Arts and Culture in the 2017 Mayoral Race: A Community Conversation with Mayor Marty Walsh

With more than 40 mayoral and city council races happening across the Commonwealth this November, MASSCreative's Create the Vote 2017 Initiative is working with arts leaders to make sure that candidates and voters are talking about arts, culture and creativity in their local campaigns.

Kate Huffman, a member of MASSCreatives's Leadership Council, attended a forum with Boston Mayoral Candidate Marty Walsh on Wednesday June 20th.  Here is her report on what Walsh said about arts and culture:

On Thursday, July 20th, Mayor Marty Walsh sat down with JP Progressives for a community conversation as part of the organization’s endorsement process for the 2017 Mayoral election. A similar event was held on the previous Tuesday night with City Councilor and Mayoral candidate Tito Jackson. 

The gathering space at the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain was full of folks who had come to hear the Mayor talk about his past three and a half years in office and his plans for the future if he were to be reelected. Mayor Walsh started off by introducing himself, talking about his upbringing in Dorchester by his Irish immigrant parents and his strong support of unions, having joined the Laborers Local 223 union when he was 21 and serving as the union’s president until he was elected Mayor. He spoke about his extensive experience in government, first in serving in the Massachusetts House of Representatives for 17 years, and as Mayor of Boston since 2014. 

The Mayor discussed important topics to him, like increasing the diversity of his cabinet to be comprised of at least 50% people of color, one of his 2014 Mayoral campaign promises, as well as creating an Office of Diversity. A topic that was very evidently a top concern of folks in the crowd was affordable housing and the cost of living in Boston. Mayor Walsh discussed many crucial aspects of his housing plan, including how to define “affordable,” how to slow down and stop gentrification, how the city is tackling housing chronically homeless individuals, and what percentage of affordable housing is being built compared to luxury condos and apartments. Another topic of interest was in education. When asked about his opinion on having art and music classes available to all students in the Boston Public School system, Mayor Walsh cited a lack of funds issue and discussed possible solutions to shortages, like implementing standardized start and finish times to spend less money on bussing students to and from school and making transportation more efficient. 

With the concerns of those in the audience mainly focusing on housing affordability, criminal justice, and education, there was not much time for Mayor Walsh to answer questions about the arts. However, one arts advocate asked about the findings of the one year update of the Boston Creates plan, which stated that there are still space and affordability issues for artists in Boston. When asked what his plan was to address this, the Mayor discussed the various partnerships happening between arts institutions as well as between building developers and individual artists to try to provide more affordable space for artists in the city.

Along the campaign trail is a fantastic place for arts advocates to make our voices heard and to ask important questions of those looking to represent our communities. As Mayor Walsh and Councilor Jackson continue to make public appearances and answer questions of constituents, it is important for arts advocates to continue to speak up on behalf of the arts. We must express that the arts are not just nice, they’re necessary to vibrant, healthy communities. Find out how to get involved in arts advocacy in the 2017 Boston Mayoral election by following #CreateTheVote on social media and signing up for updates from MASS-Creative. 

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