Here’s a daunting cultural equation: How do you distill 118 community conversations, 3,224 survey responses, 50 one-on-one meetings, and 35 focus groups into a coherent road map of the city’s cultural priorities for the next 10 years?
The answer: It’s complicated.
“We’ve been boiling down, and boiling down, and boiling down,” said Julie Burros, chief of arts and culture for the city of Boston. “It’s a really fine balance — trying to articulate goals that are aspirational, yet realistic, and testing them again and again.”
A big test came Monday night, when Burros, who has been leading the months-long cultural-planning process known as Boston Creates, presented the project’s findings to about 200 people during a town hall-style meeting at Bunker Hill Community College — the last such meeting before the city releases its final version of the cultural master plan this summer.
“It’s going to continue to evolve,” said Burros in advance of the meeting. “We really see this as a time for people to give us their feedback before we finalize and write up the plan.”
After recounting the arduous process, Burros described the plan’s overarching goals (“the guts of the plan”) that focus, among other things, on integrating the arts throughout civic life and creating fertile ground in Boston, where both funding and venues were made available to small- and mid-sized cultural organizations.
Additional priorities of the plan, she said, were keeping artists in the city, making city government more accessible to artists, finding affordable live-work solutions for creative types, and crafting new partnerships between city government and corporate and philanthropic partners. Finally, she said, the plan aims to address issues of cultural equity by promoting cultural, and artistic opportunities in historically underserved communities.
“The vision is very broad,” said Carole Charnow, president and chief executive of the Boston Children’s Museum, who sits on the Boston Creates steering committee. “There’s already been some evidence of commitment on the part of the city to implement certain aspects of the plan.”
During the Q&A session following the presentation, audience members peppered Burros with questions about arts education in the Boston public schools, cultural partnerships between Boston and surrounding communities, creating more diversity in the city’s cultural sectors, and whether the city was pursuing corporate partnerships.
“Yes, yes, yes, yes,” said Burros. “We’ve been meeting with corporate funders, corporate foundations. We’re always interested and eager to meet with partners.”
But some audience members were skeptical.
“It seems like we want to create better systems to better support artists, but we also agree that the current systems don’t work, because they are responsible for rents rising,” said Kylila Bullard, who runs a group called Poetic Change. “It also sounds like your plan is to not take responsibility or ownership for changing that dynamic.”
Sara Ting, who founded a nonprofit called World Unity, Inc., had similar concerns.
“If we are going to bring new, fresh ideas, how do we break through and give other organizations the opportunity to receive funding other than the big institutions that always receive funding?” she asked.
Burros said it came down to being deliberate about finding new organizations to fund.
“I think it’s a question of intention,” she said, “and really being innovative in how we fund organizations for innovation. This is the work of the cultural plan.”
Between the night’s two Q&A sessions, the audience was invited to participate in instant polling, using text messages to voice support — or nonsupport — for aspects of the plan.
“We thought it would be really satisfying for people to see their reactions right away,” said Burros. A final draft of the plan will be available for public comment at the end of April or early May. The final plan is scheduled to be released on June 17.
In the meantime, she said, the city was already moving forward on several new initiatives, including the Boston artists-in-residence program, known as Boston AIR, and the Artists Help Desk, which helps artists and arts organizations navigate the city’s bureaucracy.
“This is a unique moment for Boston,” said Burros. “We really want to see how we can harness the power of creative thought to solve our problems both great and small.”