Massachusetts: We Can Choose To Be a Great Place with Great Art.
 
The headlines tell a shocking story: Boston's iconic Colonial theater may be turned into a cafeteria; the beloved Tony award winning Huntington theater is on the brink of losing its home; our Boston Lyric Opera Company has no home; public art on two MBTA projects has been cancelled for lack of funding and the artists fired mid-project; and a percent for art proposal that would require minimal investment in art in public buildings is stalled after a Governor's veto. If great art makes great cities this does not bode well.

Massachusetts is rich in world-class and diverse artists and arts institutions. But these headlines tell a different story. And they don't tell the rest of the story: small cultural institutions scrambling for space after being hustled out the door by landlords capitalizing on skyrocketing rents; artists unable to find affordable spaces to work; authentic homegrown music venues and galleries eclipsed by glass towers and skyscrapers.

Part of this is a consequence of exorbitant real estate prices. Part of it is a lack of will and creativity to intentionally build art into the fabric of a city. This can be done, and in fact it is being done across the pond in London.

Alarmed by an exodus of artists to Berlin, where the cost of living is much lower, and the loss of a third of its music venues...and nearly as many of its iconic pubs...London is aggressively planning art into every aspect of city life: its neighborhoods, its railroads and bridges, its energy plants and the way it plans. Emphasis on the word plan. Art is not tacked on after a capital project is conceived or a new development is proposed. It takes a front seat and is an indelible part of the project. It's why each of eight railway stations on a new line is being designed by an artist. It's why when a developer proposes a residential high rise in an affordable neighborhood it is his responsibility to soundproof the building to protect residents from late night music from the local bars...not the responsibility of the musicians to stop playing at 9 pm.

London Deputy Mayor Munira Mirza says her job is to change attitudes about art and artists, so they are no longer seen as a nuisance or something to be tolerated or eliminated for the sake of money, but as an asset that actually makes neighborhoods, railroads, bridges and energy plants better.

Mark Davy of Future City in London is an international leader on the subject. He looks at it this way. He doesn't ask if he can add art to a bridge. He says, so you want to get people from point A to point B across a river. What if I can build something beautiful across that river...that gets people from point A to point B. And it doesn't cost any more than you were going to spend. He is now involved in more than a hundred projects around the world putting art at the center. Art is not a small percent. Art is the project.

Why the emphasis on art in London? There are obvious practical reasons. Tourism is a key part of the city’s economy and, as Mirza puts it, people don't come there for the weather. But more importantly, she says, it sends a message to the world. People expect great art when they come to London. London wants to be a place where artists will come, live, work, and make great art.

This does not happen accidentally. It is intentional. It is the result of planning, decisions and choices. We can choose to be a great place with great art.

Anita Walker
Executive Director
Massachusetts Cultural Council

 
 
 
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