michelle wu

Michelle Wu CTVBoston21 Questionnaire


Roundtable Create the Vote Boston 2021 discussion 

“We’re in a moment right now where every city is at the brink of basically an existential crisis coming out of COVID,” said Boston City Councilor and mayoral candidate Michelle Wu during a roundtable discussion with members of the Create the Vote Boston 2021 Coalition (CTV Boston). 

Noting that “people don't need to live in cities anymore” because they can work from home and Zoom in for meetings, city leaders “need to give a different value proposition to everyone.” 

For Boston, that means touting its “natural competitive advantages of a thriving, engaged community,” which includes artists, arts and cultural organizations and creative communities. 

Wu met with members of CTV Boston for an hour on Monday, June 28 to talk about her vision for the city’s future and how artists and arts and cultural organizations will fit in it. Participating CTV Boston members included artist and organizer Tran Vu, Black Art + Music Soul (BAMS) Fest Founder and Executive Director Catherine Morris, Company One Theatre Managing Director Karthik Subramanian, Emerson College Vice President and ArtsEmerson Executive Director David Howse, MASSCreative Executive Director Emily Ruddock, MASSCreative Director of Engagement and Organizing Tri Vi Quach, Museum of Fine Arts Director of Special Projects Maggie Scott, New England Aquarium Vice President of External Relations Rick Musiol, Jr., and Director of the Pao Arts Center at Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center Cynthia Woo. 

BAMS Fest Founder and Executive Director Catherine Harris asked about another issue every city is also grappling with, which is the racism of city officials who make it harder for event organizers to get permitting for festivals featuring predominantly Black and brown artists. 

“How do you plan to change that tactically,” Morris asked. 

“The way I conceptualize it overall is we need to move away from a culture of no and get to a culture of how do we make this happen,” Wu said. “If you have a process that’s complicated, people are still going to be able to get through it, but only those who know someone to get them through it or have the resources to hire someone who knows someone to get through it. That just goes against everything that we’re trying to change.” 

Morris then asked about how to deal with the practice of some captains in the Boston Police Department requiring her to provide the names of every local artist slated to perform at a music festival in order to run them through a database of people believed to have affiliations with gangs. If any artists show up in the database, Morris must hire additional police officers for security. 

“I think I'm one of just a few candidates who has been calling out that even that database where they're going to supposedly to search gang affiliation is deeply, deeply, flawed, biased, inaccurate, and should be dismantled in and of itself,” Wu said. “Community organizations are already demonstrating that community members can find alternatives to keep safety, to ensure that everyone is comfortable, but also aren't relying on the Boston police to be dictating the terms of who can and where and how show up to be part of these community events. So I fully support moving away from that model.” 

Wu was also asked about city funding for the arts. A 2016 report by The Boston Foundation examined financial support for the nonprofit arts sector in Boston and compared it to 10 other cities. The findings showed that “Boston has one of the most vibrant cultural sectors of any city in America, rivaling other cultural powerhouses, such as New York and San Francisco” but that “Boston receives the lowest amount of government funding per capita among the comparison cities” and that it was the only metro area studied “where federal support outweighs state and local funding.” 

This lack of public support is one of the reasons why the Create the Vote Boston 2021 Coalition (CTV Boston) has called on the next mayor of Boston to increase arts funding to “$20 million annually by the end of the first mayoral term” in 2025. 

Emerson College Vice President and ArtsEmerson Executive Director David Howse asked Wu if she would be willing to commit to raising city support for the arts to $20 million. 

“I’ve had conversations like this with many, many organizations and it’s easy in this moment to say, “Yes, I’m going to do it,”” Wu said, noting that when candidates come before advocacy groups “there’s a certain amount of” wanting to say yes to whatever is being asked for. 

“But I just want to make sure that I’m framing [my answer] in a way that matches what I feel like will be the type of mindset that we need in governing which is, I think, to see arts infused across every department,” she said. “So, do I believe that we’ll hit a $20 million number with new positions that are created not technically in the arts and culture department but through hiring artists in department across the city? … I’m sure that we will get there.” 

She added that funding for the arts came down to “identifying a sustainable funding source” such as linking revenue from development projects to arts and ensuring “that the creative community is centered in every part of our decision making.” 

Wu was elected to the Boston City Council in 2013 as a Councilor-at-Large when she was 28 years old. It was her first run for office and she was the second top vote getter after then-Councilor-at-Large Ayanna Pressley. With her victory, Wu became the first Asian-American elected to the Council. She joined the Arts, Culture & Special Events committee, eventually becoming Chair, and was involved in the formation of several of Boston’s cultural districts. Wu grew up in Chicago, the oldest of three girls and the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants. 

“My parents had nothing when they arrived in the United States,” Wu said. But Chicago had such a strong sense of place that “you could find a place to just feel connected to the culture and wider community.” 

On Tuesdays, when admission was free, her mother brought Wu to the Art Institute of Chicago and she “grew up always in the pit orchestra, playing piano, violin, singing, dancing, multiple kinds of dance, with lots of performance arts in my family.” 

Today, when she “gets free time with the family” she is likely to be at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a museum, or an arts festival. 

During the CTV Boston roundtable discussion, Wu talked about her ideas for “infusing” arts into “every part of city government.” She answered questions about dealing with overt racism in the city’s permitting and licensing processes for artists and arts organizations, reforming the city’s Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program that levies a voluntary fee on property-owning nonprofits which are tax exempt, making art and culture accessible to all of Boston’s residents, and how to measure accountability of political leadership to the arts community. 

On her plans for arts and culture as mayor:

Wu said that while there has been some progress in getting additional political support for the arts in Boston since 2013—most notably with the creation of a cabinet-level Chief of Arts and Culture—discussion of arts and culture in 2021 “feels very familiar to the conversations that were happening in the 2013 mayoral cycle.” 

In response, Wu has “put out a specific set of policy commitments” that address “the more often discussed items with the creative community”: 

Empowering artists to help communities heal by scaling up Boston’s Artists in Residence program, prioritizing artist-in-residency programs in the neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID-19, and creating a “summer of play” in neighborhoods by shutting down neighborhood streets to vehicle traffic and hiring local musicians, actors, and visual artists to perform, lead public arts workshops, and create opportunities for children, individuals, and families to reconnect with one another as the city emerges from the pandemic.

Implementing a sustainable, equitable revenue source for the arts by dedicating one percent of the city’s annual municipal capital budget for commissioning public art projects, supporting venues and facilities, and building out infrastructure for arts and culture organizations; building a coalition to advance state legislation for long-term financial support to Boston’s arts and cultural sector; and coordinating private resources to align with and supplement public funding with community oversight to ensure that financial resources are directed to narrow racial gaps, not widen them.

Create space for arts and culture by making municipal and other community buildings available to musical, theater, and other artistic performances; directing a newly-created public planning department to identify citywide gaps in studio and rehearsal space, performance space, and affordable live-work space for artists, and then codify a plan to meet the needs of Boston’s working artists into the city’s zoning code; and incentivizing commercial property owners with vacant office spaces to make low- or no-cost administrative space available to arts and cultural organizations, particularly as the real estate market adjusts to the post-pandemic work economy.

Expanding access to cultural institutions through a Boston Municipal ID that offers no- or low-cost admission to Boston Public Schools students and families, Boston Housing Authority residents, SNAP participants, and other lower-income Boston residents, regardless of their citizenship status.

Guaranteeing arts funding in the school budget. 

On how Wu would work with arts organizations, both small and large, and community members (asked by Director of the Pao Arts Center at Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center Cynthia Woo) 

“Every bit of how we get to bolder policy creation relies first on building trust with community members,” Wu said. “I think if there's anything we can say about Boston, it is the hyper-local, hyper-focused community-by-community efforts. Everything that we need to try to solve or do or address, someone is already working on that solution in the community and our job is to find those contact points, amplify them, and partner with them.” 

Community planning efforts in Chinatown, Wu said, “master planning” that included “using every tool through the arts and through place making and community building” that ultimately drew “everyone into the conversation about what the future of this community should look like. That's, I think, the template for how we should do this across the city.” 

On how to elevate the status of the city’s Chief of Arts and Culture to that of other cabinet-level positions (asked by New England Aquarium Vice President of External Relations Rick Musiol, Jr.) 

“This is the risk or even danger of siloing things and saying, “Okay, well never we’ve created this Cabinet-level arts person, let them fend and fight for whatever they can cobble together,” Wu said. Noting that the city also now had relatively new positions related to reducing racial inequities and dealing with climate change, very little will be accomplished if cabinet chiefs are forced to spend their time advocating for mayoral attention “relative to other department.” Instead, they should be given the space and opportunity to advocate for “the communities that they are most closely representing to make sure that they are part of the conversations that should be intersectional to begin with.” 

On dealing with overt racism in permitting and licensing decisions for arts festivals, such as having to give the full legal names of any Black/brown performers so they can be checked against the city’s gang database.  (Black Art + Music Soul (BAMS) Fest Founder and Executive Director Catherine Morris)

“I think I'm one of just a few candidates who has been calling out that even that database where they're going to supposedly to search gang affiliation is deeply, deeply, flawed, biased, inaccurate, and should be dismantled in and of itself,” Wu said, adding that organizers producing events that appeal to Black, brown, and immigrant communities all face additional scrutiny from police for security and permitting. “I've had this conversation fairly intensely recently during Pride month, as we've been talking about the TransResistance March and a strong desire to shift away from having armed law enforcement present in large numbers at so many of our large community events, festivals, and parades. … So I fully support moving away from that model.” 

On how to ensure that arts and culture is centered in city decision-making (asked by MASSCreative Executive Director Emily Ruddock) 

“For any policy area, the only way that we can have true accountability is to stay present and visible and connected in communities,” Wu said, noting that it was important to have agreement on what the “right metrics” for measuring accountability should be. “Are we thinking about housing stability as a way to understand the direct correlation and impact on the arts and culture community? Are we thinking about new organizations or entrepreneurship as one measure? Are we thinking about city contracts and how we’re spending money on Black and brown artists and creatives or entrepreneurs?” 

On how Wu would work with arts organizations on a Boston Municipal ID offerings no- or low-cost admission to cultural institutions (asked by Museum of Fine Arts Director of Special Projects Maggie Scott) 

“It’s about having the mechanisms in place where we're in regular communication with shared goals, and to make sure that through this infusion of arts across the city structure, city organizational structure, that it will be just as natural for us to be in communication about partnerships on [a Boston Municipal ID] as artist live workspace or … housing,” Wu said. “So I think making sure that the arts and creatives perspective is really at the table for all issues is the model that I'm trying to move us towards.”   

On arts education and creative youth development (asked by MASSCreative Executive Director Emily Ruddock) 

Referring to her detailed campaign plan for arts and culture, Wu said that arts could no longer be thought of as “an extra thing” and emphasized again that advocates for arts and culture need to be “infused throughout our city’s organizational structure.” 

On reforming the city’s Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program that levies a voluntary fee on property-owning nonprofits which are tax exempt 

“I've said for some time now that it doesn't make sense to treat the arts and culture institutions similarly to hospitals and universities,” Wu said. Potential ideas for reform include directing the city’s Office of Arts and Culture to work with arts and cultural institutions to develop community benefits projects tailored to the unique strengths of each institution and the needs of Boston residents. “How do we have a conversation about really, truly making access possible for our residents and seeing it as the city's investment in removing barriers for every resident to be able to...really benefit from our institutions.”

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published this page in 2021 mayoral candidates 2021-07-14 18:15:44 -0400

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