annissa essaibi george

Roundtable Create the Vote Boston 2021 discussion 

Boston City Councilor-at-Large and mayoral candidate Annissa Essaibi George had a simple answer when asked if she would support the Create the Vote Boston 2021 Coalition’s (CTV Boston) signature policy request of a public investment of $20 million in arts and culture over the course of her first term as mayor: Yes, she would. 

“I can commit to that $20 million over my first term in office, and very specifically can commit to utilizing American Rescue Plan funds to support artist entrepreneurs who have been, I think, disproportionately hit over this last year and a half,” Essaibi George said. “When we think about the [pandemic’s] impact of small businesses, it’s been devastating. When you think about the impact on small businesses that require and rely on live entertainment or live venues or live performance, it has been even further devastating.” 

Essaibi George made her comments during a meeting with members of CTV Boston for an hour on Tuesday, July 6 to talk about her vision for the city’s future and how artists and arts and cultural organizations will fit in it. Participating CTV Boston members included Abilities Dance Boston Artistic Director Ellice Patterson, ArtsBoston Community Outreach & Marketing Manager Elena Morris, Boston Children’s Museum Vice President, External Relations & Corporate Development Charlayne Murrell-Smith, Dunamis Executive Director J.Cottle, EdVestors Vice President of Programs and Equity Ruth Mercado-Zizzo, King Boston Deputy Director of Embrace Ideas Gregory Ball, Massachusetts Live Events Coalition Communications & Marketing Officer Mercedes Roman-Manson, MASSCreative Executive Director Emily Ruddock, MASSCreative Director of Engagement and Organizing Tri Vi Quach, and Museum of Science Government Relations Director Lisa Levine Urovitch. 

Throughout her comments, Essaibi George frequently “connected the dots that independent artists and creative workers are small business entrepreneurs,” noted Murrell-Smith. 

“I know how devastating this pandemic has been on our businesses, large and small, and in particular our businesses who are involved in the arts and in the maker industry,” said Essaibi George, who is also the owner of the popular Dorchester knitting shop the Stitch House. “We’ve got a lot of work to do to just reimagine, to strengthen, to recover and sort of create opportunities to thrive post pandemic.” 

Noting that some of the state’s COVID relief for small businesses excluded artist entrepreneurs, Essaibi George spoke of the need for creative political leadership for arts businesses. 

“When we think about what we did almost overnight around outdoor dining. How do we use that same urgency to make a shift within the artist community,” Essaibi George asked. “How do we create that new and innovative idea that two years ago or 17 months ago seemed impossible? Now, for the rest of our lives, most of us will almost always have an opportunity to eat outdoors—not tonight because it’s pouring out. But we have to think in that same vein when we think about the work of our artist community and how we can support them in making it easier to do business here in the city of Boston.” 

Essaibi George was first elected to the Boston City Council as a Councilor-at-Large in 2015. A former Boston Public Schools teacher, Essaibi George is a first generation American who was born and raised in Dorchester. Her father immigrated to the United States from Tunisia in 1972. Essaibi George’s mother came to the United States in the 1950s with her Polish parents after being born in a Displaced Persons’ camp in Germany. 

During the CTV Boston roundtable discussion, Essaibi George talked about arts education, expanding access to art and culture for people with disabilities and BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ residents, arts funding, increasing rehearsal and performance space, and more. 

On supporting artists with disabilities (asked by Abilities Dance Boston Managing Director Ellise Patterson)

“We often talk about the challenges of bringing people into the arts community, especially those that find themselves disenfranchised in particular from the quote/unquote “mainstream arts.” But we need to make sure that we are not just bringing people in but bringing people out, or bringing art out to the people, making it easier to engage with art in all of its forms and making sure that our city’s residents have opportunities to engage in the arts,” Essaibi George said. “When we think about accessing opportunities, [art] has to be on the list of systems that are often, too often inaccessible, especially because they aren’t designed by individuals who have varying abilities and certain disabilities. Or by those who are BIPOC and LGBTQ. So if the system hasn’t been designed by them, there are barriers to access it, both physically and literally and figuratively.  Accessing those opportunities has to be important for us.” 

On investing public dollars in artists and arts and cultural organizations (asked by Boston Children’s Museum Vice President, External Relations & Corporate Development Charlayne Murrell-Smith) 

“The largest portion of [American Rescue Plan] money should be put to support our local entrepreneurs, our small business, many who have just been wiped out this last year,” Essaibi George said. “I recognize, especially through my own experiences as an entrepreneur, that entrepreneurs, regardless what their medium is, in your case when you think about the artist community, there is always a desire and energy to to return, to reinvest, to continue to grow. That’s one of the core and foundational values of an artist, regardless of what one’s medium is, is to create and to start anew. So within your field, dollars are needed to make sure that we can make that happen.” 

On what the city can do to offer support to artists affected by the pandemic that goes beyond financial support (asked by Massachusetts Live Events Coalition Communications & Marketing Officer Mercedes Roman-Manson) 

“The [Boston City Council] has been trying to pull together a Mental Health Commission to make sure that all Bostonians, regardless of age, regardless of gender identity, regardless of race and ethnic background and language spoken, that they have an opportunity to access culturally competent, linguistically appropriate supports,” Essaibi George said. “A business owner, an artist entrepreneur, that experience [of need for mental health support] is there as well. And it’s so important that we’re providing those supports.” 

On making changes to the city’s Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program that levies a voluntary fee on property-owning nonprofits which are tax exempt (asked by MASSCreative Executive Director Emily Ruddock) 

“If you qualify to contribute for PILOT, you should have a seat at the table,” Essaibi George said, noting that hospitals are required to provide community benefits and that there was “a great deal of difference” among the healthcare, educational, and cultural institutions asked to pay PILOT fees. “So we need to make sure that we are looking very closely at the uniqueness of each of those members of the [PILOT] Task Force, but yes, of course, if you are contributing to PILOT, you deserve a seat at the table.” 

On dealing with racism in permitting and licensing decisions for arts festivals (asked by ArtsBoston Community Outreach & Marketing Manager Elena Morris) 

“When we think about just engaging our small business community in any sector, arts community or not arts community, we know that our Black and brown communities, our LGBT communities, our BIPOC communities, are often completely disenfranchised, completely disconnected from the process, and don’t have the connections, the relationships in which to navigate this process,” Essaibi George said. “So we’ve got to cultivate that. As a city, we’ve got to cultivate those relationships and make it easier to do business.” 

On how to keep creative and artist entrepreneurs from leaving the city (asked by Dunamis Executive Director J.Cottle) 

Essaibi George listed a number of items in response, including affordable housing, affordable studio/rehearsal space, partnering with universities that graduate art students into the city who immediately lose access to “state of the art” equipment and space they had as students, and working with industries like bio sciences and tech to support creative entrepreneurs and businesses. 

“What we need to do less of is creating these false open art spaces, like every new building in the city has a gallery, but it’s not really a place for the public to engage in a meaningful way,” Essaibi George said. “I’d much rather see whether it’s on a particular block or a particular neighborhood, there be a fund that developers and builders are investing in.” 

Final thoughts

“I’m in this race to win it. I look forward to leading this city. I look forward to holding the levers of power that the Mayor’s office brings, and making sure that I’m using those levers appropriately, to use those levels and to move our city forward, especially as we move to the other side of this pandemic. So please help me make good decisions and set an appropriate agenda for the work. … I’d love to have you engage in this work and help me in this work, because as I said before, government is a team sport, we have to do this together.”

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published this page in 2021 mayoral candidates 2021-08-17 10:38:28 -0400

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