When it comes to the arts in Boston, the city is bursting at the seams and more eclectic than ever, from landmark organizations like the Boston Symphony Orchestra to industrious, fringe theater troupes staging shows in storefronts. That has often been in spite of the city – until now. As a candidate, Marty Walsh pledged to champion the arts, and now as mayor, he has a plan: Boston Creates, a 10-year strategy to strengthen arts in the city, said Julie Burros, Boston’s chief of arts and culture.
“We had this incredibly participatory process and came up with a vision for the arts: the vision to keep arts to be inclusive and to keep artists and Boston,” Burros said. “And to really have Boston be as well-known for the arts as it is for sports and history.”
>>> Read a draft of the cultural plan on the "Boston Creates" website >>>
The plan took a year to assemble, cost $1.4 million and reflects the feedback of more than 5,000 Bostonians who offered their own input. It tackles a number of problem areas, like retaining artists and attracting new ones to the city.
“This is a huge issue, and as part of our implementation, we’re really putting artists at the forefront,” Burros said.
"Boston Creates" lists the following as the five goals of the plan:
1. Create fertile ground for a vibrant and sustainable arts and culture ecosystem.
2. Keep artists in Boston and attract new ones here, recognizing and supporting artists’ essential contribution to creating and maintaining a thriving, healthy, and innovative city.
3. Cultivate a city where all cultural traditions and expressions are respected, promoted, and equitably resourced, and where opportunities to engage with arts and culture are accessible to all.
4. Integrate arts and culture into all aspects of civic life, inspiring all Bostonians to value, practice, and reap the benefits of creativity in their individual lives and in their communities.
5. Mobilize likely and unlikely partners, collaborating across institutions and sectors, to generate excitement about, and demand and resources for, Boston's arts and culture sector.
Artists looking for information about permitting, grants and housing and work space will find it at City Hall’s planned resource desk. The desk, staffed by a full-time employee, is expected to cost $100,000 and would be funded through the additional $1 million Walsh has allocated to the Office of Arts and Culture in his proposed fiscal year 2017 budget.
Boston Creates also addresses the thorny issue of housing—that many artists simply cannot afford to live and work here.
“We know affordable housing is a huge issue,” Burros said. “Moving forward, all of the Boston Public Housing Authority developments will have units set aside for artists.”
The plan also calls for integrating the arts more fully into city life—like ramping up arts education in schools and making art events and programs more accessible. Burros said the city will be fully accountable for its action plan.
“We don’t want to get too lost in the weeds,” she said. “We want to have clear measures that really show how we’re gaining.”
This is welcome news to Olivia D’Ambrosio, a co-founder of Bridge Repertory Theater. Just four years old, the small company gets by on grit, gumption and heaps of raw talent.
“It is the hardest thing I have ever done,” D’Ambrosio said. “I work between 40 and 60 hours a week, I would say, on Bridge Rep, and we still have not had sufficient funding for me to take a salary.”
On top of her full-time theater work, D’Ambrosio earns a living teaching theater at MIT and as a part-time yoga instructor. But she does it, she says, for the sake of the art.
“Believe me, in my darker moments, I think about packing my bags and heading out,” D’Ambrosio said, “but ultimately I think sticking it out and being part of the conversation and the work and the consistent nudging, nudging, nudging that it takes to make a big change, is what I want to be a part of.”
As early drafts of the Boston Creates plan were made public, critics immediately weighed in—wondering who would pay for it all. In addition to the additional arts funding Walsh has pledged, he’s said a portion of all city construction project budgets going forward will include a percentage for public art.
What’s more, two philanthropic groups, the Boston Foundation and the Barr Foundation, have pledged $750,000 for Boston Create’s first year. That’s ear-marked for small performing arts groups, like Bridge Rep, thirsting for financial support.
“Our audience would have a better arts experience because the show that they would be receiving would be better crafted,” D’Ambrosio said. “It would also mean a better-attended event because I would have resources to more effectively divert to marketing.”
But Burros has also pointed out that money isn’t the only solution. Just as important, she said, is getting the city’s hundreds of arts groups, which are notoriously siloed, to collaborate.
“It’s all about achieving a culture shift in Boston and to work together to come up with those resources,” Burros said. “And I use the word ‘resources’ again very deliberately; that yes, it is about funding; but it’s also about other resources: about how we can collaborate together and really move forward.”