On Monday night, Emerson College’s 550 seat auditorium at the beautifully restored Paramount Theatre was packed—artists, arts administrators, advocates, critics and many other professionals working in the creative industries gathered—as the city witnessed its first-ever mayoral forum on the arts.
"It’s about time!" clamored forum moderator Joyce Kulhawik during her opening remarks at MassCreative’s Create the Vote forum on arts, culture and creativity. It comes as no surprise that the winner of the night was MassCreative, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that "empowers creative organizations and the public with a powerful voice that brings the attention and resources necessary to build vibrant, creative communities." Monday night’s forum was not without its drama as the "hell-raisers and troublemakers" of the Boston arts community rallied in support of MassCreative’s historic initiative and prevent the Boston Herald, the New England Cable News Network and Suffolk University from scheduling their televised debate during the same time spot as the Create the Vote forum.
The evening was filled with lack luster performances from the candidates who professed their love for the arts, mostly talking but saying very little on how their administration would make sweeping changes to make the arts a priority. Of the twelve candidates running for Boston mayor, only nine were present to show those in the audience that they care about the arts. Dan Conley, David Wyatt and Charles Yancey were nowhere to be seen. The actions and words of those present did not go unnoticed—Charlotte Golar Richie arrived late and both Mike Ross and Rob Consalvo appeared to have been in an alternate universe. Ross left the stage before the last question and John Connolly, who I thought fumbled throughout most of his performance, left very quickly after the last question, even before the event had wrapped up. To be fair, the candidates were scheduled to attend the Boston Herald, NECN and Suffolk University televised forum which was pushed to later on that same night. Regardless, I think arts voters deserve more respect and attention than what was given by some of these candidates during the Create the Vote forum. Voters need to choose a champion of the arts in the city, but most of the answers coming from the candidates were vague and many came across as being out of touch with the Boston arts community, most noticeably those answers coming from John Barros, Charles Clemons, Rob Consalvo, and Mike Ross.
When the candidates were asked to list three specific actions that will be in support of the creative economy in the first 100 days of being in office, arts education in schools, increasing funding and grants, creating a cabinet level position for the arts and instituting a percent-for-art program resonated with all the candidates present. Creating affordable housing for artists was also a popular answer, yet the only candidates to propose a (slight) restructuring of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, an organization that has been known to consistently drive artists out of the city, were Marty Walsh and Bill Walczak.
Not surprisingly, Boston is a city that consistently ranks among the bottom five cities for arts funding, a statistic moderator Joyce Kulhawik did not let go unheard. It’s perplexing that in a packed auditorium full of smart, competent arts voters, these candidates resorted to throwing in the lowest denominator by regurgitating general and vague ideas, stories and statements most people can relate to. The next mayor of Boston needs to be a champion of the arts, a leader with strong and clear vision to usher in a new era for the city’s creative economy and the time to introduce bold ideas and policies has arrived. If Boston is to call itself a world class city, then the arts must be part of the on-going conversation during their administration.
MassCreative’s Create the Vote forum on Monday night shattered the glass walls that have kept many of us working in the creative industries in isolation from City Hall’s agenda. I hope this wasn’t the last time we hear from the candidates about the arts, because making the arts a priority as they all said they would, is easier said than done.
Watch the Forum on MassCreative's website
Check out the #ctvforum hashtag on Twitter.
Icon image from MassCreative's Instagram feed.