Findings: Barriers to Boston’s creative potential

Throughout the community engagement process, a number of needs, concerns, and challenges around infrastructure, equity and inclusion, and/or leadership and resources rose to the top as priorities. Issues that surfaced most often—most, though not all, mentioned above—include:

  1. Fragmentation in the Arts and Culture Sector: Bostonians experience the city’s arts and culture sector as vibrant but fragmented. Participants in the engagement process seek opportunities for increased partnership with City government, with other sectors, and within the arts and culture sector to work collaboratively on creative ways to address the needs of the sector.
  2. Barriers to Attendance and Engagement: Barriers to attending cultural events are complex and differ according to neighborhood and income level. The obstacles cited most commonly by households with incomes under $25,000 included transportation challenges, lack of social support (e.g., no one to go with), and lack of time due to work obligations. Respondents living in households with incomes over $100,000 also identified work and family commitments as barriers to attendance at cultural events. The most prevalent barrier to participation in creative activities is work commitments, cited by 43 percent of all respondents, followed by affordability (i.e., couldn’t afford materials or instruction), named by 28 percent of respondents overall but predominantly by those with household incomes under $25,000.
  3. Equity and Opportunity: Participants in the engagement process seek equitable recognition and respect for diverse cultural heritages and artistic practices in Boston. They see a number of complex issues standing in the way, particularly racism and widening income disparities. People spoke of the need for several specific improvements in equity and opportunity within the arts and culture sector, including: more funding opportunities for small organizations and community-based activities; more recognition and valuing of neighborhood cultural assets; and greater exposure to artwork representative of diverse cultures.
  4. Spaces and Facilities: The engagement process revealed a deep and widespread need for affordable cultural spaces for people to gather, create, collaborate, and participate in the arts. Participants would like to see the use of more spaces for the arts beyond the downtown core, including libraries, the Boston Centers for Youth and Families, historic buildings, and public spaces. Within the nonprofit sector, access to facilities that are affordable and appropriate for performance and the visual arts disciplines emerged as a common theme, especially from small and mid-sized organizations. Large arts and culture organizations described challenges related to the cost of maintaining physical spaces and facilities. Performing arts organizations are experiencing a number of acute difficulties involving space.
  5. Youth Arts and Education: Bostonians called for more comprehensive arts education programs, more equitable access to arts education, and increased opportunities for participation both in and out of school. Specifically, they expressed a desire to support the efforts of the Boston Public Schools to expand its arts education offerings. Boston youth and arts service providers voiced a need for more youth leadership opportunities across arts education programs and activities. Boston youth seek opportunities to create, socialize around arts activities, and enliven public spaces in innovative ways.
  6. Access to Information: Various groups expressed a desire for a more robust and accessible information network, for a variety of reasons. Boston residents and visitors described a need for better ways to learn about arts and culture offerings. Boston artists and the nonprofit arts sector seek an effective platform for citywide and regional marketing to augment their individual and collective efforts. Boston’s emergent artists and individuals working with youth stated a need for a one-stop source of information for youth-focused arts activities and opportunities.
  7. New, Sustainable Resources: Participants identified a need for greater investment in Boston’s arts and culture sector through increased public funding as well as private, corporate, and foundation support. They expressed a nearly unanimous hope that City government can serve as a catalyst for public and private resources in support of arts and culture. Participants across groups also recognized that systemic change in how arts and culture are funded in Boston will require a collective and concerted effort.
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Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative Multicultural Festival (August 8, 2015): Under the title ‘1 Community, Many Dreams’ the DSNI Multicultural Festival was held at the Mary Hannon Park/Dudley Park to the enjoyment of many neighbors. Horse riding, acrobatics and t-shirt painting were among the most popular attractions. Photo by Leonardo March.