Supporting the Arts in Newton
Many thanks to Newton artists Emily O’Neil, Grey Held, Kim Spencer, and Kacy Sullivan for their wisdom in crafting this policy platform.
Newton’s arts community has suffered immensely from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and if our city does not intervene and provide key supports, we risk losing important cornerstones of our community. Arts and culture are economic drivers of our community, creating jobs, generating tax revenue, attracting visitors and stimulating business activity. According to our city’s Create Newton Plan, the main challenges for Newton nonprofit arts organizations were found to be “fundraising, space (performance, rehearsal, instructional), and promotion & advocacy.” Local governments, especially in a city like Newton which values the making and sharing of art, have a responsibility to step up and support art in as many ways as we can. If we truly commit to supporting and uplifting artists, we can ensure that our arts community doesn’t just make it to the other side of this pandemic, but that they become stronger, more accessible and more robust in their offerings. To continue implementing the roadmap laid out in our CREATE NEWTON Arts and Culture Plan and help local artists recover from the pandemic, we can…
1. Include arts funding in municipal budgeting deliberations and decisions
Although our city’s art institutions are local economic drivers and support hundreds of local artists with a living wage, our city’s art institutions are also partially reliant on private philanthropy to keep their doors open and programs afloat. As a city, we must ensure that they receive as much local assistance as we can offer and that we help them access state and federal grants as well. As part of our city’s special permitting process for approving new construction, our city should negotiate for dedicated spaces and funds from developers to be allocated for public art and placemaking in our village centers and surrounding areas for the inclusion of things like sculpture, live music, or murals. Our city should also negotiate for funding for general operating support of nonprofits to cover staffing costs and continue their programming. I also support continuing and increasing the one percent allocation of our annual city budget towards arts programming in the city to fund installations, community performances and organizational grants. In addition, as a potential city tax override is on the horizon, we should include increased support for our city’s arts community as part of the conversation concerning what needs extra investment. Finally, I support piloting a placemaking grants program modeled off of the "Canvas The City" example in Lynn, to add art and vibrancy to community spaces, especially those who have been historically neglected in receiving city investment in green space or commercial areas, such as Pellegrini Park in Nonantum or the Newton Corner Commercial District.
I also support the addition of a Newton “City Artist-in-Residence” position to serve as a liaison to city departments in the planning and implementation of local art initiatives, modeled off of examples in Boston and St. Paul. Such a position could also help our city include art installations in upgrades or renovations to public buildings and spaces, as well as infuse art and placemaking into every city discussion.
It is also crucial that when our city commits to paying for art or artists in our community, that we compensate them for the entirety of their work, not just the finished product. It is not fair to solicit detailed proposals from artists that take hours to develop for free. In dedicating funds and planning outreach for new projects or installations, we must take into account the work necessary to the planning process.
2. Invest in placemaking and public art.
We know that investing in and supporting public art has numerous community benefits, from more inviting gathering places to improved social and emotional outcomes for residents, but our city needs to proactively seek out opportunities for public art and placemaking. There are many avenues for creativity, from working with our Parks and Recreation Department on installations in our parks to partnering with local businesses and cultural organizations like Newton Community Pride to sponsor public art installations. The 28 Austin Street plaza mural is an example of what successful public art and placemaking can do for a place of community gathering. We should work with property owners to incorporate new murals across Newton and co-sponsor their creation, especially along our buildings facing the MassPike, to capitalize on underutilized space. We also have tremendous opportunity around our city’s MBTA stops and walkways to incorporate art installations, such as the Newton Cultural Council’s proposal for bus stop art and continuing our Make Poetry Concrete initiative. It is also important that we enable and encourage opportunities for public music and theatrical performance in communal spaces and at city events to give local artists a platform. I also support the creation of a communal art studio and performance space for artists to sell their work, for community art organizations to hold classes and gallery shows, and for local political events to be held.
3. Equip Newton’s arts community with the tools they need to broaden their range of programming and attract diverse membership.
As we continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must ensure that local arts businesses—galleries, dance studios, theatre companies and more—receive the assistance they need to not just stay open through the winters and for years to come, but to expand their programming and make it more accessible to residents regardless of race, religion or socioeconomic status. We should support and expand efforts like the Monologue Project by providing physical spaces, publicity and funding to provide artists of color opportunities to share their work and their voices. Attracting a more diverse membership and student body requires resources allocated to overcoming tangible and intangible barriers that keep low-income residents and residents of color out of programs, and our city has a duty to help our local arts organizations become more inclusive and equitable, which we can accomplish by ensuring equitable access to public transportation and providing organizations with the resources to provide scholarships and ease cost burdens for their students.
4. Support student-led art initiatives and student artists.
Our city is lucky to have so many incredibly talented student artists, and we should amplify their work at every opportunity we can. I support re-engaging and sustaining an arts initiative focused on civic engagement throughout and beyond our city’s local election season, in order to get students and the entire Newton community involved and excited about our city’s political process. Outreach for neighborhood or city art initiatives should start in our schools, engaging and providing a platform for youth artists around the city.
I also will work collaboratively with our city’s teachers, student organizations and School Committee to engage more students of color, particularly members of the METCO program into school-sanctioned arts programs, from theatre productions to visual art. It is crucial that our city’s leaders listen to student artists and act on their concerns in order to understand where the needs are and how our city can best support equitable access to our city’s arts community.