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Making Art Cool Again

by Noemi Arellano-Summer

Photo Courtesy of Facebook

Boston Creates, a long-term arts and culture improvement plan headed by Mayor Walsh, has just finished its first six months since its conception in April 2015.

Boston Creates aims to improve the infrastructure of the city, as well as mend the fragmentation certain residents feel, especially as it pertains to arts and culture.

“The plan identifies five strategic goals and calls for a cultural shift in the way City government and the private sector approaches and prioritizes arts and culture,” said Julie Burros, Boston’s Chief of Arts and Culture. “We want to leverage municipal investments, create new partnerships, break down barriers that hinder participation in the arts, create infrastructure that supports artists and align resources towards the goal of making Boston a municipal arts leader.”

Planning began in April 2015 with a 60-member leadership council and a 16-member steering committee leading the way. The challenges included finding affordable spaces for artists to work, maintaining current spaces, closing gaps and imbalances in funding and repairing cultural fragmentation among the different communities of Boston.

A community engagement process ran from June to October 2015 and included three town hall meetings, 118 community conversations, 35 stakeholder focus groups and 50 one-on-one interviews. A creative engagement participation survey was conducted in four languages, which then led to the creation of an online, crowd-sourced map of cultural assets. Over 5,000 people were involved in the planning process.

“The meeting was very informative,” said Michael Johnson, a Boston musician who attended one of the town hall meetings. “They had a few different speakers in addition to the Boston Creates people. They packed quite a bit of information into the space of an hour and a half.”

The Boston Creates Opportunity Fund launched in the first 6 months. The fund offers grants to individual artists designed to help them share their work with the public and hone their skills. These grants are offered ten times per year and so far, Boston Creates has received over 205 applications and provided over $29,000 in funding.

“It was very engaging work and required a great deal of reading, discussion and planning,” said Carole Charnow, President and CEO of Boston Children’s Museum and member of the steering committee. “I enjoyed it immensely, because I had a chance to work with some great colleagues, and ultimately, have an impact on Boston’s direction.”

Boston Creates also wrapped up the first year of the Boston AIR (Artist-in-Residence) program and launched its second year of the program. In the AIR program, ten artists work with the Boston Centers for Youth & Family by bringing their ideas to ten community centers and BCYF citywide initiatives.

Shaw Pong Lui, a musician and composer, was one of the first ten artists to receive the title Artist-in-Residence.

“My Boston AIR experience was intense, challenging and hugely educational,” said Lui. “My platform as City Artist-in-Residence helped open a lot of doors to collaborative partners (both individuals and organizations) that would have been difficult for me to connect with as an independent individual artist. I'm currently writing a solo piano composition for the pianist Sarah Bob and the New Gallery Concert Series, based on a Langston Hughes poem, ‘Let America Be America Again.’ The poem was written in 1935, but might as well be 2017.”

“We’ve partnered with MASS MoCA’s Assets for Artists program to fund 10 Boston artists grants coupled with training in money management, business planning, and other professional skills needed for success,” said Burros. “The Boston Foundation, in partnership with the Aliad Fund, launched Next Steps for Boston Dance, supporting Boston choreographers who are creating new works. We have been working closely with the Department of Public Works to include public art in their current construction projects. To date, we’ve announced calls for artists for a project in Hyde Square and a redesign of North Square.”

Through initiative items like the artist resource desk, which will serve as a liaison between artists, arts producers, City Hall and the public, Boston Creates hope to move their agenda forward. Ultimately, Boston Creates hopes to integrate arts into the city through different avenues, which connect artists with the city.

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