JP Observer: Commissioner search launches new City focus on arts

When the mayoral candidates, including now-Mayor Marty Walsh, touted the importance of arts during the campaign last fall, the rhetoric was refreshing for people and organizations in Jamaica Plain. Many of our residents work in the arts. The neighborhood is home to myriad musical, literary, visual and other arts events, venues and educational programs. JP experiences the significance of an arts economy exemplified by First Thursdays—arts and business collaborations sponsored by Centre/South Main Streets—whose 2014 launch will be next week.

Walsh was the first mayoral candidate to suggest elevating arts to a cabinet-level position, according to advocacy group MASSCreative. Now he’s doing it. On March 14, his administration launched the search for an Arts and Cultural Affairs Commissioner, a cabinet member who will report directly to the mayor. The job posting is on the City of Boston website and at Hire Culture (

Every person interested in arts in Boston should read the lengthy job description to appreciate the caring for and understanding of both community and arts it exudes.

The first task of the new commissioner listed on the posting will be to convene artists and other stakeholders to formulate “a comprehensive Arts and Cultural Plan for the City.”

Other responsibilities of the position include: developing stable private and public funding; making sure all City departments know about and are “aligned” with the plan; supervise staff and “attract new talent”; advocating for the arts and cultural community; and encouraging “‘Community-Driven Branding’ that leverages each neighborhood’s creative assets.” The posting also describes forming a “Lead the Artists First Initiative,” which will bring artists together to access services and venues.

In a brilliant step toward coherency, the new commissioner will oversee the Boston Public Library, the Boston Art Commission and the Boston Cultural Council—previously separate from one another. The Art Commission is in charge of approving and siting art on City property. The BCC distributes funds allocated by the Massachusetts Cultural Council to support arts, humanities and interpretive sciences programming in the city.

In addition, the longstanding Mayor’s Office of Arts, Tourism and Special Events (as difficult to say as to combine in reality) will undergo a natural and much-needed split after the new commissioner is in place. According to City Hall spokesperson Emilee Ellison, tourism and special events will be placed under economic development, while the arts segment will be overseen by the new cabinet-level chief—another example of sensible reorganization under the new mayor.

The commissioner job description asks for candidates to have many years of experience in the arts and culture sector, including managing personnel and finances, and notes they must have good communication skills. Deadline to apply is May 9. Boston residency (beginning the first day of the job, at the latest, according to City spokesperson Gabrielle Farrell) is required.

“Art can change lives, build communities and create so many opportunities for our residents,” Walsh said in a written statement provided to the Gazette last week. “I know the Jamaica Plain community will be central to the integration of the arts and culture efforts led by our new commissioner.”

Sandra Storey was the founding editor and publisher of the Gazette and lives in Jamaica Plain.

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