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Connolly On The Arts: 'We're Serious About Supporting The Arts In City Hall'

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John Connolly speaks at a Create the Vote forum at Villa Victoria Center for the Arts in Boston on Oct. 25. (Tayla Andre/MassCreative)

John Connolly speaks at a Create the Vote forum at Villa Victoria Center for the Arts in Boston on Oct. 25. (Tayla Andre/MassCreative)

“I’m talking about fundamentally changing an existing city department, altering its mission, and elevating it to a cabinet level. That’s a pretty bold change,” Boston city councilor and mayoral candidate John Connolly said when we spoke on Oct. 29 about his plans for arts and culture in the city.

His platform calls for creating a cabinet-level Department of Arts & Culture—separate from tourism. He aims to provide arts and music education to all Boston public schools students. He pledges to foster arts in neighborhoods across the city by increasing funding for Boston arts organizations, supporting development of live-work space for artists, and streamlining permitting for arts events. If elected, he wants the city to have more public art, including at City Hall Plaza, and world-class festivals, including extending First Night “into a winter festival of arts and culture.” (Also read our interview with mayoral candidate Marty Walsh about the arts and our overview of the ideas and issues percolating through the city’s cultural community during the campaign.)

Below Connolly speaks about his plans for arts and culture in the city:

John Connolly speaks at the Create the Vote forum at Boston's Paramount Theatre on Sept. 9. (Kat Waterman/MassCreative)

John Connolly speaks at the Create the Vote forum at Boston’s Paramount Theatre on Sept. 9. (Kat Waterman/MassCreative)

  • “The cornerstone of my arts plan is to change arts and tourism in the city to an arts and culture department and elevate it to cabinet level and have it run by artists. So I think that would address head on the concern that too often the arts are left off the table and are a sort of appendage to a tourism strategy. I want the arts and artists to drive a broad public arts and culture agenda in the city. And I think tourism will grow out of that. We should focus on supporting the arts as the first priority.”
  • “When you shift that you’re going to put real resources behind an arts agenda. I hope that’s seen many different ways. I hope it means that we see storefront theater and pop-up art galleries throughout every corner of the city, but also a bold public arts agenda so that it becomes commonplace in Boston to walk by or see the performing arts and the visual arts out in the open public at all times. I think that the biggest change is that we want it built into the consciousness of every Bostonian that we are committed and support the arts in Boston. I think that enhances the social and cultural life in the city in a great way. And also brings a lot of economic benefit at the same time.”
  • “This is about reallocating what we spend on arts and tourism right now and moving it to an arts and culture agenda. So I think there are some existing resources that just need to be moved over. And from there we have to have a strategy to grow that budget over time. I think the key here is if we can make that commitment, move from where we’re at now, which is less than a million dollars, to a million and then try to get it up over that, that will be a signal to the philanthropic community that we’re serious about supporting the arts in City Hall and I think that will bring more money to the table.”
  • “I think the arts connects to everything in this city, and that as a real connective force the arts have to be prioritized. Arts help keep many of our young people in schools. And there are legitimate career pathways in the arts today that weren’t there 20 years ago, particularly when you link technology and the creative economy to the arts. We talk a lot about STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] education. If I’m mayor, we’re going to talk about STEAM and we’re going to add arts to that equation. I want every child to have arts on a regular basis, every year they’re in school. It’s also connective from a cultural standpoint. In a city with a real equity divide and a lot of divides along race and class lines, the arts can bring us together. I don’t underestimate that power.”
  • “One of the vital changes that we need to make is an easier permitting process for artists to have performances and shows. That’s for the entire arts community from artists who are trying to support themselves and make profits, everything from music performances and shows to the do-it-yourself scene in Allston where they’re putting on their shows in basements but would love to get to the better performing space. If we ease the permitting process, if we have affordable, accessible performing space then artists can make a profit. … We want to make sure that they can find their place in Boston, a city that gets more expensive by the day. … That’s part of trying to make the city more fun in many ways, of trying to retain young talent in the city.”
  • “I want to champion the arts. I want to be a mayor where you’re going to see my family and me out celebrating our arts community at performances across the city on a regular basis. I’m going to make this a real focus as mayor.”
  • “I did a series of sit downs with artists that really shaped how we wrote that [arts platform], but Ron Mallis, who’s affiliated with MassCreative has been an advisor. Jason Turgeon and the guys and Bartlett Yards have been a big help in shaping my agenda. And certainly a number of arts teachers out there have been a big help.”