Kara Elliott-Ortega named Boston’s new chief of arts and culture
Boston has a new chief of arts and culture: Kara Elliott-Ortega.
A 30-year-old resident of Roxbury who is originally from Providence, Elliott-Ortega has been serving in the leadership post on an interim basis since Julie Burros left in June after less than four years in the job. Before that, Elliott-Ortega had served for the past three years as director of planning and policy in the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture.
Now that she has been promoted to the top job by Mayor Martin J. Walsh, her task is to support the creation — and creators — of theater, dance, and visual art in Boston, including public art.
As a means toward that end, one of her top priorities will be “making sure that resources are being distributed equally and getting into the hands of artists and arts organizations that really need it,’’ Elliott-Ortega said in a telephone interview with the Globe on Wednesday. Those resources include grants and “affordable space to do your artistic practice, whatever that might be,’’ she said. Elliott-Ortega’s duties in the cabinet-level post will include creating “a vehicle through which the city can increase diversity and inclusion in the arts,’’ according to a news release.
Elliott-Ortega made clear that while she considers Boston a generally supportive environment for the arts, she sees part of her task as enhancing the “ecosystem’’ within which artists operate. “There’s still some advocacy to be done around what does it take to be a working artist or a successful [arts] organization in the city right now,’’ she said.
In Walsh’s view, she’s done considerable advocacy already. In announcing Elliott-Ortega’s promotion, the mayor said in a prepared statement that she has “demonstrated an extremely strong dedication to better serving local artists, generating more support for the arts sector, and developing partnerships to enhance the arts throughout the City of Boston.’’
Trained as an urban planner — she received a master’s degree in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after previously receiving a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago — Elliott-Ortega says she sees the arts as integral to the broader goal of community development. “That’s a skill I bring to the table,’’ she said. “The arts aren’t just a stand-alone sector or area of work, but are a part of everything the city is doing.’’
One example is the city-owned Strand Theatre in Uphams Corner, which she will oversee in addition to being in charge of the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, the Boston Cultural Council, and the Boston Art Commission. Encouraged by a residency at the Strand this summer by Company One Theatre, which presented the world premiere of Josh Wilder’s “Leftovers,’’ Elliott-Ortega said talks are underway about the possibility of another residency by a theater company next summer.
She will also lead the effort to implement the priorities established by the 10-year cultural plan known as Boston Creates, which she worked on. The plan’s goals include affordable housing and rehearsal spaces for performers and the implementation of a “percent-for-art’’ program that links funding for public art with new city capital projects such as schools and libraries.
“I really believe in that plan,’’ Elliot-Ortega said of Boston Creates. “It articulated a lot of amazing next steps based on community input. That’s our charge, to implement that vision.’’
Her own cultural tastes run to live music and public art. “As a planner and a spatial person, I love seeing those spaces transformed,’’ she said.