Rob Consalvo's Responses to the Create The Vote Questionnaire

Addressing Citywide Issues: Just as any other major city, Boston faces many economic and social issues. Can you provide examples on how you would integrate the arts, culture, and creative community in solving social problems? How would you use our community to drive economic development in the city? 

I recently visited Artists for Humanity in South Boston. I was impressed by their approach. Each school year they offer paid apprenticeships to urban teens. The neighborhood kids advance through a series of orientations and then are free to create, market and sell their work. The energy in the building is impressive and the skills they build are real. When I visited I could see the kids working individually and in teams in various mediums: painting, screen printing, digital media, web design, etc. The leadership of the organization really cares and told stories of kids who were not doing well in school but when they came to Artists for Humanity discovered they had a talent not previously recognized. This talent turned into a skill and the skill turned into a productive self- image.

Another group is Spontaneous Celebrations in Jamaica Plain who engage youth and adults in creative community building through its programs and festivals. They have been doing this for many years. In both cases, these organizations drive economic development. Spontaneous Celebrations provides artists an outlet to sell their work at their festivals and events and Artists for Humanity helps build job skills and then provides opportunities for youth to negotiate a deal in the market and sell their work.

These grassroots models are instructive and I think there is certainly room for more. If they strike a resonant chord in one neighborhood of Boston there is a good chance it will resonate in another neighborhood. One way to encourage good ideas and share program successes is to bring people together to learn from each other. A Boston cultural economic development summit could be a good start. This would include the diverse set of cultural institutions in Boston. Such a summit could explore the potential already here and how we can further economic benefit and social connection.


Your Personal Connection: We've all had defining moments in our lives. What personal experience with arts, culture, or creativity has had an impact on your life and your view of the community? 

One of the most significant reference points for me in understanding the impact of the creative economy in Boston is the work I did with the arts and cultural community and existing neighbors in bringing the artist live/work space to the Westinghouse Plaza in Readville. This unique combination of artist studios and live/work space has helped bolster a burgeoning artist community in the area. The artist residents and non-artist residents are a welcome addition to the area, contributing to the local economy, shopping in local stores and dining in restaurants, and providing the public with an opportunity to participate in the vibrant local art scene. I am committed to making affordable housing opportunities –both rental and ownership - as well as access to transportation alternatives within a 5 minute walk a priority in my campaign for mayor. The artist live/work space at Westinghouse Plaza is one such example, located within walking distance of key bus and commuter rail options while also providing access to beautiful open space areas in the Southwest corridor of Boston.

Arts Education and Programs for our Youth: While the Boston Arts Academy and the BPS Arts Expansion Initiative are providing access to quality arts education, many of our youth are still being left out of the creative community. What will you do as Mayor to champion arts education with our youth both in our schools and in our communities? How will you balance the importance of arts education with the constant pull to “teach to the test”?

When arts programs are well taught they can really make a difference. When a young person is involved in the arts they generally are creating something from conception—either individually or in a group setting. Doing this develops skills in thinking through an initial approach, solving problems when things do not go as planned, working in collaboration with others and taking personal self-expression risks, just to name a few. The outcome from this type education is invaluable. This is the type of skill-development we all need to succeed in life.

Currently, approximately 89% of our K-8 and 54% of our grade 9-12 students are able to access art education opportunities in school. It is not clear if the lower percentage rate of students who have access to art education in high school is because there is a lack of programming available or because our high school students are picking elective choices which line up with their career interests instead of art.

In my education plan I have stated that one of the first actions I will take as mayor will be to have my education team conduct a thorough assessment of BPS from the School Committee and Superintendent's office to our smallest schools which will include analysis of art offerings. In order to find out whether the low percentage rate in high school is due to supply or demand, the review will include a survey of our high school students. The assessments will assist us in developing a comprehensive plan for further expansion of the arts in all of our schools as part of my Ten Year Plan to make every BPS school a Level 1 school as well as through partners in the community. By utilizing the revitalized Boston Compact, which will allow us to partner with our colleges, art schools, art centers, and companies in Boston, we will be able to provide more art opportunities to youth throughout the city.

Additionally, I would like to have a member of Mass Creative as part of my Office of Ideas and Innovation. I would ask this member to work with my education team, BPS and our community partners.

With a new Superintendent of the BPS coming on-board there will be an opportunity for the next Mayor to support the continuation of Carol Johnson’s the multi-year Arts Expansion Initiative—weekly in-school arts experiences for every student in Grades K-8. In addition, the strategic goals articulated by a collaboration of local funders who are interested in changing the way arts education is delivered in the BPS, called “Edvestors” should continue to be implemented. Their 6-year, $10 million effort includes expanding direct arts instruction for students during the school day; building the capacity of the District to strengthen school- based arts instruction; and improving coordination of partnerships with arts and cultural groups and higher education institutions to support increased arts programming in the schools.

The third goal—coordinating partnerships in the community—fits well with the excellence I have seen on the ground with the neighborhood-based organizations cited above as well as other youth programs made available by the larger arts and cultural institutions in our city like the ICA, the MFA.

In addition to opportunities in music, art and science we should not forget opportunities that are emerging from local creative people involved with maker-spaces and culinary kitchens.

The New Administration’s Role in the Creative Community: According to research conducted by Americans for the Arts, Boston consistently ranks among the bottom five of the 30 largest U.S. cities in what it annually invests in the creative community. Some in the creative community are concerned about the city’s administrative capacity to program, support, and promote activities. Describe how you will address these concerns in the following areas:

 What three revenue sources will you create or use to increase the city’s financial investment in the creative community?

 How will you modify or expand the city’s current administrative structure to support the creative community?

 What are your program priorities and where will the funds be allocated?


Boston’s arts budget is a byproduct of state law that severely restricts Massachusetts cities and towns’ revenue sources. It also bars the City from levying the kind of taxes, surcharges and fees (on meal and hotel tabs, for instance) that municipalities across the country use to support their art museums and concert halls, sports teams, parks and other public amenities.

 The city is “exceptionally dependent on a limited number of revenue sources, most notably the property tax,” according to The Boston Foundation. Boston funds more than half its operating budget with tax revenues from residential and commercial property, a severely constricted source in a city where 52 percent of land is owned or occupied by government and nonprofits, both tax exempt. 

I will call for a top-down revue of all agencies within the first 90 days of my administration to make sure that city agencies are meeting the needs of Boston’s residents and this review will include the Office of Arts, Tourism and Special Events. I will call upon Boston’s creative community to provide input into prioritizing programming needs and investment.

In addition, I’ve called for the creation a cabinet level Office of Innovation, Ideas and Technology that will be run by a chief strategy officer and will serve as a clearinghouse for innovation economy issues. This office will work to create synergies and partnerships in the innovation economy including the arts and culture community and will help nurture and strengthen this important industry. In addition, I would include a member of Mass Creative as part of this office and I would ask this member to work to educate and maximize the reach that the art community plays in Boston.

The Creative Economy: One of Mayor Menino’s signature accomplishments was the promotion of the Innovation District that supports and promotes the creative economy. As mayor, how would you leverage that success and broaden your administration's commitment to the creative economy to include arts and culture as well as the innovation district? How will you foster an ecosystem which is reflective of the up and coming independent creative community in Boston?

I will work to create a culture in city government that supports and encourages small businesses including members of the arts and culture community at the early stages of job creation. This includes ideas as easy as streamlining the process of doing business in Boston and expediting zoning - and more complex ideas such as finding creative ways to provide better access to funding opportunities.

As mentioned previously, I’ve called for the creation a cabinet level Office of Innovation, Ideas and Technology that will be run by a chief strategy officer and will serve as a clearinghouse for innovation economy issues including the arts and cultural community. The CSO will also work to develop a strategic plan to leverage and enhance Boston’s reputation as a world-class city, one in which entrepreneurs from around the world will continue to launch their great new ideas and art.

Innovation districts, like cultural districts, can be established when a cluster of innovation or cultural activity is already in place or when a plan is created to fit into a creative economy strategy. A naturally occurring cultural district like The Fenway, which was recently designated by the Massachusetts Cultural Council as a cultural district—is an example where a cultural cluster was in already in place. When you walk along Huntington Avenue you can certainly see why this is so. The Innovation District in South Boston on the other hand was strategically planned and included real incentives like affordable office space for start-ups.

Going forward, Boston will continue to have opportunities to recognize and create these types of creative economy districts. The path to this type of work is multi-faceted. In some cases, neighborhoods have to embark on a planning exercise to quantify their unique cultural assets and then begin to market them to the broader population. This is an exercise that can be helped in part by the BRA and Boston Main Streets, who both work city-wide. In other cases a community map and strategy needs to be created to establish a path to its full creative economy potential. This sometimes includes the creation of arts programming and facilities to house them. Instances where the arts are already flourishing that should be formally recognized as so, is the Theatre District, for example. 

A World Class Arts Destination: While Boston is known for its hospitals, professional sports, and universities, the city has yet to fully leverage the strength of our arts, culture, and creative community as a means for tourism and branding. How would you utilize our community to market Boston as a world-class cultural destination?

Boston has a historical identity that is interwoven throughout the city and carries a powerful internationally recognized brand. Already in place, the interpretation of our history should be instructive as to how to design promote other cultural assets within the City. The Freedom Trail did not always exist. It was created in the 1950’s and we have witnessed what an effective and relatively inexpensive way to brand and link our historic buildings and sites. Talk about innovation!

The answer as to how to market Boston as a cultural destination lies within the collective arts community with the support of government and industry partners. My Office of Innovation, Technology and Ideas will include strategic planning to leverage and enhance Boston’s reputation as a world-class city, one in which entrepreneurs from around the world will continue to launch their great new ideas and works of art. In addition, this office will work the MCCA, MOTT and MOITI to better promote arts and cultural destinations as a draw for national and international travelers.

For example, a few years ago a few of our leaders in theater created the Emerging America Festival, which was devoted to launching fresh, new voices in American theater. This is a step in the right direction. I also think events like the cliff diving exhibition at the ICA increases our international cultural profile because it’s such a unique event.

Your Priorities: The start of a Mayor’s tenure often sets the Administration’s tone and priorities. When elected, what actions will you take in your first 100 days to provide support and resources to the creative community?

I will call for a top-down revue of all agencies within the first 90 days of my administration to make sure that city agencies are meeting the needs of Boston’s residents and this revue will include the Office of Arts, Tourism and Special Events. I will call upon Boston’s creative community to provide input into prioritizing programming needs and investment.

As mentioned earlier, I’ve proposed the creation of a cabinet level Office of Innovation, Ideas and Technology that will be run by a chief strategy officer and during the first 90 days of my administration, I will work to make sure this new office is properly staffed with a leader who can hit the ground running

Additionally, the City should complement the investment of the Commonwealth’s Cultural Facilities Fund by making planning grants available to cultural organizations to lay the groundwork for future capital and organizational improvements. Relatively small $10,000-$20,000 planning grants could go a long way for facility and business planning and set the stage to implement new ideas, attract additional investment, and help ensure our current cultural facilities are well-maintained and accessible.

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