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Cultural Life and the Arts
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2.1 Contribution to Metro Bostonís Competitive Edge
2.2 Boston as an Exciting Regional Destination
2.3 Impact of Arts Organizations on Community Life
2.4 Vibrant Expressions of Cultural Diversity
2.5 Opportunities for Arts Education
2.6 Equitable Access to Cultural Participation
2.7 Public Funding and Support for the Arts

Cultural Life and the Arts Highlights







Boston’s cultural sector includes community art centers, dance and theatre companies, a lively literary community, large and small music organizations, world-class museums, and diverse neighborhood heritage tours. Greater Boston is home to cutting-edge community-based organizations offering vibrant expressions of cultural diversity, dynamic in- and after-school arts programs, film festivals, ‘art in the park’ programs, and highly regarded schools of art. More than 16,000 artists live in the Greater Boston area. Open Studios, held in almost every Boston neighborhood, attract more than 100,000 people annually. The sector also incorporates artists working in new forms and using new technologies, museums of interpretive science, public art installations, and a multitude of ethnic restaurants, cultural facilities, celebrations, and spectacles. All of these — along with the design professions and a lively tourism industry — form the backbone of Greater Boston’s "creative economy." The Commonwealth is enriched by this cultural diversity and vitality — and benefits from the sales taxes generated by Boston’s cultural sector and tourism. Statewide, nonprofit cultural organizations alone added more than $1 billion in spending to the economy in 2002 and nearly $248 million in wages and compensation. Despite these substantial contributions to the region’s vibrancy and economic health, the sector struggles to obtain the funding it needs to invest in its facilities, sustain its programs and organizations, and create an environment in which individual artists can thrive.


The "creative economy" — including both for-profit and nonprofit arts and cultural groups and companies, the design professions, film programs, museums and cultural tourism — is increasingly recognized for its major economic impact. The New England Council created the Creative Economy Initiative in 1998 to better understand the contribution of cultural organizations to economic development in New England. In 2003, the Council inaugurated the Creative Economy Council, bringing together business, government, and cultural leaders. Its workforce study of 2004 reports that the average annual growth rate for creative cluster employment between 1997 and 2001 was more than double the growth rate of overall employment in New England during this time, at 1.1% compared to .41%. Tourism is now the second largest industry in Massachusetts. (see indicator 2.1.2)

Demographic change in Boston and the region is creating greater cultural vibrancy. Boston and the region have seen a dramatic influx of immigrants and a rise in newcomers’ birth rates in recent years. Two-thirds of the population increase in the 1990s was due to foreign-born residents, and Boston is now more than 51% people of color, with tremendous ethnic diversity. New arts and cultural organizations are being created to both reflect and serve these new groups. However, experts note that many of these organizations are at early stages in the process of true institutionalization — facing issues related financing, access to resources, and the development of a base of individual users and patrons. (see indicator 2.4)

Mayor Thomas M. Menino consolidated several City departments in the new  Mayor's Office of Arts, Tourism & Special Events  — a merger of the former Office of Cultural Affairs and the Office of Special Events, Tourism and Film. This new agency is in a unique position to advance the link between the cultural community and the other sectors that make up the tourism cluster. The Mayor appointed five new members to the Boston Art Commission, which is housed in the new Office, and gave them a mandate to advance public art in Boston.

New technologies are transforming the field. The Internet is being used as a virtual storefront for artist-run spaces and collectives, and networking and information exchanges.  Websites such as the Cultural Commons provide online meeting places that encourage creativity and culture connections. The Creative Economy Council’s Art & Technology Initiative is bringing together artists, representatives of educational and cultural nonprofits, and leaders from New England’s high tech businesses to address issues such as access, business and institution building, and education for young people. Local organizations and collectives, such as Art Interactive are using a multimedia approach to create a participatory climate for viewing art. And, AT Boston is a new consortium of Boston’s small nonprofit media organizations. Yet, technological advances have also created obstacles to participation for those without access.

Public participation in and support for the arts is at impressive levels in Greater Boston. The Performing Arts Research Coalition reports that 78% of Greater Bostonians attended a live professional performing arts event in 2002 — the highest among 10 communities studied. Roughly one-third of Greater Bostonians made a financial contribution to an arts organization in 2001, according to the report. (see indicator 2.2.2)

Financial support for Metro Boston arts and cultural organizations grew over the 1990s, but was still not sufficient to support the needs and aspirations of a dynamic cul