, it was a remarkable commitment of resources — a victory for Boston’s creative class, and an impressive triumph for Linehan, who is also playing a top role in Walsh’s transition team.
“She won,” laughed Walsh about Linehan’s schedule-busting small meetings. “And I’m grateful for it.”
Kudos to the Boston Globe editorial board, which just delivered another important message about the arts in yesterday’s editorial, titled “Local arts: It’s big business, after all”:
Almost everyone would agree that the arts are vital to creating thriving communities. The problem for lawmakers is that it can be hard to justify to constituents that arts programs deserve funds that otherwise might go to police departments or public schools. But arts advocates received some powerful ammunition on Dec. 5 in the form of a preliminary report that states that the arts and culture sector contributed a whopping $504 billion to the American economy in 2011. Leaders across the country — such as Mayor-elect Martin Walsh — should take note.
You can find a summary of the NEA report with links to the data here.
This editorial is just the latest in a series of strong news and editorial coverage on the arts from the Globe.
Recent stories include:
Working off his recent promises to bring revenue streams and a Cabinet-level commissioner to the arts community, this week, Mayor-elect Marty Walsh added 21 people to the arts and culture team of his transition committee. This represents the next phase in Walsh's commitment to the creative community in Boston.
Geoff Edgers writes in the Globe today about the progress Walsh has made toward becoming "a true partner and advocate in City Hall” to artists. Since election day, Walsh has continued to emphasize the importance of arts and culture in the city:
“The first thing I think it means is a real commitment to the arts in Boston,” said Walsh, “from the local artists in the neighborhood to the Museum of Fine Arts and the bigger institutions and somewhere in between. One group of people who have felt they’ve been left kind of out there, in the lurch, is the arts community. We’ve got a lot of great talented people in the city of Boston.”
Visit the Boston Globe to keep reading about Walsh and his advocacy in the arts community.
Photo credit: Jessica Rinaldi for the Boston Globe
50 years after the day of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, many will reflect on the 35th president’s legacy. From his speech on October 26, 1963, MASSCreative looks at his inspiring vision for the arts.
Just less than a month before his death, Kennedy spoke at Amherst College in honor of Robert Frost who had died in January of that year. In his speech, Kennedy framed the poet laureate’s work within the context of the American identity. He argues that Frost contributed to “national life” in a way that only artists can:
But democratic society--in it, the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost's hired man, the fate of having ‘nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope.’
Kennedy combats apathy and invites his audience to consider the arts in a light that is anything but superfluous. His words inspire appreciation for art as an essential tool in crafting our national identity: “Our national strength matters, but the spirit which informs and controls our strength matters just as much. This was the special significance of Robert Frost.”
These words still find meaning today as we weigh the societal support of art and culture. Historically, political leaders segment issues in silos, quarantining art to the fringes of governmental funding. Our culture is often pervaded by the sentiment that Art is nice, but not necessary. To help alter this attitude of indifference, we need our political leaders to stand up as champions of the arts. If there is any question about the pertinence of art as a tool for civic engagement, politicians need only reflect on the integrative vision for the arts that Kennedy offers in his speech:
I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.
50 years later, we can appreciate the resonating power of John F. Kennedy’s voice and honor his commitment to the arts. Visit the National Endowment for the Art’s page to hear the audio from his historic speech.
Mayor-elect Walsh has already begun his transition phase which means the Create the Vote coalition needs to continue advocating for arts and cultural issues. In a discussion with Steve Annear of Boston Magazine, Ron Mallis of BostonAPP/LAB, producer Jason Turgeon of FIGMENT Boston, Liz Devlin of FLUX Boston, and Matt Wilson of MASSCreative talk about working with Walsh to make art a priority in his administration.
The arts and cultural leaders reflect on the great progress the community has made in elevating its issues and treats the culmination of the mayoral race as a call to action:
“All of that is good, but at the same time, that does not relieve anybody from continuing to emphasize that yes, this is important, and there is a variety of things that need to be done and need to be examined. I am hoping all of that will occur,” Ron Mallis said. “There needs to be an ongoing kind of lobbying on the part of the arts community, acknowledging that we have gotten this far, and the pressure needs to be kept up.”
In the meantime, these leaders will collaborate and write an open letter to the mayor to address his next steps. Additionally, Mallis has taken his involvement a step further by applying to be on Walsh's transition team to represent the arts. But the engagement doesn't end there. In the coming months, it will be up to the whole creative community - spanning across disciplines and working in neighborhoods around the city - to reach out to Mayor-elect Marty Walsh and work with him in solidarity.
Liz Devlin has the final say in the article, setting the tone for the road ahead:
“I have hope, but it’s not Marty Walsh’s deal to change everything for us. We all have a responsibility to do it. He just has to be open and listen and say OK, and we can be all the worker bees and we can do it. The potential is there to be better.”
Read the entire piece over at Boston Magazine's page.
In the fourth entry in Laura Mitchell's blog series, Art in the Innovation Hub, she considers the infrastructure supporting the arts scene in Boston. First, Mitchell explores how the Boston Center for the Arts serves local artists with a space to experiment, a venue to curate, and home away from home to nurture. Conversation eventually turns to neighborhood organizations and their crucial role in identifying cultural indicators. Without committed groups like the Dorchester Arts Collaborative, these up-and-coming artists have no easy path to exposure. Jay Gustavo, president of the collaborative, commented that the creative sector is experiencing progress in working cohesively with each other in the ecology of art in the city. Gustavo praises the creative community for coming together, and gives props to MASSCreative for its advocacy, saying: "the city can no longer afford to not listen to us."
Read more about Art in the Innovation Hub over at Big Red & Shiny
From the I AM KREYOL Art BaZaaR show at the Erick Jean Center for the Arts, Dorchester Arts Collaborative. Courtesy of DAC.