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Boston’s cultural plan includes more than $1 million in new arts funding

Julie Burros, Mayor Martin J. Walsh's chief of arts & culture. Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

When Mayor Martin J. Walsh unveils Boston Creates, the city’s 10-year cultural plan, on Friday, it will include more than a million dollars in new arts funding.

Initiatives include a program linking public art to new city construction and infrastructure projects, a plan to provide affordable housing to artists, a pilot program to make new rehearsal spaces available to performers, and a collaboration with the Museum of Fine Arts to conserve city-owned artworks. Meanwhile the Boston Foundation, in conjunction with the Barr Foundation, is set to establish a pooled fund providing grants to small theater and dance troupes.

“You’re going to see a completely different vision for the city of Boston,” said Walsh by phone on Thursday. “This arts plan lays out a vision and shows that we’re truly committed ... that Boston is an arts leader at every single level.”


The final Boston Creates plan leaves one big question unanswered: Can the city establish a sustainable public revenue stream robust enough to truly help sustain the arts? That’s something arts leaders say is essential to maintaining the city’s vibrant cultural scene.

“People want a percent of our overall budget: We’re not there yet,” said Walsh. “But we’re certainly investing a lot more than the city’s ever invested in the arts, and we’re building toward that permanent line item. ... We’re going to be working toward a line item like the police have, like the libraries have, like public works has. That’s ultimately our goal.”

Drafted over an 18-month period with input from more than 5,000 Bostonians, the Boston Creates plan articulates five broad goals for the city. Among them: creating “fertile ground” for the arts in Boston, keeping artists in the city, integrating arts into “all aspects of city life,” collaboration among a variety of institutions, and promotion of cultural opportunities in historically underserved communities.


“We want Boston to become as well known for the arts as it is for sports and history,” said Julie Burros, the city’s chief of arts and culture, in an interview. “Having a cultural plan in place is a key initial step.”

Walsh plans to sign an executive order this summer establishing a percent-for-art program that will use the city’s Five Year Capital Plan to invest in public art associated with new city construction or infrastructure projects. The program will provide funding equal to roughly 1 percent of the city’s anticipated annual general borrowing, which last year equaled about $1.4 million.

“Developers want to be part of this; I don’t think we’re going to have to tell them anything,” said Walsh, when asked why private developers wouldn’t be required to participate. “I would rather have developers voluntarily work with us on this, and get vested in this, rather than having to tell them how to do it.”

Meanwhile the Boston Housing Authority will begin reserving low-income housing for artists in new redevelopments. The Bunker Hill public housing development, slated to become a 1,110-unit mixed-income project, will set aside 10 units for income-eligible artists.

Burros said the city plans to set aside additional artist units in all future public housing developments, though she did not specify how many. She added that the city hopes to identify other means for expanding artist housing, noting that the Boston Foundation will be studying the issue. “We know there’s a huge demand,” Burros said. “But we need to quantify what kinds of units people need.”


The Boston Foundation is also the driving force behind “Catalyze Creativity,” a pooled funding source it is establishing with the Barr Foundation. The fund, designed to help small dance and theater companies take artistic risks, will provide grants of up to $15,000 to performers and performing arts organizations whose annual budgets are less than $250,000. The Boston Foundation has committed $500,000 annually for the next three years, while the Barr Foundation will spend $250,000 for the first year.

“The performing arts, and especially arts and theater, are some of the least supported disciplines in Boston,” said Allyson Esposito, director of arts and culture for the Boston Foundation. “We want it to allow artists and arts organizations to be able to count on something for a couple of years to get new work off the ground.”

Earlier this year, Walsh announced an additional $1 million in arts funding, which would go toward an artist-in-residence program, a help desk to streamline artists’ interactions with the city, and individual artist grants. Burros said the grants would be divided into two classes: a fellowship program and a series of microgrants to be disbursed on a monthly basis.

Other programs include a pilot project to provide rehearsal spaces for small performing arts groups in underused area buildings. The MFA will consult with the city on how to preserve city-owned artwork, and Boston-based EdVestors is committing $680,000 in grants to schools working with teaching artists and nonprofits to increase arts education for Boston Public Schools students. The Department of Public Works has budgeted $100,000 for public art at a road-improvement project at Hyde Square, and City Hall plans to include three “arts innovation districts” — cultural hubs with incentives and programs geared toward arts and innovation — in the Imagine Boston 2030 plan, the first at Uphams Corner.


“We think we have some pretty revolutionary stuff,” said Joyce Linehan, the city’s chief of policy, in an interview. “It’s a culture change.”

Malcolm Gay can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @malcolmgay