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Recap: The Public Hearing with the Arts & Culture Transition Team

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Thanks to the MBTA, I was about ten minutes late to the Public Hearing with Mayor Walsh’s Arts and Culture Transition Team at Boston Public Library’s Robb Auditorium. But when I ran into the Hearing around 9:40am last Saturday, I wasn’t exactly expecting to be met by a crowd. I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised to see a full house, packed at standing-room only, with constituents from every facet of Boston’s thriving but notoriously under-funded arts scene.

Soon after he was elected in November, Mayor Walsh announced his Arts & Culture Transition Team, a diverse group of representatives from across Boston’s art-making and cultural communities. From Boston’s visual arts community, Gabrielle Schaffner (Fort Point Arts Community), Kathy Bitetti (MA Artists Leadership Coalition and Medicine Wheel) and Derek Lumpkins (Discover Roxbury) are a part of the 25-person team. All three were present at Saturday’s Hearing, though sadly, Mayor Walsh was not.

Lasting over two hours, the hearing provided an opportunity for those individuals and communities who daily experience the importance and vitality of Boston’s arts to speak directly to the Arts & Culture Transition Team. A hand-out, first published during the Mayoral race and available during the Hearing read "Marty Walsh understands that art can change lives, build communities, create jobs, and create new opportunities for individuals, neighborhoods, and Boston as a whole."

Arts educators advocated funding to schools, with one tearfully saying that somewhere in Boston, a student is sketching on ruled notebook paper in order to apply to Boston Arts Academy. Peter Roth, of Midway Studios, described the plight of 87 working artists who call the Fort Point building home after the owner put it on the market. The sale of building means that these 87 artists could lose their homes and work-spaces in a city that already struggles to provide affordable live/work units. Perhaps the most touching testimonies came from several members of the Chinese Youth Initiative who urged the Team to fund and build a library for Chinatown residents. The neighborhood is currently the city’s only one to not have a place for study, community engagement and the resources that a public library provides.

Given the crowd’s energy, it’s clear that Boston artists are proudly committed to their city despite a lack of adequate infrastructure or resources. Jason Turgeon of FIGMENT Boston said it best when he testified that "artists in Somerville want to be here, otherwise they would go to New York or San Francisco."

As anyone who has attended an arts event in the city knows, our arts community boasts artists, art professionals and culture workers of every medium, practice or approach. Curator and educator Maggie Cavallo concluded her testimony by asking the Team what it will take for someone like her to be at the table when policy decisions that directly impact art-making and artists are made. Cavallo’s testimony reminded the Team that arts policy should consider the art of Boston’s past, present and future.

"I want to stress that it is also necessary that that Mayor’s office be committed to risk-taking and experimentation when it comes to developing its new artistic identity," Cavallo said in her remarks. "We should imagine our city as a university, and the public as teachers, students and collaborators."

What was most striking in Cavallo’s statement was her clear invitation for the Mayor and policy makers to join in our arts communities. Artists and other cultural workers are often unfairly stereotyped as elitist or exclusive; Cavallo and many others who testified voiced a desire for Walsh and his administration to not only connect with, but become a part of, the city’s arts scene. To that end, Cavallo presented three possible "entrepreneurial ventures that are inspired by real problems within the contemporary art community in Boston, but are strategically designed to create opportunities outside of these issues as well." These projects include "Art School 617," "Public Art as Public Art Experience/Learning," and "Creating opportunities for success in social entrepreneurship." Mayor Walsh needs only to engage with art and artists in this city to yield wide-reaching social and economic benefits.

"Being present with and for the arts in Boston in that way was a very special kind of self-care, I think that might be the effect of "getting involved," something that anyone in the contemporary art community can do," Cavallo wrote to me in an email this week. "Listening to the testimonies on Saturday, I was reminded how broad the arts & culture community is here, how our needs and intentions overlap and how many people care deeply about the cultural development of Boston."

No one who attended the Hearing will give up their practice or commitment to the arts should Mayor Walsh decide to do nothing during his tenure as Mayor. But if he follows through with his Arts & Culture Platform—in which he pledges to provide space, funding and resources to Boston artists—it’s clear that the possibilities for our arts community are infinite. Walsh’s announcement earlier this week that he will in fact designate an Arts & Culture Office inside City Hall—Boston’s first ever—is certainly a show of his commitment to keeping his campaign promises.

"What Mayor Walsh can do for the contemporary art community in his first 100 days in office should be in line with what Mayor Walsh can do for his office, and the city at large as well," Cavallo wrote in her email to me. "We are living in a creative ecosystem here, what’s good for me, should be good for you."


A recording of the Hearing is here.

The hearing is storified here.


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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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