Brandon Bowser's Response to the Arts & Culture Questionnaire

Your Personal Connection 
We’ve all had defining moments in our lives. What personal connections with the arts and creative expression have had an impact on your life and your view of the community? 

In early 2015, I founded the Bowser Gallery which operated as a pop-up gallery. The Bowser Gallery focused specifically on showcasing artists from Allston-Brighton. The guiding principle of this project was to create an opportunity for local artists to showcase and sell their art. I was fortunate to have been able to operate the out of Refuge Cafe which is located in the heart of Allston’s main streets district. The Bowser Gallery also collaborated with fellow community members to host larger art events where we operated out of Pop Allston, a mixed-use temporary community center. Through my experience running this project, I was able to build relationships with artists whom I keep in touch with today. More recently, I was fortunate enough to have helped connect one of those artists with Harvard University, resulting in a commissioned public mural.  

My definition of community is quite simple: people working together to make our neighborhoods and cities stronger and more vibrant. I am inspired by artists of all ages in my community that are creating. They are invaluable to Allston-Brighton.

City Investment in the Arts 
Boston Create​s lays out an ambitious program to build a strong arts and creative culture. Financial investments from the city are necessary for the plan to meet its goals. While the Office of Arts and Culture has grown since 2013, Boston invests significantly less per capita government support than the other comparable cities, leaving many small to medium sized cultural institutions vulnerable. For example, Boston supports the arts at just over $2/person while Chicago spends $7/person and New York contributes $15. What dedicated funding stream will you establish to provide funds for the priorities outlined in Boston Creates and the sector overall? At what financial level will the city invest in the Boston arts and creative sector? 

Two things are first and foremost: 
1. Boston as a city needs to lead the country in expanding the definition of culture to include the cultures of all peoples in this city. 

2. Our cultural funding should be equitably distributed, transparently available in all languages, and accountable to the public.

As a resident and educator in my district, I recognize that art and culture exists in every community. I see the value it brings to all communities, and also recognize the huge disparity in investment for small, mid-sized, and culturally specific organizations that represent people of color, and which make up a sizable majority of the city. The Boston Creates Plan lays out a concise and comprehensive plan for the future of Boston’s culture, and if elected, I commit to prioritizing investment towards arts and cultural organizations and small businesses that keep culture in place and allow historically disinvested communities to thrive and be sustainable within the framework the plan lays out. 

In addition, I believe city councilors are uniquely disposed to invest in their districts’ most robust artists and cultural organizations from their on-the-ground expertise, through public funds. If elected, I commit to an open-door policy and periodic convening of stakeholders in my district on cultural planning, with a priority for those who have been historically disinvested. Without adequate resources, the cultural and artistic practices of communities of color cannot thrive, and they are forced to assimilate into the dominant culture, thus erasing their lives and cultures. I vow to make sure this does not happen in our city.

Youth Engagement 
Engaging students with the arts in school and out of school is essential to educating the whole child. While the BPS Arts Expansion Initiative has achieved great success with 94 percent of children from Pre-K up to 8th grade receiving weekly art programs, high school student participation in arts education lags far behind. Boston’s nationally honored Creative Youth Development (youth arts) organizations continue to service thousands of kids, yet struggle to raise the money needed to reach student demand. How would you invest in arts education for students of all ages both inside and outside of school to ensure all youth in Boston have a connection to the arts and tap into their creativity? 

As an educator I believe that integrating the arts at all grade levels is pivotal to developing well-rounded and creative thinkers. I feel that our schools should be working to add arts to all subjects. I am a proponent of expanding STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics) instruction in our classrooms. It is unacceptable that arts programs are underfunded. 

Boston is a city with access to vast financial resources. I believe in secure public funding, particularly for Title I schools. I also believe that working to connect companies and financial institutions with non profits is a possible avenue to generate funding. Forging these relationships would have to be done in a responsible way that does not create inappropriate or unbalanced partnerships. Navigating these conversations would have to be done with clear guidelines set forth by a diverse coalition of voices. 

If elected I would work to build relationships between nonprofits, who work bringing arts programming to students through donors, as well as companies willing to make in-kind donations. Access to the arts should not stop in schools. It is unacceptable that lack of funding stands in the way of young people interacting with the arts. We need to make sure that arts nonprofits are receiving funding.

Creating and Maintaining Vibrant Neighborhoods 
The Boston Creates Plan makes a powerful call for increased accessibility and diversity in the arts. With significant development planned in neighborhoods across the city over the decade, making and keeping vibrant neighborhoods for longstanding residents needs to be a priority. How would you use the arts and culture community to build connections that maintain and support the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity that makes the city thrive? 

As a city, and as arts advocates, we must acknowledge that artists are tenants, and that Boston is facing a crisis of affordability. Although, as I have stated before, I see the value that artists and culture bring to our neighborhoods, I intend to work to support artists in such a way that does not displace and/or exchange the wellbeing and livelihoods of longstanding residents of my district. 

Furthermore, I believe the investments––in capital and general operating support––of cultural and artists organizations that serve communities and communities of color must be immediately addressed in order to foundationally address the true vitality of our neighborhoods. 

Supporting Working Artists
In the past year, Boston has provided funding and support for individual artists through a series of new grant programs. Despite this investment, many artists cannot support themselves in Boston due to the high cost of living. What will you do to provide more affordable housing and work spaces for artists? 

Artists are tenants and homeowners as much as anyone else in this city. While I support initiatives in new grant programming, I believe the crisis of artists’ affordability is hand-in-hand with that of the rest of working individuals and families throughout the city, and that the issues should be addressed as such. 

I believe land-use issues should be decentralized to reconcile community control, and artists are a part of that process in my district. More specifically, I believe that working artists must be separate from the TAMI sector (technology, advertising, media, and information). As a city, Boston would be mis-categorizing the value of working artists, and the precarious and distinct labor conditions under which working artists operate.

Creating Space to Rehearse, Perform and Operate 
Artists and cultural institutions struggle to find space to rehearse, perform, and run their administrative operations. The Boston Performing Arts Facility Assessment demonstrates that the current supply of space does not meet the demand of the arts community. What steps will you take to address this problem? 

I support establishing land trusts not only as a viable means to permanently affordable housing, but as community and work centers. We need to take seriously the task of providing artists the opportunity to live, work, and showcase under one roof. Additionally, future developments should be working to create community access into their projects. Having community space within developments can lead to performance and gallery opportunities for local artists to showcase their works.

Best Utilizing the Chief of Arts and Culture
 In the fall of 2014, Julie Burros became Boston’s first Chief of Arts and Culture in over twenty years, and she presently works within the Mayor's cabinet. How will you work with additional city departments to leverage this cultural cabinet seat to utilize Boston’s arts and cultural sector as an asset to address the various economic and social issues of the city? 

I think arts and culture as a sector is uniquely disposed to assuage many obstacles that come with inter-departmental cooperation. Artists, though they face many challenges in this city, offer a universal language and creative approaches to solutions that face us. I would be interested and willing to convene Ms Burros with many of the city's chief officers in departments, particularly the department of Youth and Families, Schools, and expanding partnerships with the many senior centers in our districts. 

Additionally, I want Ms Burros to see our street-level artists. I want her to meet the musicians who, after months of saving up from their retail or restaurant jobs, cannot afford to buy a new piece of equipment. I want her to see the artists who carry large canvases off the T and down Harvard Avenue. We are a city of working-class artists. Most artists cannot afford to create here. This is the most important factor she needs to consider when making decisions. She needs to find ways to equitably incentivize the hiring of artists and musicians throughout the city so that they can supplement their income and sustain their creative side. 

I think together, through collaboration, we can certainly address many of the difficult labor and affordability conditions artists face in partnerships with other city agencies.

Promoting Arts and Culture in Boston
Boston is known for its educational and medical institutions as well as its championship sports teams. Yet, more than 80 percent of tourist express that their primary reason for visiting the city is to attend arts and cultural events. What will you do to encourage more locals and tourists to see Boston as an international destination for the arts? 

I think a first Fridays-type event in Allston-Brighton could really bring tourists out to our district while also showcasing the artists and musicians that live here. Other cities do this, and the whole community comes out to support each other. Boston is already an international tourist destination and I would love to see art and culture as a resource to strengthen community and civic relations. 

Your “Go To” Places
Boston is blessed with a rich mix of arts and cultural organizations. Please name two places where you have had personally significant connections to the arts and/or cultural experiences.

The Great Scott and O’brien’s Pub in Allston have been home to my favorite Boston-based and touring acts. These small venues provide intimate settings that have been incredibly important to me as someone who supports local musicians and calls many of them friends. Venues of this size are a great place for bands to get a start and play alongside other locals acts. 

Small venues present an incubation opportunity for local acts to hone their craft, building a following, and getting comfortable performing.

Touring acts like Pile, Krill, Palehound, Kal Marks and Speedy Ortiz have definitely benefitted from this, but on a whole other level are acts like Gravel, OC45, Birthing Hips, Coagula, Nice Guys, Baby!, and Ursula. Even now, every year we see new bands that start as openers and really are allowed to hone their craft at these venues. 

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