In Boston Creates’ community engagement process, Bostonians spoke loud and clear about a lack of both the equity and inclusiveness that a city with Boston’s diversity, and diverse arts and cultural assets, needs to have. While many Bostonians feel immense pride in, and connection to, their cultural heritage, they very often do not see their communities or artistic traditions represented or supported in the larger landscape. Particularly among the city’s communities of color, residents report difficulty in accessing Boston’s arts and culture riches. Youth, especially, are unsure at which institutions they are welcome, or in which creative settings (e.g., community centers, galleries, libraries) they are meant to be included. Many feel that certain cultural venues and events in the city are “not for them.”
Issues of equity and inclusion also have geographic implications: arts and culture organizations outside of downtown are likely to be small and underfunded. Boston residents need and want access to arts and culture opportunities close to home, but such opportunities, and the resources that make them possible, are unevenly distributed across the city.
Boston has the good fortune to have arts and culture institutions—some known around the country and the world—that bring students and visitors into the city. Huntington Avenue, Boston’s “Avenue of the Arts,” is home to numerous cultural institutions that contribute enormously to raising Boston’s profile as an arts center. Valuable as these prestigious institutions are, however, they do not begin to encompass the full spectrum of arts and culture in Boston. The neighborhoods that lie beyond the well-known arts areas are filled with artists, arts and culture organizations, programs, and events—yet most visitors to Boston (as well as many who live or work in the city) know nothing about the arts and culture activity there. This speaks to a failure by the city as a whole to recognize, value, and promote all communities and cultural expressions equally.
Arts and culture not only enrich our individual lives but have enormous potential to strengthen bonds of community across a city and promote civic creativity and collective capacity. They have a unique power to foster pride within individual communities, support understanding and respect between different communities, and bridge differences across the city. This means that equity and inclusion in arts and culture—the equal valuing of all cultural traditions and expressions, and equal access for all to arts and culture activity—are not just a matter of justice. They are also a necessity for creating a thriving, healthy, and innovative city for everyone, regardless of racial or socioeconomic background. An arts and culture sector without equity and inclusion reinforces divides built on entrenched racism and exclusion, preventing us from drawing upon the creativity of all Bostonians to fashion a better civic future.