Boston Globe to everyone: Art matters!

The message is getting through! Public art matters—and we need political leadership to make it happen.

On Sunday, the Boston Globe ran a highly entertaining and nuanced look at the state of public art in the city. Penned by Globe art critic Sebastian Smee, the article asks why nearly every piece of public art in Boston is made out of bronze and acts as a monument to grief:

"I spent several days scouring the area — in particular the area between the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, but also Cambridge, Fenway, and further afield — and I came to this conclusion: Public art in this city is not just relentlessly conservative. It’s also dismayingly morbid. It’s all about memorializing dead men and traumatic events, and almost always in bronze."


(Lane Turner/Globe Staff)

Smee allows that there is a lot of good public art in the city and cites Augustus Saint-Gauden’s “Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment” as “one of the greatest examples of public art in the United States.”

But he wonders whether or not we need bold leadership to unleash the potential for conversation and connection that public art can inspire:

"The biggest problem facing public art in Boston is, quite simply, the lack of vision. That lack of vision is the direct result of a process that relies too heavily on bureaucratic decision-making and is stymied by too many vested interests, too much red tape, and (how else to say it?) not enough good aesthetic judgment."

The day before Smee’s piece ran, the Globe published an editorial lamenting the burdensome maze of permitting that artists must submit to in hopes of getting approval for their projects:

"Getting permission to paint the site was so comically onerous that it became a kind of symbol of the city’s bewildering permitting process. Plans for a signature mural to commemorate the Boston Marathon bombing victims were thwarted by demands that organizers pay $32 an hour for police details." 

The good news is that both finalists for mayor of Boston have pledged to be champions of the arts. They have promised to hire a cabinet-level arts czar to their administration. They have promised to increase funding for arts and cultural initiatives. And they have pledged to create a strategic plan for the arts, cultural, and creative communities that is integrated with other city priorities like education, economic development, public safety, transportation, and housing.

It will be up to you, the arts voter, to hold them to their promises after Nov. 5. Meanwhile, it doesn’t hurt that the Globe has taken up these issues with the importance they deserve. 

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