Boston Creates is a 10-year arts and culture plan for the city of Boston. Launched in June of 2016, it is the fulfillment of a campaign promise by Mayor Marty Walsh. After a period of community engagement throughout 2015 and 2016, the plan pledged five main goals for Boston: keep artists working in the city, as well as to bring in new creators, by expanding work spaces, increase access and representation to all neighborhoods, integrate arts and culture into all aspects of life, collaborate with other organizations, and generally revive the arts and culture of Boston. The mayor’s office released an update after the first year, explaining what projects had begun and which were still in the planning stages. However, there has been no formal update for years two and three.
A component of Imagine Boston 2030, Boston’s city-wide improvement plan, Boston Creates’ first three years have begun the process of improving the city’s arts and culture. There is still plenty of time to keep expanding. The arts and culture office in City Hall has organized a number of programs, grants, and collaborations as part of the plan. A few prominent programs include Boston Artists-in-Residence, the Artists’ Fellowship Award grant, and Percent for Art. Boston Creates also collaborates with the Boston Cultural Council to provide grants to artists.
“There are definitely things that our office has found out or learned about that weren’t really highlighted in the plan. Just ways that programs have shifted, like [how] the Boston AIR [Artists-in-Residence] program has changed every year based on what we’ve learned from the previous year,” said Kristina Carroll, the communications director for the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture. “There were things that were impossible to plan for. But we’ve done so much in the past three years.”
The Boston Artist-in-Residence (AIR) program sent artists out to various community organizations and had them focus on projects that opened discussions about social conventions. For the program’s third year, Boston chose seven artists to focus on racial inequality and resilience in Boston.
Artist Ann Hirsch was an AIR member during the first year of the program. Working with the BCYF Vine Street Community Center, she put together hand molds that explored the themes of communication, expression, and goals through the lens of hand gestures.
David Hinton, administrative coordinator at Vine Street, said of Hirsch’s residency, “We ended up with a project that the kids thought of and it was dealing with hands. We had the kids participate with it, and the staff, and it was a fun project.”
Percent for Art was launched from the cultural plan, as a program that sets aside 1 percent of the city’s annual capitol borrowing budget for the Commission of Public Art to create projects in and around government buildings. Calls are now open for artists to create a project at a new police station in East Boston, currently unbuilt.
Calls for artists are also open for two projects at the Vine Street community center, which recently reopened after a massive renovation that added more computer labs, a fitness center, an art room, and a recording studio, among other repairs. Hinton said he believes one of the projects should be completed this year, but isn’t sure. He was also unsure of what exactly will be created.
“I’d rather the community decide what goes up in this neighborhood versus me.” said Hinton, explaining the community process the projects are currently going through. “I want them to really have a strong say in it. Ultimately, the kids and the adults in this community, they have to look at this every day, and they have to say “Wow, I did that.”….We want to give people what they want.”
The Artists Fellowship Award is a $10,000 grant given by the city to artists who live and work in Boston. Its aim is to lift up artists and give them the resources they need to succeed, as well as to invest in their future projects.
Performance artist Marilyn Arsem focuses on actions, materials, and bodies, not on narratives. She was one of five winners of the grant in 2017. She founded Mobius, Inc. which is a collaborative of artists from different fields. When working on a project at City Hall Plaza, she heard Julie Burros, then-Chief of Arts and Culture, discussing Boston Creates, and says she wouldn’t have known about it if not for that conversation.
“We [Mobius] were in Boston during some of the most dry time of the city’s support of art. We were there throughout Menino’s tenure. I started working in Boston in the arts in the ‘70s so I’ve seen several different versions of the politics,” said Arsem. “It’s really great to have arts and culture being thought of as being important again by the mayor and the arts and culture office. To make up for lost time will never happen. The amount of money being invested now is nice, [but] the degree that the infrastructure for arts was demolished is hard to come back from. It’s a start.”
Musician Jason Palmer, also a winner of the award, said via email, “This fellowship award allowed me to fully realize a social musical project that I had been dreaming of putting together for many years and present it here in Boston. I don’t think that would have happened without Boston Creates. I probably would have had to rely on some commission from abroad….I’m starting to see more grants [and] opportunities available to artists that are initiated by the City as of the last few years….So that brings more hope that the retainment [and] attraction of artists to this expensive city will increase in the near future.”
Mary-Jane Doherty is a filmmaker and photographer, though she’s currently turning her hand to nonfiction film through documentaries. She saw that the Artist Fellowship Award would be a grant directly from the city and decided to go for it. “In my business, we just keep applying to everything!” she said with a laugh.
One of the requirements for the fellowship is to have a public presentation of your work during the year. Doherty had been working on a documentary about the Boston Children’s Chorus, so they put on a public screening of the film. In addition, they arranged for a panel of music educators so they could also discuss the state of music education.
“It wasn’t a commissioned project, it wasn’t an agenda, it was just pure ‘What does it feel like to be part of a choir?’ It sold the story without having to be knocked over the head, just by being engaged with the kids,” explained Doherty.
In early April, Mayor Walsh announced the city’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget, which included a $200,000 investment in grant programs for individual artists, such as the Opportunity Fund managed by the mayor’s Arts and Culture office. It also included a $250,000 investment into Boston AIR, which was previously grant funded. This secured that program for the next few years, and solidified it as an established program. Two full-time staff positions, previously grant funded, were also provided for.
Mayor Walsh, also in early April, called for support of two bills in front of the Massachusetts Legislature, both asking for an exploration of the funding for workforce development in the culture and hospitality industries.
“He [Mayor Walsh] put the arts front and center for Boston, and I think that’s just stunning for the city.” said Doherty. “Somebody should know that Boston’s really on track again, that’s all.”