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Create the Vote: Boston Arts and the Mayoral Election

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Next Tuesday, November 5, Boston will elect a new mayor for the first time in 20 years. The new mayor—either City Councilor John Connolly or Representative Marty Walsh—will dedicate a cabinet-level position for the arts in their administration. Both candidates pledge to do as much thanks mostly to MassCreative’s Create the Vote campaign, which has called for public meetings for each candidate to discuss their proposed arts policies with arts constituents.

Twelve people ran for mayor in the primary, and nine of those contenders (Connolly and Walsh among them) spoke at Create the Vote’s Boston Mayoral Candidate Forum on Arts, Culture and Creativity in September. This event gathered 600 people from around Boston’s creative community (you can watch video of the forum here, and read BR&S’s coverage of the event here), signaling to the candidates that the arts are a fundamental part of Boston’s economy and vitality.

“You’ve educated me, and I think all [of]the candidates,” Connolly told constituents gathered at Villa Victoria Center for the Arts last Friday during his public meeting. The week before, Walsh spoke to a crowded room of constituents at the African Meeting House at the Museum of African American History. “Under my administration, I want to make sure we have an arts renaissance,” said Walsh.

But what would a Boston arts renaissance look like? As both candidates point out, Boston is home to “world-class” institutions like the storied Museum of Fine Arts, Berklee College of Music, the Boston Ballet, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and others. These organizations enrich the city for those who live here, and draw in tourist dollars from those who don’t. But for smaller non-profits and individual artists, Boston doesn’t offer much in the way of affordable housing or funding. In spite of this, I believe that Boston boasts a thriving contemporary art scene. Since becoming a BR&S editor last April, I’m continually blown away by how many exhibitions, lectures, performances, symposia, and other events that Boston’s artists organize on a shoe-string, and I’m enthusiastically eager to see what would happen with improved funding and better support for grant-seekers.

As Connolly noted in his Create the Vote questionnaire, in 2013, the city budgeted just $130,000 in funding for non-profit arts organizations. “This is less than one-hundredth of one percent of the city’s total annual budget, and well below other cities like Houston, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon, which all provide direct annual funding in the millions of dollars,” he notes. Similarly, in his questionnaire, Walsh vowed to budget more for the arts, calling it an “historically underfunded sector.”

Both candidates are committed to a cabinet-level position for the arts—one that’s separated from tourism—seated by an individual who will ensure that the arts infiltrate all facets of the city. According to Walsh, this cabinet-level arts administrator will “work collaboratively with all city departments and would provide support and expertise on specific grant/sponsorship opportunities being pursued by individual departments.” As Connolly describes in his questionnaire, a cabinet-level arts administrator will guide his proposed Department of Arts and Culture to “facilitate the cultural planning process, and serve as a single point of contact for Boston’s arts community.”

During his public meeting, Connolly said that he wanted to foster more provocative public art, and alluded to the 2012 controversy over the Os Gemeos mural as a positive way to cultivate public dialogue. In his meeting, Walsh stated that art is a connector, suggesting that it’s a medium to encourage tolerance, community and empathy.

“It’s an exciting time to be in the Boston arts scene,” said Gary Dunning, Executive Director of the Celebrity Series of Boston, in his opening remarks at Walsh’s public meeting. I couldn’t agree more, given the breadth and scope of art making practices currently flourishing in this city. The Boston arts scene has already impacted the mayoral race, compelling the candidates to include the cabinet-level arts administrator, and thus to substantively talk about arts issues. Only time will tell if either candidate’s words will mature into substantive action.


Connolly’s arts agenda is here. Walsh’s is here.

Both Create the Vote public meetings with the candidates are available here.

The next and last debate will be broadcast tonight at 7pm on WBUR. Join the conversation on twitter with hashtags #bosmayor and #bospoli.

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About Author

Leah joined the Big Red and Shiny editorial staff in 2013 and served as Blog Editor through 2014; she currently oversees BR&S's editorial focus. Leah has contributed catalogue essays to CUE Art Foundation (New York) and Hashimoto Contemporary (San Francisco), as well as articles to a number of publications, most recently The Brooklyn Rail, Harper's Bazaar Art, and Hyperallergic. She has lectured on art criticism and various topics in art history at Montserrat College of Art, Stonehill College, and Tufts University Art Gallery. She works as Director of Programs & Exhibitions for Fort Point Arts Community.

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