Seventh Congressional District Candidate Ayanna Pressley Meets with Create the Vote Coalition

Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano in the Democratic primary to represent the 7th Congressional District, met with members of the Create the Vote 2018 Coalition on stage at the Huntington Theatre Company Aug. 29. As a 10-year veteran of the Boston City Council, Pressley had worked in some capacity with nearly everyone in attendance, so the format of the meeting differed from other Create the Vote sit-downs with candidates: Pressley gave an arts stump speech of sorts in which she offered her observations—both personal and political—about the way art and creativity impacts the education of young children, the health and well-being of adults as well as economic development, public safety, housing, and employment. Then she answered questions.

“I’m so delighted to be having this conversation with you,” Pressley said, noting that she hadn’t been asked about the arts during her six months campaigning. “How can you not talk about the arts at this moment in our history? When we are drinking from a fire hose of insult and assault?”

Pressley noted that she had “grown up in Chicago under some challenging circumstances.” Her father battled a 14-year addiction to opioids and was incarcerated for much of her childhood and her mother, a social justice activist, raised her on her own. She credits art—mostly in the form of books by James Baldwin, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Maya Angelou sent to her by her father, and access to a quality education that included instruction in the arts—with saving her life.

“When I first read ‘Why the Caged Bird Sings,’ I knew I wasn’t alone,” she said.

Today, she and her husband encourage their daughter to participate in arts activities both in and out of school.

As a Boston City Councilor, she partnered with community activists and the Massachusetts Cultural Council to create three new cultural districts in the city, the Fenway and Roxbury neighborhood cultural districts and a walkable literary cultural district from Copley Square to Downtown. The literary cultural district is the first of its kind in the country.


Pressley also worked to reform the city’s zoning code, which prohibited art galleries from opening in some commercial districts in the city. The zoning code was rooted in past controversies around art that some people found objectionable, Pressley said.

She noted that she includes the needs of artists in all of her anti-poverty work, including affordable housing, education, and access to health care. “We need permanent housing stock for working artists,” she said, adding that many people think of artists as young, independent contractors, not realizing that artists have families.

At one point, Pressley asked the group to name who in the state’s Congressional delegation was the go-to person on arts issues. “Who do you see as the champion in the delegation for the arts because I want to best them. This is important to me. I want this to be an ongoing dialogue,” she said adding that projects led by the community and supported by the government are her “favorite kinds of projects.”

“I like that you use the word ‘champion.’ A lot of our representatives are allies,” answered Cathy Edwards of the New England Foundation for the Arts, adding that no one in the delegation was championing bold cultural policy.

As a member of Congress, Pressley said she would:

  • Ensure that a staffer in her office tracked funding opportunities for the arts in areas not typically seen as a source of arts funding such as education, economic development, and transportation.
  • Support on-going efforts, including a resolution by U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, to add “art” to the acronym STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) to increase access to arts training and education.
  • Support on-going efforts to make higher education more affordable and permit graduates with student debt to restructure repayment terms. She said she knew many young people who wanted to pursue creative careers “but their parents won’t let them” because of the limited earning potential of careers in art. The high costs of a college education are “crushing wallets and dreams” and constraining the economy.
  • Add artists as a category of those eligible for housing regulated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“We have to have an integrated, innovative, comprehensive approach to solving issues of equity. We cannot deal with any of these things in silos,” she said. “We’ve been tinkering at the edges, but this is not the time to shrink or be divided. This is the time to be bold.”

The 7th Congressional District includes most of Boston, parts of Cambridge and Milton; and Chelsea, Everett, Randolph, and Somerville. Attendees at the meeting included: Matt Wilson and Emily Ruddock of MASSCreative, Akiba Abaka of ArtsEmerson, Eve Bridburg of Grub Street, Kelly Brilliant of the Fenway Alliance, J. Cottle of Dunamis, Alison Croney-Moses of The Eliot School, Emily Day of the Boston Center for the Arts, Gary Dunning of Celebrity Series of Boston, Cathy Edwards of the New England Foundation for the Arts, Michael Maso and Temple Gill of the Huntington Theatre Company, artist Elisa Hamilton, Kate Huffman of Encore Tours, Miguel Landestoy of the Community Music Center of Boston, Elsa Moquera Sterenberg of IBA, Catherine Peterson of ArtsBoston, artist activist Aziza Robinson-Goodnight, Sarah Shampnois of Company One, and Sara Stackhouse of Boston Conservatory at Berklee.


The primary takes place this Tuesday, September 4. Polls will be open from 7am to 8pm.

You can read Pressley’s Create the Vote questionnaire here:

Create the Vote 2018 is a nonpartisan campaign to raise awareness of the ways that arts and creative expression improve schools, strengthen local business districts, and build vibrant neighborhoods in which people want to live, work, and play. Members of the campaign are meeting with federal, state, and municipal political candidates to discuss the candidates’ views on the arts and cultural community and the role that culture, creativity, and the arts should play in state and local government.


Do you like this post?

Community Impact

The Drama Studio is one of a handful of youth theatres in the United States that offers quality, range, and depth in its acting training programs. For Springfield-area youth, the Studio's conservatory program offers an unusual opportunity for training that prepares its graduates (all of whom are college bound) to...