John Connolly: ‘I want to be your champion’

“We are a city brimming with talent when it comes to the arts,” Boston City Councilor and mayoral candidate John Connolly told about 100 attendees of a public meeting at Villa Victoria Center for the Arts on Friday, October 25. “But there is no doubt that we are no making full use of that talent.”

The forum with Connolly was sponsored by the Create the Vote coalition, a collaboration of Boston’s arts, cultural, and creative institutions convened by MASSCreative, and moderated by Joyce Kulhawik, President of the Boston Theater Critics Association and The coalition held a similar forum with State Rep. and mayoral candidate Marty Walsh October 18.

Connolly reiterated his pledge to hire a cabinet-level arts commissioner in his mayoral administration and fund a city department devoted to arts and cultural initiatives. “I am serious about creating this office,” Connolly said in answer to a question about where he would find the money to pay for a municipal investment in the arts. “It’s going to come out of the general fund. Obviously things are going to have to shift around. … And I suspect that many of you have ideas about how to do this that I may not have.” 

In talking about how an arts policy agenda could—and should—be integrated with other city priorities, Connolly said that he wanted to create more affordable live/work spaces for artists. “We know how to build affordable housing but just not enough of it,” he said. “I want to have an aggressive and bold housing plan … The city needs to be more affordable so we can retain the talent (that comes out of Boston’s schools every year).”

Connolly also talked about the need to ease the city’s events permitting process, and cited his oft-quoted analogy that he wanted someone walking into City Hall in need of help to be greeted as if they were walking into the Apple Store.

He talked about the need for more public art—“I want a real public arts agenda,” he said—and cited Seattle as an example of a city that is getting it right with public art.

Connolly said he wanted to see arts instruction offered to every student in the Boston public schools. Acknowledging the contributions of EdVestors, a private philanthropic initiative that encourages investment in the Boston Public Schools and is spearheading the BPS Arts Expansion Initiative, Connolly said it simply was not enough.

Referencing his five-year-old daughter’s love of arts, which has been nurtured by her maternal grandmother who is a painter, Connolly said, “I never want her to lose that.”

“I want to make sure that every child has access to the arts,” he added. “We spend so much time talking about STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics). I’m going to make sure it’s called STEAM. We need to be plugging our children into the arts from the moment they enter school.”

In answer to questions from the audience, Connolly said he would be relying on the arts community to help him select his arts commissioner. “Trust me, you don’t want me to pick that person,” he said, joking that it would have to be a special person who could utilize one half of their brain for the arts and the other half for running a city department.

He also said he would use the bully pulpit and his influence as mayor to lobby state lawmakers to increase funding for the arts. “I want to be your champion,” he said.

He ended the event by praising the Create the Vote coalition. When an attendee asked him what artists could and should be doing to educate people about how the arts could further benefit the city, Connolly answered: “You’re going a great job in this room. I ran for City Council four times before and now for mayor and I don’t think we ever talked about the arts before. What you’re doing now is exactly what you should be doing. You’ve been the signature advocacy group in this campaign.” 

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