Supporting arts and culture and creative life requires infrastructure: work, performance, and exhibition space; educational institutions and programs; arts service organizations; artists’ housing; private and public arts funders; and government entities to provide supportive policies, regulations, and resources. Boston has both great strengths and significant deficits in the necessary infrastructure to sustain arts and culture.

From an overall perspective, Boston has a remarkably vibrant and varied arts and culture sector that reaches deeply into individual lives, neighborhoods, and communities. It is home to more than 1,500 nonprofit arts and culture organizations, giving it one of the highest per capita concentrations of such groups among major American metropolitan areas. From renowned anchor institutions with many layers of programs and activities, to small organizations often serving specific neighborhoods and communities, these organizations play a central role in Boston’s creative life.

Boston is also a place where arts education thrives. Artists come to learn and train in the city’s prominent art and music schools. Our valuing of arts education as a fundamental component of public education is clearly evident in two examples: the Boston Arts Academy—a high school within the Boston Public Schools (BPS), cofounded by a consortium of art schools and colleges—which has received both national and international awards for excellence; and BPS Arts Expansion, a program that has gained national recognition for its success in increasing quality arts education in schools across the district.

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“Lo Fab Pavilion”- Design Boston Biennial (July 16, 2015): A high-tech lattice structure, designed by Mass Design Group, creates a fun and intimate space along the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Photo by Leonardo March.

Despite such strengths, the Boston Creates community engagement process found a strong consensus that Boston’s infrastructure for arts and culture seems deficient in key respects. Critical issues include:

  • a need for new affordable cultural spaces and facilities, and difficulties in meeting the costs of and maintaining existing spaces and facilities;
  • an acute and increasing lack of affordable housing and work space for Boston artists;
  • significant imbalances and gaps in funding for Boston artists and arts and culture organizations.

These factors make themselves felt in very concrete ways. Although many artists come to Boston for education and training, and often get their professional start here, they lack many support structures and resources that they need for successful careers—and that exist in several peer cities. As a result, some artists are leaving Boston. Arts and culture organizations are also facing uncertainty as they strive to place themselves within a rapidly changing real estate landscape. Some struggle to support critical ongoing maintenance needs for their facilities.

One overarching weakness in the infrastructure of Boston’s arts and culture sector threatens the city’s ability to respond effectively to the needs of that sector: silos. Artists, arts organization leaders, arts funders, and community leaders see neighborhoods, artistic disciplines, and various key participants—including City departments and offices—as isolated from one another and rarely, if ever, interacting, let alone collaborating. This fragmentation and isolation hinder, among other things, the relationship between arts and culture and such allied sectors as design, tourism, and commercial arts. Too many people whose joint efforts could strengthen the infrastructure for arts and culture in Boston say that they have never been in a room together.

This fragmentation has been pervasive in the Boston arts and culture world. The city now has a tremendous opportunity to start bringing people together across such barriers and fostering relationships that have never existed before.