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Natural Awakenings Greater Boston - Rhode Island

Boston Creates: A Culture Plan for the City of Boston

Jul 28, 2016 06:31PM ● By Julie Burros

Arts and culture feed the soul. They are the building blocks of a community, bringing people together while inspiring, teaching, supporting and healing. Most importantly, arts and culture are a critical part of a thriving city.

In a city that is home to more arts and cultural organizations per capita than any other metropolitan area, creativity is part of Boston’s DNA. Yet, when Mayor Walsh took office in 2014, there was no clear roadmap for the role arts and culture would play as the city continued to grow. In the spring of 2015, Mayor Walsh announced Boston would begin a cultural planning process. Known as Boston Creates, the process was designed to create a 10-year plan that would put arts and culture at the very heart of civic life.

The name Boston Creates pays homage to the reality that so many people in Boston would never call themselves an artist, yet have rich active cultural lives and are deeply engaged in creative expression. From singing in a chorus or playing in a weekend band to making an elaborate costume for Halloween, people in Boston find meaning and connection through the arts.

Throughout the yearlong planning process, people spoke eloquently about their firm belief in the transformative power of the arts. Seniors that engage in memoir writing and poetry workshops—work that keeps them sharp and socially engaged and helps them to express rich inner lives. Youth that find school-based art education is what keeps them coming back to school day after day, or those that treasure the opportunity to explore creative expression in their out-of-school time and during the summer. In all cases, they are eager for even more.

Boston Creates was fueled by one of the most extensive and thorough community engagement efforts ever undertaken as part of a cultural planning process in an American city. The process was driven by five values: openness and transparency, inclusiveness, creativity, collaboration and most importantly, a steadfast commitment to learning. Efforts were made to reach into every neighborhood and industry and to hear from individuals representing the wide diversity of cultures represented in the city.

Boston CreatesThroughout the process, several issues rose to the top. Boston’s arts and culture community is fragmented, by geography, discipline and organization. There are many barriers to attendance and engagement. People need better ways to access information. Affordable spaces and facilities are challenging to find. Diverse cultural heritages and artistic practices are not supported equitably. And finally, underlying all of these issues is a need for new sustainable sources of revenue.

On June 17, 2016, Mayor Walsh announced the release and early stage implementation efforts of the cultural plan. Well informed by the public and responsive to the needs of the cultural sector and the people of Boston, Boston Creates offers a clear understanding of the needs and challenges of artists and the cultural ecosystem. The plan identifies five strategic goals that, when addressed will enrich and strengthen our city, lead to a more thriving and innovative city—because of a thriving arts scene.

But the city cannot do it alone. To achieve the vision set forth in the plan, it will take a culture shift and collective action. Arts and culture in Boston must belong to all Bostonians. Boston Creates has created the needed roadmap. City government, residents, arts makers, arts lovers and funders must all take the journey together.

Julie Burros is chief of arts and culture for the city of Boston. Learn more at