Comparing the Boston Mayoral Candidates' Positions on the Arts

By: Kate Huffman

In 2013, the Boston creative community came together for the first-ever Create the Vote (CTV) campaign to lift up arts and culture in the Boston mayoral election. At that time, then-candidate Marty Walsh was a leader among the 12 vying for the position in the discussion on how to make Boston a municipal arts leader. In the last four years, Mayor Walsh has taken important steps to center the arts in Boston by creating a cabinet-level position for the arts, which he filled by hiring Julie Burros, as well as a Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture (MOAC). In 2016, a cultural plan for Boston, called Boston Creates, was released. Boston Creates is a “ten-year city initiative designed to align public and private resources to strengthen cultural vitality over the long-term and weave arts and culture into the fabric of everyday life.” There have been many advances in supporting the arts in Boston, yet there is still a long way to go if we want to continue to support creativity, community-building, economic advancement, and innovation across the city.

Mayor Walsh is running for a second term. His lone challenger is  Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson (District 7). Both have been vocal in their support of the arts, though differ slightly on the methods of how to deliver financial support, as well as what to prioritize as Mayor. Continuing the tradition of championing the arts, encouraging candidates to take bold stands on the arts, and informing voters, MASSCreative undertook the Create the Vote 2017 initiative for the Boston Mayoral election, as well as Mayoral and City Council races in more than 40 cities across the Commonwealth. 


Councilor Jackson meeting with local arts leaders.

 In early October, Councilor Jackson sat down with local arts leaders to discuss the importance of arts in education, the economy, and to Boston's identity. In addition to meetings with local arts leaders, Councilor Jackson and Mayor Walsh completed questionnaires compiled by MASSCreative with questions from Boston arts leaders about public investment in the arts, utilizing the arts to build vibrant communities, and supporting the needs of working artists. You can read Councilor Jackson’s responses to the questionnaire here and Mayor Walsh’s responses here. Below is an account of areas where the two candidates agreed and differed on the CTV questionnaire.

Funding the Arts

Diving into questions of finance, the CTV questionnaire points out that Boston invests significantly less per capita government support than other comparable cities. It also asks what dedicated funding stream each of the candidates would establish to fund the priorities set out in Boston Creates and what that level would be. Neither candidate gave a hard number for a budget line.

In answering, Mayor Walsh expressed his pride for the Boston Creates plan, including artists-in-residence programs and grants to individual artists, and noted that one of the city’s most significant and lasting investment in the arts was the launch of the Percent for Art program. The Percent for Art program, included for the first time in the FY 18-22 Capital Plan, designates one percent of the City’s capital borrowing dollars toward public art in new facilities.


Councilor Jackson cited the economic contributions of the arts, referencing the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s estimate that for every $1 it invests in arts organizations, $5 goes back into the economy. Councilor Jackson also stated that the MOAC is underfunded and that as Mayor, he would raise Boston’s per-capita spending for the arts. He cited the New Bedford lodging tax recently approved by Governor Baker as a possible model for part of a diverse revenue stream for the arts.

In their questionnaire responses, neither candidate stated a number for a budget line for the arts. But on Arts Matters Day (10/27/2017), Councilor Jackson joined arts advocates across the state in sharing an #ArtsMattersDay post, in which he committed to doubling arts funding if elected Mayor. 




Youth Engagement

Mayor Walsh and Councilor Jackson both lauded the Boston Public Schools’ (BPS) Arts Expansion initiative and each stated they’d like to build upon the success of the program. Mayor Walsh spoke of the initiative's specific successes, including a 43 percent increase in the number of high school students receiving in-school arts instruction between 2009 and 2016, as well as 17,000 more elementary, middle, and high school students receiving arts instruction during the school day than in 2009. He also recognized that Boston Creates identified the need to support out-of-school youth arts programs, and noted the ways in which he has brought together arts and other industry leaders to  support out-of-school arts education providers. Mayor Walsh said he is “happy to continue bringing people together to come up with more ways to support the most crucial needs of the arts and culture sector.”

As Chairman of the Boston City Council’s Committee on Education, Councilor Jackson is a strong education advocate. He stated, “As Mayor, I would work across sectors to reframe arts education from an optional ‘enrichment’ activity to a vital part of each student’s education. This work starts with fully funding the Boston Public Schools. Principals should not have to choose between funding a school nurse and a dance teacher - both are vital to the health of students.”

Creating and Maintaining Vibrant Neighborhoods

When asked about how the candidates would use the arts and culture community to build connections that maintain and support ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, the Mayor shared a current program of the MOAC, the Boston Artist in Residence (AIR) program, as well as a new initiative, the Percent for Art program. The funds collected from the latter program will be used in library renovations, new school construction, and public space reconstruction projects. In addition, the guidelines for this program specifically state that the city should invest in neighborhoods that historically have not had as many public artworks as other part of the city. Guidelines also  require a community process to make sure the city is responding to the needs of that community.

Councilor Jackson responded to this prompt in the questionnaire with a  pledge to disband the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA). Councilor Jackson favors separating the planning and development functions of the city in order to better meet the needs of longstanding residents with Neighborhood Stabilization plans, focused on affordability and transparency.  In his plan, a new planning office, coupled with a well-resourced MOAC, would bring artists into the planning process early to better ensure  that the needs of artists for rehearsal, creation, and performing spaces are met.

Supporting Working Artists and Creating Space to Rehearse, Perform & Operate

In line with his views on making the city more people-centered, Councilor Jackson wrote that he believes that Boston has not fully utilized the potential of creative placemaking strategies, which he wants to build into his Neighborhood Stabilization plans. Councilor Jackson said that as Mayor, he would seek out new and innovative ways to share performance and rehearsal space by building partnerships with non-arts organizations. He also would like to have discussions with the city’s large non-profit non-cultural institutions about PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes), as this could provide another potential revenue stream for the small- to mid- size organizations that fuel Boston’s vibrant art scene. The Councilor also discussed his housing policies that will help artists and all Bostonians struggling to support themselves. He has four-part plan that he would implement city-wide as Mayor, including creating a city-funded housing voucher preventing folks from getting priced out of their neighborhoods.

Mayor Walsh acknowledged that he often hears from artists about the challenges of finding affordable living and work spaces in Boston. In addressing this, the Mayor discussed the positive collaborations and results within City Hall as a result of the MOAC having a seat at the table in housing discussions and planning sessions. Following the release of Boston Creates, the MOAC has been working with the BPDA to include arts and culture in the City’s community plans and in development review, which means the BPDA now has clearer guidelines to negotiate artist housing and affordable cultural space to support creative communities across the city. In addition, during Mayor Walsh’s first term, the city undertook the Performing Arts Facilities Assessment to understand the current and anticipated venue challenges of local performing arts organizations in Boston. The Mayor recognized that the assessment articulates that the supply and demand of performing arts spaces in the city do not match. Knowing this, the Mayor’s office will work with the BPDA to create a policy document that will guide talks with developers who are thinking about big projects in Boston. This strategy has already led to success with the creation of three new theaters in the Seaport area.

The candidates both gave answers to questions on how to best utilize the Chief of Arts and Culture, how to promote the arts and culture in Boston, and where each of the candidates’ “go to” cultural places are in the city. 


Overall, it is evident that both candidates care about the arts and believe they are of vital importance to our city’s economic success, as well as to creative communities, well-rounded education for all Boston students, and empathy-building with one another.

Mayor Walsh’s responses to the Create the Vote 2017 questionnaire highlight the important work he and his administration have accomplished so far in his first term as Mayor. These include appointing a cabinet-level position for the arts and culture in the Mayor’s office, producing the Boston Creates plan, undertaking the Performing Arts Facilities Assessment, implementing an artists-in-residence program, and awarding grants to individual artists. If elected to a second term, Mayor Walsh said he would like to build on these accomplishments as well as to continue to seek out ways to diversify revenue streams for the arts.

Councilor Jackson has stated that he wants to double the current funding levels for the arts and culture in the city. He said that he believes his plan for disbanding the BPDA and creating a people-centered planning department, and his plan for  addressing the city’s lack of affordable housing will greatly benefit Boston’s working artists. He said that he is eager to expand upon current arts resources like the MOAC and to explore new methods for funding the arts, but did not offer specific plans.

It is important for arts advocates to be informed about candidates’ positions on the arts and to continue to ask candidates for answers about where they stand on issues, such as growing the arts budget for the city, in order to make an informed decision at the voting booth. Follow and add to the conversation on social media using the hashtags #CreateTheVote and #ArtsMatter, as well as by liking and following MASSCreative on Facebook and Twitter.

Most importantly, don’t forget to head to the polls on Tuesday, November 7 to vote for the candidate you think would do the most good working with artists and responding to the needs of the creative community in Boston. 

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