Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Boston arts-culture policy

One of the commitments made by Martin Walsh during his 2013 campaign for Mayor of Boston was the creation of a dedicated Commissioner for Arts and Cultural Affairs.  After a search, the Mayor chose Julie Barros, who was working for the City of Chicago and ran the Chicago Cultural Plan creation process in 2012 ("Walsh Names Chicagoan To Be Boston's Arts Czar," WBUR).

She starts this week.

In advance of her arrival, the Boston Globe ran a special section on Sunday, "Growing Boston’s arts scene," leading with an editorial ("Making arts policy a priority") and bolstered by 12 follow up articles authored by arts, creative, culture workers and advocates, about various elements of the culture scene in the city, providing advice on where Commissioner and the city should focus their efforts.

From the article:
... [arts are] an essential component of the state’s quality of life. The Massachusetts arts community encompasses roughly 6,000 arts and cultural organizations that support more than 45,000 jobs. A report last summer by ArtsBoston showed that nonprofit arts and cultural organizations boost the Boston economy alone by $1 billion every year. Arts education has been shown to improve student performance across the disciplines and to transform troubled schools. And it is impossible to imagine the turnarounds in economically distressed cities like Pittsfield, North Adams, and Lowell without investment in the arts.

As Boston welcomes its new arts czar, the creative community weighs in on Massachusetts’ potential.
Note that the above-cited WBUR article provides a good overview of the state of the city's involvement in arts and culture. And their follow up piece, "Who Should Be The Mayor's Arts Czar? Our Nominees," outlining particularly outstanding leaders of area arts organizations and initiatives is useful background too.

As mentioned in the editorial, arts-based revitalization has been key to the improvement of former industrial towns in Western Massachusetts that have been bypassed by the shift to the post-industrial economy and the offshoring of manufacturing jobs. Pittsfield and North Adams are best practice examples--the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is in North Adams. MassMOCA has been in the news ("Mass MoCA Partners With Major Contemporary Artists," New York Times) based on an announcement of coming expansions of an already large facility that reuses an old factory complex ("Gov. Deval Patrick heralds final phase of Mass MoCA renovation," Berkshire Eagle).

This story has also been told in an now older documentary (Downside UP: How art can change the spirit of a place).

Pittsfield was an early innovator in creating a storefront revival program by engaging artists and displaying art--although the program shut down a few years ago after a 10 year run and many great successes, and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts was one of the first colleges to open an off campus art gallery (Gallery 51) in a community downtown, which tightens the connection between the college and the town in terms of activation.

This 2007 blog entry linked to a couple important articles about Mass MOCA, how it came about and its impact (although the CNN article seems to be lost to the ether).

The Center for Creative Community Development in Williamstown, Mass. does research and publishing on the economic impact of the arts in smaller communities.  It looks like they have some interesting publications, including on the impact of clustering arts organizations and the impact of museums on their neighborhoods.

These are good examples for DC, in terms of the local paper covering important local matters, especially in arts and culture, having a high level "cabinet" position for arts and culture, and the need for a comprehensive city cultural plan, something that I raised yesterday in a meeting about the rehabilitation and redevelopment of the city's central library.

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At 4:44 PM, Anonymous Christopher said...

Didn't realize that Lois Weisberg had stepped down as the "culture czar" in Chicago. She was a million years old and was on the cabinet from 1989-2011 but she was such a force of nature in Chicago. (Also Jacob Weisberg's mother.)

When I worked at MCA Chicago, I learned what influence she had. Nothing got done at this big city museums that didn't have her imprint on it. Especially the big summer shows. She didn't just coordinate the art and funnel city funding, she also helped with backroom deals to make sure the show would go on.

I worked there right after Arthur Andersen had fallen apart and there was a lot of concern about the two big summer shows at the Art Institute and MCA Chicago. She's the one that coordinated a co-donation from Boeing (who had just relocated to Chicago) to keep the summer shows going.

She really was unbelievably powerful.

At 4:51 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I only know about her from the description of her ability to connect people as described by Malcolm Gladwell in _Tipping Point_. Great stories, thanks for sharing!

I think the Chicago Cultural Center/Visitor Center (the old Library?) is a great concept Even if when I was there they wouldn't let you use electricity outlets to recharge your devices...

But as you know, yes, Chicago is a leader. When I wrote about "global cities" last week, one of the articles I linked to from a different Globe special section on exemplary cities and best practice was an article on Chicago's cultural practices.


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