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Dear Mayor Marty Walsh, City Council President, Kim Janey, and members of the Boston City Council:
On behalf of bostonhassle.com and the independent arts community in Boston, I write this letter to ask for greater and more sustained funding opportunities to artists—– both now and into the future. I am speaking specifically on the behalf of artists who are Black and/ or from marginalized communities, and for organizations that do not have a 501(c)(3) filing.
My name is Christopher Hughes and I am the associate editor of bostonhassle.com, and a life-long Bostonian currently based in Dorchester.
I am writing to you today because I am concerned about our city’s freedom to think outside the box, to think creatively, and to think about ways we can improve our city and our world. In Boston, the room to do so is being eaten up by luxury class urban development projects, and tax-exempt private universities.
I learned recently that the FY21 Boston city budget was passed without a substantial increase in arts and culture funding, and also without a substantial decrease in police spending. On hearing this news I was extremely disappointed to find that my city is more invested in policing their citizens than investing in them. From my perspective, Boston appears to have a severe lack of trust in its hundreds of thousands of citizens.
Perhaps the reason I identify with Boston so much stems from the fact that many of my artistic and social influences have also identified with the Boston area. Literary and artistic, great figures like Robert Lowell, Edgar Allan Poe, Malcolm X, Sylvia Plath, E. E. Cummings, and many more continue to inspire me–, not only because their work is indispensable, but also we all have the same home. For this reason Boston, has not only been massively inspirational to many people, but it has also contributed to molding and shaping the national consciousness–, a City On a Hill indeed.
The Boston I grew up in and the Boston in which I reside are two different places; the latter has fewer art -spaces, concert venues, and affordable community spaces than the former. Boston in 2020 also has seen unprecedented development, but these developments leave community gathering spaces in the margins and fringes of society.
Let the COVID pandemic be the perfect microcosm to illustrate my point. Hundreds of musicians across the area are out of paychecks, news outlets are close to shuttering, and I expect that we will lose more arts venues than just Great Scott in Allston and The Milky Way in JP.
This happened for two reasons: 1). The city was massively unprepared to deal with this pandemic, and 2). There was no real support for these institutions to begin with. The Boston Artist Relief Fund ran out of money. I, and many of my friends, whether teaching at a university or serving coffee, live paycheck- to- paycheck.
I feel the worst part about this pandemic is that much of this was preventable. State and federal responses to this crisis continues to be lackluster at best. It is not a matter of having the money. It is a matter of having a police state, opposed to a free state. The arts represent “freedom” more than anything else.
One could look at arts funding as a way to redistribute funds to marginalized communities, as opposed to overpaying privileged ones, i.e. BPD officers whose force and leadership are overwhelmingly white and male.
A justification for this investment would be the fact that the arts and culture industries attract 21 million outside visitors to the city annually (more than sports games) and contributes more than 2 billion to the economy annually. Moreover, arts and culture attendance has shot up 40% since 2014.
In light of the recent calls to defund BPD, and the 2021 budget that grants BPD $414 million+, it is clear that the policing budget needs to be allocated elsewhere.
Please consider at least doubling the Office of Arts and Culture funding to 1% of the entire FY 21-25 capital budget plan, or make an increase to at least $4,551,504.00 for FY22.
With this budget increase, I am also calling on the City Council to provide:
1. More direct funding to artists, specifically BIPOC artists and/or artists from marginalized communities
2. Diverse sets of programming and grant initiatives for organizations of all tax filings, backgrounds, heritage, sex/gender orientations, career-level, and skills.
3. The creation of an arts and culture task force to seriously address the lack of venues in Boston, given the loss of both Great Scott and The Milky Way in the last four months due to the pandemic.
Thank you all for your time and service.
Please sign the change.org petition today: http://chng.it/6MVN4JbJHF