By Seth Daniel
The Boston Creates team held its final Town Hall meeting at Bunker Hill Community College on Monday night, March 28, and revealed five goals that will be used to form the upcoming Boston Cultural Plan – due out on June 17.
Julie Burros, chief of arts and culture, moderated the meeting, which was kicked off with a performance by the African drum corps from East Boston’s Zumix organization. After that lively beginning, everyone settled in to talk about the seriousness of concerns for the arts community. The BHCC auditorium held a good crowd of a little over 100 people, most of whom on a real-time digital survey identified themselves as performing artists or visual artists – although there were a few parents in the audience concerned about public school art instruction.
The meeting was the third and final Town Hall, and the last chance for the community to really give input on the plan before it begins to be formed by City arts planners and consultants.
“This is a very unique moment for Boston,” said Burros. “Boston can be a municipal arts leader in the nation…This will be our first cultural plan. We know Boston has incredible artists…Most of all, Boston is a city that creates. Boston Creates acknowledges we have a wealth of creative people in Boston and they create at a very high professional level.”
The biggest news of the night were the five goals that have been identified after the first two Town Halls and at least 3,200 surveys, 50 stakeholder meetings, 35 focus groups, 118 community conversations and 15 Steering Committee meetings.
The five key goals that represent the core areas of focus for Boston’s cultural plan were:
•Integrate arts and culture into all aspects of civic life
•Create fertile ground for a vibrant and sustainable arts and culture ecosystem
•Keep artists in Boston, recognizing their essential contribution to a thriving, healthy and innovative city.
•Mobilize likely and unlikely partners to generate excitement, demand and resources for Boston’s arts and culture sector
•Cultivate a city where all cultural expressions are respected and equitably resourced, and where arts and culture are accessible to all
On the first goal, Burros said they have already begun talking with the Public Works Department (PWD) and they plan to introduce an artist in residence (AIR) program at the City’s Centers for Youth and Families.
“We’re looking to incorporate art in public works,” she said. “This has real potential to transform our daily realm. Really, we’re looking at how to bring arts and culture into every part of city government.”
The biggest topic of the night, however, was about affordability of work space, living space and performance space. It seems the squeeze on rents has not just hit those struggling in the city, but also those struggling to create in the city.
The third goal of keeping artists in Boston and providing better access to the arts for all were the top priorities of those in attendance who took the live poll – and by a long shot.
Some small changes will likely include having multiple funding rounds for the Boston Cultural Council every year, instead of just having one round per year. She said that makes sense because there are more resources now and it would give more artists more chances to capture that critical grant funding. That is something she said they would likely change, with the blessing of the City Council, within their first year of the plan.
The lack of affordable performance space is another piece of the equation and Burros pointed to the Performance Facilities Survey, which has been extended and will be up until Friday, April 1. That is open for people who have space and need space and have suggestions about space.
One participant stressed it would be important to inquire about dead spaces – and how they could be used to help solve the problem.
“The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center is half-empty a lot of the time and those great spaces sit unused and could be used to help solve this problem,” said the man. “That could be rehearsal spaces or performance spaces in between conventions. Downtown Crossing has a lot of dead spaces like that too that are underutilized.”
Burros said they are thinking about those things, and such things would take coordination, and she hinted that they would be looking to have a professional facilitator within her office as part of the final Cultural Plan.
“With that coordinator we would be connecting people who have a space to find people who need a space,” she said. “We would then do the matchmaking of those who have space and those who need space.”
She said some other possible solutions could be tapping into the Main Streets programs to find out more potential spaces and to have coordinators of those programs work with property owners to connect dead space or underused space to performing artists willing to rent the space.
Another solution, she said once again, is the Youth and Families Community Centers throughout the city.
“We think these are a real asset that could be better used and provide a real role in the cultural life of their neighborhoods,” she said.
That underscored some complaints from the audience about the same group of artists and performers dominating the scene.