By Michael Coughlin Jr.
District 1 City Councilor Gabriela Coletta is doing her part in the preservation and creation of arts and culture space in the City of Boston by penning a letter to the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) describing the need for arts and culture space to be included in the draft zoning text amendment associated with the Squares + Streets initiative.
According to the BPDA’s website, Squares + Streets is “a new planning and zoning initiative that will focus on housing, public space, small businesses, arts and culture, and transportation in neighborhood centers and along main streets.”
As part of the initiative, the BPDA is crafting a zoning text amendment to update zoning in order to “guide development that encourages a mix of building uses and heights, creates housing diversity and growth opportunities, and encourages active streets,” per the BPDA’s website.
Specifically, Coletta has asked that the BPDA “include language in this text amendment that requires redevelopments to reprovision any existing arts or cultural space onsite or provide an equal financial contribution for the development of new arts and cultural space.”
Coletta voiced fears about losing this type of space in her letter, writing, “I remain concerned about the ongoing loss of arts and culture space throughout the City of Boston.”
“Last year, I heard from many of my constituents who were struggling to find music rehearsal space or were actively being evicted from a former arts space,” she added.
In her letter, Coletta cites Boston Creates, an analysis from the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture (MOAC), which illustrated “a need for new affordable cultural spaces and facilities, and difficulties in meeting the costs of and maintaining existing spaces and facilities.”
As well as “an acute and increasing lack of affordable housing and work space for Boston artists, and significant imbalances and gaps in funding for Boston artists and arts and culture organizations,” per Coletta’s letter.
Further, Coletta co-signed recommendations made in a letter from the MOAC to the BPDA, which can be found at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1lKOxlBPkNPRjX9TmLrKr6lbt_o57k_uFIQSvBC2Vq_w/edit.
Several recommendations were made in the MOAC letter, and the letter also speaks to the office’s goal of not seeing a “net loss of cultural space” in the city.
“This means that any cultural space that is under threat needs to be secured or re-provided and that new cultural space should be created to make up for past spaces lost. Boston is well positioned to act on this goal through the Squares + Streets planning processes,” reads the MOAC letter.
Later in her letter, Coletta points to the debilitating effects of the COVID pandemic on artists in that it became increasingly difficult to pay for workspaces and that other spaces were shut down.
She even cites a statistic from Chief of Arts and Culture Kara Elliott-Ortega, that “over 100,000 sq. ft of cultural production space, such as studios and rehearsal spaces, have been lost over the last five to seven years, along with numerous live music venues, gathering spaces and specialist retail.”
It should be noted that the BPDA revealed some updates to its zoning text amendment at a public meeting on Tuesday and made some changes in response to conversations and a letter from the MOAC.
These updates include making art galleries a type of retail store, allowing incidental sales in art studios, adding an extra small entertainment/events category for up to 250 people, and not including art exhibits with nudity in the adult entertainment category.
To view Coletta’s letter in its entirety, visit https://bit.ly/Coletta_Squares, and to learn more about the Squares + Streets initiative, visit https://www.bostonplans.org/planning/planning-initiatives/squares-streets#about.
“Please consider me a partner in ensuring that the City of Boston is able to provide both artists and residents with abundant and resilient arts and culture spaces. I look forward to working with the BPDA and MOAC collaboratively to ensure we see this vision for our City through,” wrote Coletta.